MITCHELL, S.D. - Davison County residents have purchased or renewed more concealed carry permits in 2016 than in any other year.
Through Dec. 21, the Davison County Sheriff’s Office recorded 643 people who purchased or renewed a concealed carry permit, which allows someone to carry a pistol where it is not visible to others. Most people in South Dakota over 18, excluding those convicted of certain criminal offenses, may carry a pistol if it is not concealed.
The 2016 total is a record high, edging out the previous record of 627 set in 2013, according to Grace Murphy, a staff member with the sheriff’s office.
Permits must be renewed every five years, and Murphy began tracking the number of pistol permits purchased and renewed in 2003. The amount of permits issued in Davison County has steadily climbed since then from 257.
Over the past few years, permits have fluctuated. The number of permits first topped 400 in 2009 but dipped below 400 again in the next two years. In 2012, purchases and renewals rose to 481 before taking a big jump to 627 in 2013. There were 433 issued in 2014 and 526 last year.
With jumps in 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2016, Murphy said the largest increases usually occur around presidential elections.
“Election years it always jumps up because everybody’s afraid of who’s going to get in,” Murphy said. “They want to get their permits because they think they’re going to take their rights away.”
While 2016 did set a record, the month with the highest purchase and renewal total was January, when the county recorded 100 permits. October, just before Election Day, was the second highest month with 71.
South Dakota numbers have followed a similar trend. There have been 26,552 new and renewed permits purchased statewide so far this year, just under the 2013 high of 26,863.
South Dakotans continue to purchase permits, so Secretary of State Shantel Krebs believes 2016 will mark a statewide record, too, before the year comes to a close. Krebs also attributed the biggest increases to election years, as well as national incidents, like the San Bernardino shooting in 2015.
“If there’s been a national event or incident, or if there’s been a national tragedy or even a candidate who is not necessarily favorable to Second Amendment rights, we can directly correlate and see the number of increases of the requests for the number of concealed carry weapons permits to be issued,” Krebs said.
Before the December 2015 attack in San Bernardino, Krebs said the state averaged about 1,500 new or renewed pistol permits per month. That December and following January, the state issued 2,900 and 3,800, respectively.
Come Jan. 1, South Dakotans will have another option when buying a concealed carry permit. Earlier this year, the Legislature approved a new “gold card” permit, which is designed to make it easier to buy a firearm.
All South Dakotans must submit to an instant background check from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, before purchasing a firearm.
The gold card permit would allow South Dakota residents to become prequalified, and thus pass on the background check at the time of purchase, Krebs said.
When it takes effect Jan. 1, the gold card will be the state’s third concealed carry permit option. Individuals can still buy a regular permit, which allows someone to carry a concealed firearm in South Dakota and 30 other states, or an enhanced permit, which was initiated in 2015.
The enhanced permit is more expensive and requires the holder to take a handgun course, but it allows the holder to bring his or her weapon to six more states, including Minnesota and Nebraska. The gold permit is expected to allow the holder to carry a firearm in 30 other states, but Krebs is in discussions to increase its reciprocity.
The enhanced permit had a slow start to life, with only 37 people purchasing one in 2015, but interest spiked this year with 1,325 new permits issued, and Krebs thinks the gold permit could follow a similar path.
“Our constituents are very interested. They’re excited about the opportunities, and I’m just glad as secretary of state to be able to issue three types of concealed-carry weapons permits in South Dakota,” Krebs said. “I value your Second Amendment rights, and I have a little Judge pistol myself, so this is one of the fun parts of my job.”
Krebs said her office is working on the look of the new permit and could have “a pretty big announcement” in the first couple weeks of the new year.
As of Nov. 30, there are 96,227 active regular and enhanced concealed carry permits in South Dakota, which has steadily increased each month this year. And as permits in the state have increased, so have gun sales.
While no state agency is tasked with tracking firearms sales, the FBI has released the number of NICS background checks completed each month in every state since November 1998.
While not every background check may result in a successful purchase, a record 101,182 NICS checks were completed from January to November, which includes the state’s third highest monthly total of 12,670 in October.
The number is slightly higher than the previous record of 100,268 in 2015, but with an average of over 9,000 background checks completed every month this year, the 2016 total could continue to rise.
Election years generally mark the sharpest increases since 2000, particularly in 2012, which saw a nearly 24 percent increase from the year before.
But despite the Election Day triumph of Republican President-elect Donald Trump, Krebs and Murphy don’t expect concealed-carry permit applications to drop off.
“The more … new (permits) being issued, that’s also going to increase the number of renewals out there,” Krebs said. “I think it might taper off a little bit, but I haven’t heard that from our sheriffs across the state yet.”
Murphy, meanwhile, said Davison County residents are likely buying guns as Christmas gifts, and the recipients then show up at the sheriff’s office looking for permits so they can carry their new firearms concealed into the new year.