Area residents stocking up on guns, obtaining permits

Area residents are obtaining permits to purchase pistols and assault-style weapons in greater frequency since the the shooting in Newtown, Conn., two weeks ago. — Photo illustration by Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Guns.

In the past week, they have been all anyone’s talking about across the nation, and Austin is no different.

Residents in both Mower and Freeborn counties have applied for permits to purchase handguns in much greater frequency than they have at times in the past. Jenny Grobe, in records and dispatch at the Law Enforcement Center in Austin, is seeing it first-hand. She’s scrambling to weed through the applications.

“I’ve just been swamped,” Grobe said last Friday, who handles the Mower County permit applications before they receive final approval by the sheriff. “I’ve done about 40 of them since [the shooting in Newtown last Friday], and I’m still in the process of getting those done.”

While the number can fluctuate widely from week to week, Grobe said, she typically sees five to seven of them per week. Freeborn County Sheriff Bob Kindler said he has seen an uptick, as well — about 10 to 15 applications from Monday to Thursday. He added those can’t all just be attributed to holiday purchases, either.

On the city side of things, Austin Police Chief Brian Krueger is seeing the increase, too.

“I’ve noticed, probably since the election, that they’ve gone up significantly,” Krueger said about permits to purchase handguns.

While hunting rifles do not require such permits, handguns and assault-style weapons do.

“You need to fill out a form at the police station and do a background check and need to pass everything,” Krueger said.

After passing, a qualifier can show his or her certificate to a gun dealer and obtain his or her firearm.

Krueger added many people re-apply for such permits every year and never buy a gun. They may simply want approval when the time comes to buy a weapon.

“Just because they obtain a permit to purchase does not mean they are going to buy a gun,” Krueger said. “It doesn’t mean they are running out and buying one immediately.”

Still, wheels are spinning in many people’s heads about whether they should. At the gun stores, however, people are indeed throwing down their cash, especially on AR-15-style weapons.

“Since last Friday and today, I have sold over 150 different AR-style rifles,” said Milan Hart of Hart Brothers Weaponry in Albert Lea.

Hart believes people are worried gun laws are going to change as a result of the tragedy in Newtown, so they are buying weapons while they can get them. While Hart is keeping his prices the same, he said the run on assault rifles is boosting prices nationwide. Ammunition prices for such weapons are on the rise, as well.

“Ammunition has been completely sold-out all over,” he added.

Law enforcement officials have seen slightly more conceal-and-carry permit applications, as well, and Hart said more women are looking at conceal-type weapons.

Gun dealers and firearms instructors don’t seem worried about the potential for guns being in the hands of inexperienced handlers, though.

Certified firearms safety instructor Richard Finke from Albert Lea points to the fact that it’s never the gun’s fault.

“A person has to pick that gun up and pull the trigger,” he said.

Regardless, Hart, Finke and Krueger all urge proper training for anyone who owns a firearm.

“Obviously, you need to be able to know how to handle a firearm and be proficient with it,” Krueger said. “If you are purchasing one for the first time, I strongly suggest to go get training to make sure you know how to operate the weapon properly, take it apart, clean it. Just be responsible when using the weapon.”

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