'Concealed Carry'
New Weapons Law Generates Boom in Permits

  by Steve Miller
  copyright 1996, Electric Nevada

Nevada's new concealed weapons law has yielded a 1200% increase in the rate of approval for handgun-carry permits in Washoe County, yet there have been very few problems, says the county Sheriff's Department.
Permits averaged under 100 a year during 1994, the last full calendar year before implementation of "concealed-carry" reform legislation passed by the 1995 Nevada Legislature, according to Captain Lee Bergevin of the department's administrative bureau.
But since the law took effect last October, he said, permits have, until recently, been averaging about 100 per month.
"Since the law's been in effect, I have denied, I think, three permits and revoked three," Bergevin told Electric Nevada. "And we have issued, I think, well in excess of 800.
"So that's pretty minimal problems."
Under the new state law, law-abiding Nevadans who complete a sheriff-approved firearms competence course, can now more easily receive the permits.
Not only have application costs been lowered, but the burden of proof has been removed from people seeking the concealed-carry permits.
Rather than citizens having to prove why they should be permitted to carry a firearm on their person, it is now county sheriffs who have to justify why an applicant should not receive a permit.
"Occasionally, you'll have somebody that isn't disqualified by the law but [who] I don't feel real comfortable with giving them a permit," said Bergevin. "But under the law they qualify, so I give them one."
One important goal of Nevada's law was to set uniform standards across the entire state.
In the past, says Robert Seligman, who worked for passage, "You had 17 different jurisdictions reading [the law] differently."
Some, he said, interpreted the law very loosely, and others interpreted the concealed weapons part of the statute much more strictly.
"There were counties that said carrying [a firearm in] a briefcase or a woman's purse was not on your person, [and] there were counties that would arrest you for that."
In the past, say other gun owners and conservative activists, permits were often only issued to applicants personally okayed by Nevada's county sheriffs. In some counties that meant people were treated unequally, they say, with permits often only going to sheriffs' personal friends.
In Washoe County, said Bergevin, Sheriff Dick Kirkland began loosening up the permit-issuing procedure soon after taking office in early 1994.
Even so, after the new state law took effect October 1, "there was kind of a rush," said the captain. For 1995 as a whole, the department issued 596 permits., Lately however, he said, the rate of applications has dropped off.
Bergevin doesn't expect law enforcement representatives to seek any significant modification of the new law in next year's legislative session.
"If there are any [problems], I think they are pretty minor," he said. "From my own standpoint, I don't see many problems."
The sheriff's office has procedures in place to deal with any problems involving permit holders.
"If they get arrested or something like that, or if something else happens that would put them in the category of being disqualified, then we'll act on it," Bergevin said.
"So far
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we have had one revoked because the person was served with a temporary order for protection against domestic violence," Bergevin said.
Copies of all such orders come through his office, said the captain, and so the department routinely cross-checks the names of persons named in restraining orders against previously issued permits.
"The other ones [revoked], both of those, were arrests, and they were brought to our attention by the agency that arrested them," said Bergevin, adding that when someone is arrested, their permit is routinely suspended, pending resolution of the matter.
Nevada's new law is one of a recent wave of "shall-issue" laws passed by America's state legislatures. While national gun-control and anti-handgun groups have opposed the surge, more than half the states -- according to American Firearms Magazine, at least 27 states -- now have laws similar to Nevada's.
National advocates of the new "shall-issue" permit laws say they do help fight crime.
"In Florida, and the 26 other states which have enacted "shall-issue" concealed carry firearm permit laws," writes attorney Robert G. Heinritz, Jr., on the website of American Firearms Industry magazine, "the rate of homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault has declined -- even while going up in surrounding states.
"On the other hand, the misuse of firearms by legal permit-holders has been so statistically insignificant that even the opponents have stopped counting."
Heinritz says the statistics are compiled from the FBI Uniform Crime Report and other official sources, and that the definitions used by those sources makes them doubly significant.
"'Homicide,' for example," he says, "includes any killing of one person by another, including police shootings and justifiable self-defense.
"Thus, even justifiable violence -- such as a mother protecting her children -- declined where law-abiding citizens are permitted their right to protect themselves."
An organization called The Violence Policy Center, resisting the spread of right-to-carry laws, criticized Florida's law in a letter sent to newspapers around the nation. "'Concealed carry license holders do commit crimes" under Florida's program, the letter said.
Florida secretary of State Sandra Mortham responded that, since the law took effect in October of 1987, there were 324 licenses revoked because the licensee committed a crime after receiving a license.
Since 207,978 licenses had been issued, she said, the revocations amounted to less than .001% of all licenses.
Also, she said, "As of November 30, 1995, only 54 of those 324 utilized a firearm in the commission of their crime," which calculates to one-sixth of .001 percent.
"If you look closely at the statistics," concluded Ms. Mortham, "and consider the fact that Florida's Concealed Weapon or Firearm License Program has been in effect for eight years with no changes initiated by any law enforcement group, you will agree that the program is indeed a success and a model for other states."


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