(Staff photo illustration by Ken Ritchie)
(Staff photo illustration by Ken Ritchie)
The number of local residents requesting handgun carrying permits has skyrocketed since late last year, leaving state and local law enforcement agencies inundated with applications.

After the call from President Barack Obama for tougher gun regulations following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the Indiana State Police has reported about 4,000 permit filings each week.

In January 2012, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department approved 21 handgun permit applications compared with 83 this January.

Likewise, the Madison Police Department jumped from 15 approvals in January 2012 to 33 this January and saw a triple increase comparing this February to last February.

Sheriff John Wallace said he believes the influx "no doubt" has a direct link to gun regulation talks.

"It's really just kicked into overdrive after all of the rhetoric has come out of Washington, D.C., in regards to the Second Amendment," he said.

"Three days after Christmas, I think I had 11 or 12 (applications) in one day," said Maj. Jeremey Perkins, who handles gun permits for the Madison Police Department.

The surge has created a backlog of unprocessed permits and longer waits for permit approvals at the state level.

The state now estimates a waiting period of 12 to 15 weeks after an application is approved locally and the payment is processed. Last year, Perkins said, that process only took about four to eight weeks.

To handle the increase, both the sheriff and Perkins have worked in more time for applications, even making themselves available after hours for those who cannot apply during regular business hours.

While each permit card is officially granted through the Indiana State Police, local agencies conduct background checks and necessary fingerprinting and then make a decision and recommendation to the state.

In Indiana, no permit is needed to have shotguns, rifles or handguns in the home. A permit is needed only in order to carry a handgun in a holster or in a vehicle.

The personal carry permit includes a state fee of $30 for four years or $75 for the lifetime option. Retired corrections or police officers are not charged a fee. The application includes a local fee of $40 for those bumping up from a four-year to lifetime permit or a $50 local fee for new applicants seeking the lifetime option.

The application is available online at www.aries.in.gov/firearms/permit.aspx.

"About every 20 that come in, 19 will want the lifetime," Wallace said.

Among the influx in applications, both Perkins said Wallace said a new trend has been the increase in husbands and wives applying for applications at the same time - and women applying for permits by themselves.

In fact, since the start of the year, both departments estimate that 40 percent of all gun permit requests have come from female residents. In January, 25 of the 83 permits approved by the sheriff's office were females, while women made up 15 of the 33 approvals for MPD that same month.

On Wednesday morning, Wallace reviewed an application for a Hanover woman who wished to remain anonymous.

The woman, a longtime firearms owner who now lives alone, said she wanted to take the proper legal steps to begin carrying a handgun in her vehicle for personal protection because she regularly travels to Indianapolis.

Citing the recent national talk about gun control, she said she worried that Indiana's concealed carrying permit could go away or change in the new future.

"Right now, I just want to have it when I'm out of my area," she said.

While reviewing the gun permits applications, the local departments also have fielded a litany of questions and concerns from residents about Indiana's gun laws.

Wallace said most applicants are concerned that the concealed carry permit - especially the lifetime option - could be in jeopardy in Indiana, and as an elected official, they seek out his opinion.

"To me, the Second Amendment is pretty cut and dry," he said. "As someone who is the sheriff of the county and sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, I'm a firm believer in the right to bear arms."

Beyond that, both the sheriff's department and MPD offer tips for those requesting a carrying permit.

For one, it's important to know that not all states - including neighbors Illinois and Ohio - recognize Indiana's concealed carry permit. That means gun owners should do some investigating before heading on an out-of-state road trip, Perkins said.

"The thing that I stress to people is to check (the state's) .gov websites and see what they want you to do with your handgun as you travel through or in their state," he said. "And some states may not let you have it at all."

Given that gun owners do not have to register their firearms in Indiana, the departments encourage residents to follow-up on private gun sales or have the serial number checked by police.

"Just understand that if in fact it is a stolen weapon, we are going to have to take possession of that weapon," Perkins said.

Wallace also recommends that gun owners write down the make, model and serial number and keep that information separate from the firearm, in case the gun is stolen.

Perkins and Wallace said residents pursuing handgun permits for the first time or even those renewing old permits see it as a precautionary move.

"What I'm finding a lot is people getting it, and really at this point in time, have no intention of carrying it," Wallace said.

"Just something to have, just in case," Perkins added.