As rules relaxed, numbers of gun permits grew

Published 9:24 am Wednesday, April 4, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

There are an estimated 4,000 individuals with concealed handgun permits in Isle of Wight County, according to Circuit Court Clerk Sharon Jones. 

If that number is accurate, and that is an estimate of new and renewing permits, that means that one in seven adults in Isle of Wight County has a permit to carry a concealed handgun, when compared to the estimated 2016 population.  

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And unless you ask someone directly, it’s not possible to find out who has a permit, as the General Assembly took away public access several years ago, as well as the requirement that applicants be fingerprinted. 

Last year, Isle of Wight County Circuit Court processed 878 new and renewal permits, according to Jones. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

That’s nearly twice as many as six to eight years ago. Jones said the office typically processed about 400 a year at that time.

Guns are in the news recently after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people. Some have suggested that teachers be allowed to carry concealed weapons as a deterrent against future shootings, but Isle of Wight County schools have not seriously entertained that proposal, according to schools spokesperson Lynn Briggs.

Upon hearing that an estimated 4,000 adults had carry permits in Isle of Wight County, Smithfield resident Al Casteen said, “that makes our county pretty safe.”

Casteen got his first concealed carry permit in the 1970s for business protection and after a break of many years, got another permit and has renewed it several times.

“The world is much safer with people carrying concealed weapons,” he said. 

Former Isle of Wight Circuit Court Clerk Bill Laine said that when he began working in the courts in the early 1970s, an applicant needed a reason to get a permit, such as being threatened. 

Today, that’s no longer necessary.

Back then, Laine estimates that his office dealt with about two dozen or so concealed carry permits a year. 

“They were rare, but not unheard of,” said Laine of concealed carry permits.

“People didn’t feel the need to be armed as they do today,” said Laine. 

John Wandling, who ran in the primary for delegate last year as a Democrat, thinks the process involved in getting a concealed permit is reasonable, but could put more emphasis on the mental health of the applicant. 

“In general, I believe Virginians could be made safer if we tighten up our process for purchase of any kind, and I think our laws for concealed carry would be a good place to start,” said Wandling, adding that states with reciprocity should have laws at least as stringent as Virginia. 

In Virginia, one does not need a concealed gun permit to openly carry a handgun or rifle. Exceptions to that include loaded semi-automatic center-fire rifles or pistols equipped with a magazine that can hold more than 20 rounds of ammunition or designed to include silencer or folding stock, according to the Code of Virginia. Certain localities, such as Newport News and Norfolk, have restrictions concerning shotguns.  

The four-page application for a concealed carry permit, available on the Virginia State Police website, asks basic information, such as physical characteristics and age, as an applicant must be 21 or over. 

It also asks a series of yes/no questions about prior convictions, behavioral or mental issues, addictions, military discharge and other questions. 

First-time applicants must demonstrate that they have completed a gun competency course. The application also includes a background check by the local law enforcement agency. The local commonwealth attorney’s office also reviews applications for past convictions. 

In years past, judges had to sign off on permit applications and had more discretion when it came to a questionable applicant, said Jones. If the judge wanted to, he or she could call in an applicant for further questions, if it seemed appropriate, she said. 

Laine said the volume of concealed permit applications has increased so much since then that it would take up a good deal of the court’s time if each application still had to go before a judge. 

However, Laine does see some merit to the loosening up of the law, as judges could be subjective, and one judge may have approved an application that would have been denied by another. 

Today, Jones signs off on most applications after the Isle of Wight County Commonwealth’s Attorney and Sheriff’s Office has provided a favorable review. If the commonwealth’s attorney or sheriff does indicate a concern, the application can still go before a judge for a hearing, Jones said. 

Isle of Wight is also alerted about a permit holder who has just had a protective order issued against them and that permit can be revoked, Jones said, adding that the circuit court is required to report all gun permits issued to the Virginia State Police.

“There’s some control,” she said. 

The entire permit application is not to cost more than $50, according to the State Police website. 

It is up for renewal every five years. 

Applicants can be denied a permit for several reasons, including multiple misdemeanor convictions, being convicted of assault, being addicted to or having distributed marijuana, being subject to a restraining order and other reasons listed on the Virginia State police website.   {/mprestriction}