Armed Fresno County: Dramatic Increase in Concealed Weapons

FRESNO, Calif.

"I hear it's the number one issue of importance to people in Fresno County -- to be able to legally carry a concealed weapon," said Sheriff Margaret Mims.

The numbers show the increase has been dramatic. Last year, the Mims's office issued about 1500 concealed weapons permits. Through July of this year, the number was already about 1900. That puts the county on pace to issue more than 3000 permits in 2011.

Fresno County is now second in the state in issuing concealed weapons permits. One big trend Action News has already reported on is women getting permits. And many people applying for permits have a simple explanation: they're just afraid.

At the courthouse and in the office, attorney Peter Kapetan knows he could come across a dangerous situation, so he got a concealed weapons permit and started carrying a gun.

"Normally, I keep it locked and if I go out in the field, I'll carry one with me," he said.

Kapetan's permit expired, so he's re-applying. But because of a dramatic increase in applications, he'll wait about seven months for an interview with the Fresno County sheriff's office.

"Crime has skyrocketed and with the budget constraints, guys are getting let out of jail every day and I think people are starting to realize the police aren't always going to be there, so they're taking it into their own hands," Kapetan said.

Trainers at the Police Science Institute in northwest Fresno teach a required concealed weapons course for gun owners, focusing on gun safety, and when and where you can carry your weapon.

"It's not to be taken lightly," said trainer Steve Collins. "You also have to consider changes in your lifestyle. Maybe you'd like to go home and have a beer on your way home today. Well, if you've got a gun, you can't do that."

In 2007, Fresno County had 2727 active concealed weapons permits. Los Angeles County had 1237. And in all of San Francisco County, there were six permits.

The number in Fresno County has shot up to 4368 now, according to Mims, partly because she's lowered the bar for approving new applications. While other sheriffs require an imminent danger, she'll approve an application just for self-protection.

"I'd much rather have law-abiding citizens armed because our bad guys certainly are," Mims said.

The Fresno Police Department also issues concealed weapons permits. They have a much shorter waiting list, but they require eight hours of weapons training. The sheriff requires six hours.

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