Gun permits galore in 2016

Most will remember 2016 as the year of the contentious presidential election, when Democrat Hillary Clinton faced off against maverick Republican multi-billionaire Donald Trump, but the state officials who keep watch over handgun sales may well remember it as the year of the handgun permit.

Connecticut residents rushed to get pistol permits in 2016, with a total of 29,941 issued for the year, compared with 17,127 the previous year, said Trooper Kelly Grant, spokesman for the state police. That’s a 73% increase. Wilton had the biggest increase in lower Fairfield County, at 54%.

Political minds are quick to point out the race between liberal and conservative ideologies during the year, with liberals being tight on gun control while conservatives are pro gun rights, but Grant did not wax poetic on the subject.

“We don’t know why,” Grant said. “Everyone who gets a pistol permit has a different reason for wanting a gun.”

The Bulletin tried to find out why. A reporter asked one gun shop worker, in nearby Norwalk, and he said the owner would not answer questions from the press. The Bulletin tried Bob’s Gun Exchange in Darien, where owner Bob Montlick said he has operated his shop 60 years and there have always been ups and downs.

He could not pin the sudden rise in handgun purchases to worries over the possibility of a Clinton win.

“Whether they were afraid or not, of what the election might do, I can’t say,” Montlick said.

“I haven’t given it much thought,” he said.

Reports from the industry are that now that President Trump is in office, the rush to get guns seems to have passed. Business has reportedly tapered off, since Trump’s policies are perceived as no threat to those who want to own guns.

“Things are quiet right now,” said Robert Power, president of the Ramapoo Rifle and Revolver club in Ridgefield, where he said there was a burst of activity in 2016, which he attributed to the Clinton effect, but nothing now.

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association declined to be interviewed because the question does not concern its main area of focus, which is legal rights of gun owners. However, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Newtown, said the fear of a Clinton administration played a role in a nationwide surge in handgun sales.

“It was a record year for firearms sales across the country, and an all-time record for criminal background checks to get a handgun permit,” said Mike Bazinet, spokesman for the NSSF, which represents gun makers.

“One factor certainly was the concern that a Clinton administration would try to impose stringent gun control laws,” Bazinet said. In Connecticut, another factor came into play as well. That factor was the strict 2013 gun control laws in the state that made it impossible to buy ammunition without a permit.

“You need an ammunition permit now, and a pistol permit covers all future acquisition of firearms, so it drove people to seek pistol permits,” Bazinet said. “The permits are up even more than they would have gone up anyway, just based on Hillary Clinton running for office. So it was an unintended effect of the gun control law. I am aware of people who have gotten a pistol permit just to buy ammunition, and not even bought a pistol,” he said.

Following are the number of gun permits per 100 residents for some towns in Fairfield County, followed by the total number of permits and the number purchased in 2015 and 2016.

  • Shelton — 20.95 per 100, for a total of 8,382. Permits numbered 271 in 2015 and 456 in 2016, an increase of 40%.

  • Redding — 20.12 per 100, for a total of 1,852. Permits numbered 32 in 2015 and 65 in 2016, an increase of 50%.

  • Monroe — 19.01 per 100, for a total of 3,731. Permits numbered 108 in 2015 and 201 in 2016, an increase of  46%.

  • Easton — 18.82 per 100, for a total of 1,421. Permits numbered 52 in 2015 and 86 in 2016, an increase of 39%.

  • Milford — 15.72 per 100, for a total of 8,316. Permits numbered 411 in 2015 and 563 in 2016, an increase of  27%.

  • Trumbull — 14.41 per 100, for a total of 5,224. Permits numbered 159 in 2015 and 320 in 2016, an increase of  50%.

  • Stratford — 13.34 per capita, for a total of 6,986. Permits numbered 299 in 2015 and 445 in 2016, an increase of  48%.

  • Weston — 11.92 per 100, for a total of 1,223. Permits numbered 37 in 2015 and 64 in 2016, an increase of 42%.

  • Ridgefield —11.14 per 100, for a total of 2,767. Permits numbered 78 in 2015 and 151 in 2016, an increase of 48%.

  • Wilton —10.41 per 100, for a total of 1,911 gun permits, according to the state police. Permits numbered 44 in 2015 and 96 in 2016, an increase of 54%.

  • New Canaan — 9.32 per 100, for a total of 1,858. Permits numbered 74 in 2015 and 88 in 2016, an increase of 16%.

  • Norwalk — 8.38 gun per 100, for a total of 7,250. Permits numbered 283 in 2015 and 460 in 2016, an increase of 38%.

  • Westport — 7.83 per 100, for a total of 2,097. Permit increase was not available.

  • Darien — 7.02 per 100, for a total of 1,468. Permits numbered 98 in 2015 and 122 in 2016, an increase of  19%.