Front page news of todays Kalamazoo (MI), Gazette.
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KALAMAZOO -- Some people want to protect their property from theft and feel less vulnerable to attack. Others see it as a way to preserve a constitutional right. Whatever the reason, the number of first-time applicants for permits to carry concealed weapons is on the rise in Kalamazoo County, according to records from the county clerk's office. ``There's no question in my mind that there's been a considerable increase in new applications over the last few years,'' county Clerk Tim Snow said. Figures show 900 new permit applications were filed in 2001, the year changes to Michigan law made it easier to get a permit for a concealed weapon. Those numbers tapered off each year through 2005, when new applications totaled 232. Since then, there has been a steady increase, from 302 applications in 2006 to 448 in 2007 to 473 so far this year. Overall, one out of every 83 residents in the county is licensed to carry a concealed weapon, records show. Statewide, one out of every 58 residents has a permit, according to Michigan State Police. When you consider a fourth of the population is too young to obtain a permit, the percentage of adults with them is probably much higher. Elsewhere in southwestern Michigan, the counties of Allegan, Van Buren and St. Joseph reported decreases in concealed-weapon permit applications through June 2007, state police records show. The permit application process is the same in all counties and does not require applicants to state why they are seeking the weapons. It's not clear why permit requests have spiked in Kalamazoo County in recent years, but police officials, firearms instructors and permit holders have opinions. Applicants can range from a person wanting to show support for the law to a gun collector who needs a permit to purchase weapons, said Phil Reames, a firearms instructor who chairs the county's Concealed Weapons Licensing Board. But most often, Reames said, people who have taken his firearms-training course at the Southern Michigan Gun Club in Kalamazoo say they want a concealed weapon for personal protection. ``The chances of any one of us ever needing our permits, ever needing to defend ourselves with our firearms, is slim to none. But what if?'' Reames said. ``Just look around you, the world we live in. Crime is more violent.'' Personal safety Brenda Whitlock took a firearms-training course last month to obtain her concealed-weapon permit because she was afraid she might become a crime victim. The 58-year-old retiree from Kalamazoo, who grew up around guns and began using them at a young age for sport and hunting, said she was alarmed by media reports of attacks on women and senior citizens. ``People out there are desperate,'' said Whitlock, a member of the Kalamazoo Rod & Gun Club. ``I just don't want to be one of those statistics. ... I cannot see myself just taking someone's life, but I can't see them taking mine either if there's a way that I can prevent it.'' Frank Solik, a firearms instructor and board member with the Kalamazoo Rod & Gun Club, said he's training more women to carry concealed firearms. Solik said more attorneys, doctors and judges also are seeking concealed-weapon permits. Today, 2,947 Kalamazoo County residents are licensed to carry a concealed weapon. As of Aug. 1, state police records show 3,404 permit applications have been received since 2001, more than double the number of applications from 1994 to 2000. Statewide, permit numbers have more than tripled since 2001, to 172,127, according to state police. Dwayne Sager, 47, of Comstock Township, said the concealed-weapon permit he obtained this year has made him feel less vulnerable after a car crash four years ago left him less able to defend himself. Sager, a former reserve officer with the Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office, said he doesn't always carry a gun, but likes knowing he has the ability to protect himself and his family. ``I think people are really opening their eyes to the fact police don't have enough officers,'' he said. ``(People) are more concerned with their safety.'' Joel Fulton, a senior training counselor for the National Rifle Association and co-owner of Southside Sportsman Club in Battle Creek, said unemployment, perceptions of more crime and an uneasy political climate may be spurring the uptick in permit applications. ``The perception is if someone anti-gun (becomes president) ... you need to go ahead and get done now what I need to get done so I can have my rights,'' said Fulton, who estimates up to 80 Kalamazoo County residents annually enroll in his firearms-training course. More permits, few incidents The changes in 2001 that made it easier to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon raised concerns that more people would take the law into their own hands. It hasn't happened. ``The people using weapons (illegally) are not people with CCW permits,'' Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Fink said. ``We just don't see the cases come into the office with CCW holders.'' Since 2001, 46 applications for concealed-weapon permits in Kalamazoo County have been denied by the county's licensing board, two permits revoked and nine suspended, state police records show. Statewide, since the law changed, 3,301 permits have been denied -- one out of every 60 applications -- 781 revoked and 2,089 suspended. Before applying for a concealed-weapon permit, an applicant must complete an eight-hour training course that includes classroom instruction and three hours of training on a gun range. After the training is completed, applicants must comply with several other requirements, including a criminal background check. Anyone convicted of a felony cannot carry a concealed weapon. Solik said he dismisses applicants without question ``who do not act with great safety.'' ``You need to practice, practice, practice,'' Solik said. ``Keep your gun safe and know the law.'' Concealed-weapon licensing requirements To get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, an applicant must undergo training, pay fees and meet background requirements. For instance, an applicant must: v Be at least 21 years old, a United States citizen and a resident of Michigan for at least the past six months. v Complete a pistol-safety training course. v Present pistol-course certificate, application and passport-quality photo to the county clerk's office and pay $105 fee. v Have fingerprints taken by the local sheriff's office to be submitted to Michigan State Police for processing. v Have no felony convictions. Certain misdemeanor convictions can bar an applicant from receiving a permit for three years or eight years, depending on the offense. v Have no mental illness. County gun boards will issue or deny a permit application within 45 days after receiving fingerprint-analysis results. A concealed-weapon permit must be renewed in the state of Michigan every five years.
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