Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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December 6, 2012

License to carry... Local officials say concealed weapon permits on the rise

PRINCETON — Area residents visiting the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department tax office are usually there to handle their taxes, but they are also picking up applications for a concealed carry permit that will allow them to carry a firearm — and more than 100 people are seeking to obtain or renew one every month.

Thousands of Mercer County’s residents have concealed carry permits, said Sheriff Don Meadows.

“It’s been going up a while,” Meadows said. “During the last four or five months, we’ve seen an increase in it. They get the application at the tax office, and we do a background investigation and all that before we issue a permit.”

Meadows did not have a figure for the total number of county residents who have a concealed carry permit, but he knew that number is in the thousands.

“We do more than a hundred a month on average. That’s new permits and renewals. We don’t separate them from each other,” Meadows said.

People who fill out an application and pass the background check are not automatically issued a permit. They must also take an eight-hour firearms course from an NRA instructor. There are several people in Mercer County who are certified to teach the course, he said.

Fear of crime and fear that President Obama will try to enact laws limiting gun ownership are among the reasons why people seek the permit.

“Basically, they’re buying guns and ammunition all over the country, he added.

 In fact, the demand for ammunition has been so great, this year the sheriff’s department had trouble getting enough bullets for deputies to qualify with their sidearms, Meadows said.

“If they try to take the guns, all you’re doing is keeping the law-abiding citizens from getting guns,” he stated.

Meadows recalled one case in which people from Michigan came to West Virginia and stole some guns only to be arrested later by federal authorities. Their van had an ironic bumper sticker.

“It said, ‘When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns,’ and there was a vehicle full of outlaws,” he said. “Plus people are scared, and people want to protect themselves and what they have. It’s surprising how many crimes happen while people are at home.”

Across the state line in Tazewell County, Va., residents must go to the circuit court if they want to apply for a concealed carry permit, said Sheriff Brian Hieatt. The court arranges the necessary background checks, and a circuit judge decides whether an application is approved or denied.

“We have people call every week about the process to get a permit,” Hieatt said. He checked his records and said that 14 people applied for a permit in November, and that number was average.

Hieatt added that many county residents have questions about gun ownership.

“There’s always been a big interest in it, and it goes on year round,” he said.

Hieatt said he recently spoke to members of the local Tea Party with Major Harold Heatley of the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office and Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Lee about concealed carry permits and Virginia’s laws regarding gun use.

Like West Virginia, Virginia requires concealed carry applicants to undergo a gun course, Hieatt said. Southwest Virginia Community College offers a course, and there are firearms dealers in the county who are able to teach it.$

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