Thousands of people in Sussex County are already carrying concealed weapons, and the number of permit applications is increasing sharply this year. Applications for permits have more than doubled compared to the same time in 2012.
Sussex Prothonotary Joyce Collins said more than 530 applications have been filed in 2013; only 200 were filed from January to May, 2012. Collins said about 2,300 permits have been issued over the past five years.
The number of new applications – coming in at about 100 per month – rose so quickly that it now takes up to three months to receive a permit to carry a concealed deadly weapon. Collins said the process normally took four to six weeks; that was until Dec. 14, 2012.
That's when gunman Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 20 students and six adults. He also killed his mother and took his own life.
“It's not been normal since Newtown,” she said. Applications skyrocketed starting in 2013.
John Davis, who offers firearms training classes, says people are afraid of the rising rate of crime.
Superior Court issues permits
“A lot of people think permits are issued automatically when they see them advertised, but that is not the case,” Collins said.
The Superior Court is responsible for granting permits to carry concealed handguns in Delaware. Prospective permit holders must be fingerprinted by Delaware State Police and pass an extensive background check by the Delaware Attorney General's Office. Then, the application must be reviewed and approved by Judge T. Henley Graves before a permit can be issued.
Prospective permit holders must advertise their intention in a local publication offering people a chance to contact the Prothonotary's Office if they have objections. The application also requires five letters of reference from people not related to the applicant.
In addition, all potential permit holders – except active military and retired police officers – must pass a mandatory gun-training course before the prothonotary can issue a permit. “Sometimes people take the course and still don't get the permit,” Collins said.
Applicants are notified in writing if their permit has been approved or denied and the AG's Office can request a personal interview. Permits are good for three years; the permit cost $65.
Collins said a hearing can be scheduled if a permit is denied.
There are places where carrying concealed weapons – and any other weapon – are restricted. The website handgunlaw.us offers the following list of prohibited places: courts; school buses; 1,000 feet from school and recreation zones; casinos; federal buildings; state parks; state and national forests; police stations and detention centers. In addition, places with No Firearms signs posted are considered off limits.
Although state and county buildings would seem obvious restricted locations, that could not be verified. State law does not specifically list any restricted locations, said Jason Miller, Attorney General's Office spokesman. “However, regulation or policy of specific agencies, such as certain state facilities, may prohibit the carry of firearms on-site,” he said.
Among the list of those prohibited from obtaining a permit include people convicted of a felony, those who have previously been committed to a hospital or mental institution for treatment of a mental disorder and subjects of protection from abuse orders.
In Delaware, only police officers are permitted to carry a concealed handgun without a permit. Since 2003, the Delaware reciprocity law allows Delaware permit holders to carry concealed weapons in more than 20 other states. Concealed handguns can be carried loaded.
Residents cannot legally own a handgun in Delaware until they are 21 years old. Carrying a concealed weapon without a permit is considered a Class D felony. However, it is not against the law to carry a handgun in the open. Since 2008, all permits have been entered into a computer system so law enforcement officials have immediate access to check on the status of a permit.
Open carry of handguns is not commonplace in Delaware, but it is not illegal to have a holstered handgun visible on your hip. The same restrictions apply as to where a concealed handgun can be carried. Weapons must also be visible in vehicles.
Crime leads to decision to get permit
Kenna Nethken, who operates a tree-cutting service in Sussex County, said he decided to get a permit because of an increase in crime, especially involving drugs, that he was starting to see.
“Also, I think a time is coming when you will not be able to get a permit. So I thought I should get one whether I carry or not,” he said. “And I don't carry all the time.”
Nethken, who owns other guns as well, said he has started to feel uncomfortable in certain places where he works. “It's a different world since the economy went to crap; some people are desperate,” he said.
He also does night fishing, and he began to see people congregate in the area. “They were doing cocaine right there so I was starting to feel totally uncomfortable,” he said.
Nethken said there are a few quirks involved with carrying a concealed weapon. “You would think that banks would not allow concealed weapons, but there are no restrictions that I've run across,” he said.
Also, he said, those carrying concealed weapons in public places – like restaurants – can be asked to leave if someone accidentally sees the handgun and complains to a supervisor or manager that it makes them feel uncomfortable.
Training class key to permit process
JD Defense on Route 9 outside Georgetown offers classes for people applying for permits. Owner John Davis, a retired Georgetown police officer, has been training people and police in the safe use of firearms since the 1990s; he's an expert witness in court cases.
Davis said the decision to carry a concealed weapon should not be taken lightly.
On his website, Davis says those who carry a concealed weapon shoulder extra responsibility.
“To carry, you must be or become an above-average citizen because you have been entrusted to hold a permit that carries with it greater responsibility than most other citizens must face. You have to think more, de-escalate situations, and above all, keep calmer than everybody else when tempers flare.
“You must read and keep up-to-date with the laws surrounding carrying, and above all, follow them. You must set and be the example for others to follow. Sound like a lot? It is, but you are enjoying one of the greatest privileges you could be granted by your state.”
Davis said while it's easier to conceal smaller caliber handguns, he recommends the use of a .38-caliber revolver or .380-caliber semi-automatic.
Davis said he trains people of all ages, and he has seen a marked increase in female permit holders. A review of 40 recent permits show they are coming from all over Sussex County with most applications from Seaford, 13; Milford, 6; and Lewes, 5.
Although each potential permit holder must fire a minimum of 100 rounds, the training course includes much more. Davis includes information on the safe handling and storage of weapons and ammunition; child safety; laws pertaining to the use of deadly force for self defense; federal and state laws pertaining to the purchase, ownership, transportation, use and possession of firearms; and techniques to avoid confrontation and criminal attack.