Shootings spur local spike in concealed weapon license applications

Clark County Sheriff's Office says requests have quadrupled

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Vancouver chiropractors Elizabeth Detwiler and Kevin Shearer had been thinking about getting a gun to protect the home they share with their two young sons.

The couple said they were concerned with the amount of crime occurring in their community. Some of their patients have been victims of it. But shootings on Dec. 11 at Clackamas Town Center and Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. — and lawmakers' subsequent discussion about tightening gun control laws — spurred them to finally act.

On Tuesday, the couple went to the Clark County Sheriff's Office to fill out applications for concealed pistol licenses, pay the $52.50 fee and be fingerprinted. Within 30 days, if their background checks go well, the couple will be licensed.

"Neither of us own a gun," Detwiler said. "With the recent tragedies and the possibility of (lawmakers) cracking down on gun rights, we figured we should do it now."

They are not alone in their sense of urgency. Concealed pistol license applications in Clark County quadrupled in the wake of the shootings, according to the Clark County Sheriff's civil department.

On Dec. 14, "people were lined up out the door," said Nanci Collins, a sheriff's support specialist. "It was insane."

The civil department recorded an average of about 100 applications per day Friday and Monday through Wednesday, compared with an average of about 25 applications per day in November.

"There have been a few renewals," said Gayle Andersen, a civil department employee. "The majority have been brand-new ones."

A 23-year-old Vancouver woman, who only gave her first name, Rachel, was among a steady stream of new applicants. Rachel said she had been thinking about getting a concealed pistol license for a few years, but recent events were the final motivation.

"It's a good time because when you think about the things that happen under your nose, it compels you to take seriously your safety and the safety of your family and to take matters into your own hands," she said.

Gun shops also have seen an increase in business since the shootings, said Eric Martinson, an employee at Vancouver's Continental Loan & Jewelry. As a pawn shop, Continental doesn't have a large inventory of guns but has received an influx of phone calls inquiring about guns for sale, Martinson said.

"We've had a lot of (American) Derringer requests," Martinson said. "That's a small handgun."

Clark County's major gun retailers in Clark County — L & L Guns, Brightwater Ventures, Discount Gun Sales and Big 5 Sporting Goods — all declined comment for this story.

Daniel Kwon, 35, of Vancouver already had a concealed pistol license but had forgotten to renew it. The shootings jolted his memory. On Tuesday, he filled out his application for a renewal.

Kwon first decided to get a concealed pistol license after he became the victim of a home burglary seven years ago.

Having a gun "feels like it's something that would back you up," Kwon said. He said if he had been at the Clackamas Town Center on the day of the shootings, he "probably would have done something about it."

Another applicant who declined to give his name said he got his concealed pistol permit after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The man said he wanted to feel he had the ability to defend himself.

"Not that I could stop a plane going through a building," he added.

Will Meek, a Vancouver psychologist, said shootings in places not seen as dangerous, such as elementary schools, movie theaters and malls, can shake people's sense of safety.

"We want to be able to exist in the world and feel OK walking around," Meek said. "We want to have a sense of control. When we don't, we get anxious and fearful."

People take different approaches to restore what psychologists call "the illusion of control," Meek said.

Some may try to regain their sense of safety and control by avoiding public places. Others try to overcome anxiousness and fear by reaching out to loved ones and reinforcing their sense of connection and purpose.

"Other people may want to protect or defend themselves," Meek said. "In our culture, that can mean buying a firearm."

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.