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Counties see spikes in demand for concealed weapons permits following Boulder massacre

Julia Cardi and David Mullen - Colorado Politics | Published on 4/15/2021

Dave Heath has noticed his  firearms education classes tend to boom after incidents that cause people to fear for their safety or worry they will lose their rights to possess guns.

So, with March’s massacre in a King Soopers on Boulder’s south side and President Joe Biden’s remarks calling U.S. gun violence an "epidemic" and "international embarrassment," business is booming.

“All the customers I'm getting right now are because of Boulder and … the news says this morning that Biden intends to roll out a whole bunch of gun laws. That's probably going to boost business, too,” said Heath, a military veteran and owner of Colorado Gun Classes.

“When Trump was in office, or any Republicans in office with control, I don't get this many classes unless there's been an incident. Biden didn’t cause Boulder to occur; it just did. ... I'm getting a lot of women, and that's because of the grocery store.”

Thursday brought a slew of gun-related policy announcements by Biden:

• Plans for a proposed rule by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to make pistols used with stabilizing braces — a device used by the gunman in the Boulder shootings — subject to the National Firearms Act, which would require a federal license, a $200 tax and more stringent application process.

• Plans to regulate “ghost guns,” homemade firearms assembled from kits that don’t have serial numbers and don’t currently require background checks.

• Plans to release model red flag legislation for states to pass laws similar to Colorado’s, allowing a person or law enforcement to petition a court to confiscate weapons from someone deemed a danger to themselves or others, and

• Plans for the Justice Department to prepare an annual report on firearms trafficking.

The most recent boom to Heath’s business is mirrored by official data available about demand for firearms since the Boulder shooting. Boulder County Undersheriff Tommy Sloan told The Denver Gazette that since March 22, the department’s typical wait time for appointments for concealed carry permit applications — a proxy for gauging demand for firearms, since sheriff’s departments can only take so many applications each day — has increased from two weeks to a month.


Sloan added permit renewal applications have also increased.


“I don’t think it, I know it,” said Alec, the owner of High Country Armory in Denver, who asked the paper not to use his last name, when asked whether he believes Biden’s presidency has led to the recent rise in gun purchases.


He said he has seen sales spike and ebb since the pandemic’s beginning, with a jump in March last year, during the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and right after the Boulder shootings.


"I’ve been in business for two years and selling firearms for about five. I’ve been a general manager at another shop, and usually anytime after a tragedy there is a small spike, but I haven’t seen anything like 2020 to now,” Alec said.

Heath said he asks a lot of questions of his clients to learn about their personalities and motivations, an opportunity he said doing private classes affords. He said in his observations, first-time gun buyers purchasing them for protectionin the wake of an incident , who would otherwise consider themselves politically left-leaning or not pro-gun, tend to do it based on wanting to exercise their right to possess

“I get a lot of type ‘Bs.’ That means they won’t shoot; they’ll only do it as a last resort,” Heath said.And those are people that don't believe in what they're doing, but have to do it because they want to be protected.”

Sheriffs' departments in some large counties besides Boulder have also seen noticeable spikes in demand for concealed weapons permits since the Boulder massacre. 

John Bartmann, a spokesperson for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, said the department processes applications for concealed carry permits on a walk-in basis and can take 35 people each day. Their doors open at 7 a.m., and on Thursday, the 17th person in line had arrived at 5:30 a.m. 

He added the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s backlog of background checks for firearms — another proxy measurement for firearms sales — is in turn slowing down Arapahoe County’s processing time for permit applications. 

El Paso County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Deborah Mynatt said in a text message that the department got more than 200 calls the day after the Boulder shooting, though the daily average has since decreased to between 75 and 100. The sheriff’s office averages 45 appointments for concealed permit applications per day, and is currently scheduling them into mid-June, she said. 

Mynatt declined to speculate about correlations of increases in demand for concealed weapons permits with particular incidents, saying “it’s difficult for us to pinpoint based on limited data collected during the application process.” 

Data from the Denver Police Department’s concealed weapons unit showed the city actually saw a noticeable jump in concealed carry permit applications in February rather than March. The DPD got 120 applications in January and 111 in March, but saw a jump to 217 in February. That month, 139 applications were for first-time permits, and 78 were for renewals. 

According to federal data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, there have been 107,962 more firearms background checks nationwide between Jan. 1 and March 31 this year than the same period in 2020.  

The home page of Heath’s business website features an illustration of the American flag with the words “Responsible people carry weapons responsibly” emblazoned across it.

He said he wishes every person buying a gun would be required to take a safety class. 

“I only do private classes so people can be honest [and] open. They think [something] is a dumb question, but it's not,” Heath said. “When it comes to guns, there are no dumb questions.”