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Kanawha Sheriff's rejection rate low for concealed carry applications

AP file photo

Since 2009, the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department has rejected a little more than two concealed carry permit applications for every 100 it receives.

The Kanawha County Sheriff's Office received 1,663 concealed carry permit requests in 2015, 35 of which were rejected.

But a proposed law making its way through the Legislature would remove the need for people to obtain a permit for the concealed carry of guns, changing the background check process that sheriff's departments across the state have put into place to monitor who can carry a gun where other people can't see it.

Since 2009, 222 concealed carry permit applications have been rejected and 87 permits have been revoked in Kanawha County.

The Kanawha County Sheriff's Department has an employee who runs background checks on the people who are applying for permits. The sheriff can reject or revoke a permit if a person has demonstrated an addiction to, or unlawful use of, drugs or alcohol in recent years or is convicted of an act of violence within five years prior to applying. People are also rejected if they have been convicted of a domestic violence offense or a felony, according to Brian Humphreys, the spokesman for the Kanawha County Sheriff.

“It's rare to have someone's pistol permit revoked,” Humphreys said.

When the permit is revoked, sheriff's deputies take the permit from the person who committed the offense. However, the deputies cannot search the offender's residence for guns.

“Law enforcement does not have any right to assume that just because someone has a pistol permit, that they have a gun,” Humphreys said.

Since 2009, the sheriff's office has received an average of 1,540 applications for new concealed carry permits and 1,151 concealed carry permit renewals.

But one year stands out — 2013.

That year, the Kanawha County Sheriff received 3,175 concealed carry permit requests.

The jump can best be explained by federal gun-control legislation proposed by President Barack Obama.

Few other factors would seem to apply.

That's because when looking at the FBI's violent crime statistics, 2013 is average. In West Virginia, the violent crime rate hovered around 300 crimes for every 100,000 people, pretty much the same as every other year since 2009.

One might attribute the increase to mass shootings, but mass shooting fatalities peaked in 2012, according to the Mother Jones Mass Shooting Database.

Kelly Kessel is the manager of Spring Hill Rod & Guns in South Charleston. It's a place where the only thing that could be called “cute” could kill you — a black pistol with pink trim.

Kessel said he noticed the peak in 2013 in sales alone, selling nearly double the number of guns he normally does.

“They thought the government was going to try and do away with different rights and privileges,” Kessel said. “We call it a panic.”

There's no panic right now. Gun sales for 2016 are on track to meet the average for the past couple of years.

But there's still been a lot of news about guns lately.

Kessel said that everyone who comes into the store is talking about the concealed carry bill.

“Most people aren't in favor of it,” he said.

He added that most people who come through his store think people should have proper training and a permit before they carry a concealed weapon.

But Kessel said the new law probably wouldn't stop the counties from issuing permits, because people will still need a permit to carry their gun out of state.

That would be good news for sheriff's departments in the state, which make $75 for every permit that they issue.

That money goes toward buying equipment and training, Humphreys said.

If permit fees are waived, like some are talking about with the bill, it would have cost the Kanawha County Sheriff's Office more than $1.4 million over seven years.

Only six states (Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Vermont and Wyoming) allow for permit-less concealed carry, often called constitutional carry.

And while Vermont has had constitutional carry for a long time, most of those states adopted the loose gun laws in the last decade.

In the 19th century, including the Wild West era, gun laws were similar to West Virginia's current law, according to Robert Cottrol, an expert in gun laws at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

In most states it was legal to carry a handgun openly, but concealed carry was illegal. Gun laws that required citizens to check their guns in at the sheriff's office upon entering town actually contributed to the famed shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.

In the 20th century, as places became more urbanized, it didn't fit in with the culture to have people openly carrying weapons.

“Carrying openly became more of a clash of culture,” Cottrol said.

So, in the early 20th century, people began needing permits to carry a gun. But those permits came at a police officer's discretion, and often the rich and politically powerful were able to carry guns while the poor were not.

That's why, starting in the 1990s, it became common to push for shall-issue permits, where, as long as a person was qualified, he was allowed a permit.

And while allowing constitutional carry may have a widespread effect in West Virginia, Spring Hill Rod & Guns is unlikely to see any changes.

“It could possibly increase handgun sales a tic,” Kessel said.

Reach Dan Desrochers at dan.desrochers@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-348-4886 or follow @drdesrochers on Twitter.

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