Fewer Richmonders have applied for concealed-gun permits this year, despite the new law that allows concealed weapons in restaurants.
From the beginning of the year through August, 424 permits have been issued in Richmond. That's a 22-percent decrease from the same period in 2009, when 545 permits were issued. In 2008, city residents received 425 permits for the same eight-month period.
Statewide, there's been a 35-percent plunge in new permits. Virginians have been issued 34,191 concealed-carry permits this year, compared with 52,337 in the same period last year.
“The numbers are deceiving,” says James Reynolds, president and chief firearms instructor at Proactive Shooters LLC. “Last year is the spike, and this is where we're getting back to normal.” The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 led many people to buy firearms and get concealed-carry permits, he says, because of fears their gun rights would be revoked.
Although permit applications have decreased, Richmonders' interest in firearms seems to have remained high.
“This summer was actually one of our best summers,” says Reynolds, who teaches firearms classes in Richmond and across the state. Proof of basic firearms safety training and a background check are required before a Virginian can get a concealed-carry permit, which is valid for five years.
“There's certainly no decline in sales of guns or accessories,” says J. D. McEwan, firearms manager at Southern Police Equipment on Midlothian Turnpike. People who got concealed-carry permits last year have discovered that big guns are inconvenient to carry around, McEwan says, so they've come back to purchase pocket-sized weapons. One popular seller is the Ruger LCP, a compact .380 that's just a bit more than 5 inches long and costs about $350.
McEwan's customers used to be predominantly what he calls “higher-profile guys” — men who work late at night, or handle money for a living. “These days we see a lot more of the average Joe,” he says.
Reynolds says he sees a diverse group of students in his classes, including college students living off-campus, divorced spouses, nurses who work night shifts and seniors who “realize the firearm is the great equalizer.” Some churches are even encouraging their congregations to get concealed carry permits, he says. Two weeks ago, he taught a group from a Baptist church in Hopewell.
“The groups themselves are not new,” he says, “but the volume is new.”
As of Sept. 21, Virginia residents hold 232,455 active concealed handgun permits. That's about one in every 34 Virginians.