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North Dakota, Minnesota see record highs in handgun permits

Craig Roe, an instructor for concealed weapons permits for North Dakota, Minnesota and Utah, speaks Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, at the Red River Regional Marksmanship Center in West Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 3
Concealed weapons licenses in Minnesota and North Dakota.2 / 3
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FARGO – Over the past decade, the number of people with a permit to carry a concealed handgun has increased more than fivefold in North Dakota and Minnesota, with both states reaching record highs in 2015.

As of Dec. 31, there were 40,872 active handgun permits in North Dakota, and that figure was 207,045 in Minnesota, according to each state's crime bureau.

The soaring numbers have meant more business for Craig Roe, a firearm-safety instructor in Fargo who teaches the classes required to get handgun permits in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Roe said many of his students are seeking permits because they fear that tougher gun control laws are on the horizon. He said that after President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, attendance in his classes spiked.

"Anytime there's any type of legislation coming across with gun laws, people are not only buying more guns, they're coming to get permits," he said. "People are afraid they're going to lose some of their rights."

Another reason for more handgun permits is the desire for self-protection in an age of worries over terrorism and mass shootings.

"Look at the news, and look at the crime in Fargo," said Tom Hanson, general manager of the Red River Regional Marksmanship Center in West Fargo. "More people want a concealed-carry because they feel safer with it."

Roe said a growing number of women are taking classes to obtain handgun permits. "I think there's a lot of women who are concerned about their safety, and they want to be able to have a way to defend themselves," he said.

That was the motivation for Sue Kersting who received a permit in September, allowing her to carry a concealed handgun in North Dakota and 38 other states.

Kersting, 51, of Kindred, said she doesn't carry a handgun all the time, but she and her husband regularly keep one with them when they're on the road. "Having it in the car has greatly increased our feelings of security, being able to keep it close," she said of her handgun.

In North Dakota, a driver with a handgun permit can legally store a loaded, concealed handgun anywhere in a car. Lisa Dirk, a local gun-safety instructor, said many of her students get permits for this reason.

Otherwise, "if you're just going to the range for target practice, and you get stopped, and you don't have your gun in the trunk, it could be problematic," Dirk said.

For Kersting to obtain her permit, known as a Class 1, she had to take a class, demonstrate familiarity with a handgun and pass an open-book test and a shooting test. She said she already had her Class 2 permit, which has fewer requirements, but she switched to a Class 1 because it provides reciprocity with more states.

One of those states is now Minnesota thanks to a law change last year. In both Minnesota and North Dakota, a handgun permit is good for five years.

In 2013, North Dakota received so many applications for handgun permits, the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation couldn't meet its deadline of approving or denying applications within 60 days of receiving them.

This influx came in the months before the application fee rose from $45 to $60 to cover the cost of a new requirement that all applications undergo a fingerprint-based criminal history check by the FBI.

To deal with the backlogged applications, the bureau approved more overtime, hired more employees and reassigned existing ones. The backlog was eventually cleared, and the bureau is now meeting the 60-day deadline, BCI spokeswoman Liz Brocker said.

To explain the rise in the number of permits, North Dakota officials cite the state's record-breaking population growth as well as safety concerns in western oil-producing counties. A county-by-county breakdown of permits in North Dakota was not available, Brocker said.

Locally in Minnesota, a state report counted 3,116 permits in Otter Tail County, 1,477 in Becker County, 1,267 in Clay County, 227 in Norman County, 192 in Mahnomen County and 158 in Wilkin County.