How safe do you feel in your community? Do you feel you need a gun under your coat?
Most of us don't feel we need a gun, at least in the Mankato area.
But the news this past year has inundated us with tales of how people who lived in what they thought were safe communities found themselves in the midst horrific gun violence. 20 young school children gunned down in Newtown, Conn. Dozens injured and many killed in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater. Dozens killed in a rampage at Virginia Tech. A Congresswoman shot in the head in a grocery store parking lot.
The solutions run the usual gamut. More guns. Less guns.
But some of the more interesting commentary comes from those who point to larger issues, like a culture where we have to fear just about everything.
Free Press letter writer Larry Kiewel of Belle Plaine described this particularly well. "The events in Newtown, Conn., do not point to a poverty of law. They point to a poverty of spirit. This poverty of spirit shows itself as fear."
He goes on to describe this fear manifesting itself when it gets so great that loaded guns are left around the house and two children are killed, two teenagers are shot multiple times as they broke into a home and a grandfather awoken in the night shoots his granddaughter not knowing who she is.
"The NRA is wrong," writes Kiewel. "When individuals take their safety into their own hands, the community is less safe."
Of the hundreds of letters I read in a year, I cannot remember one that stopped me like this.
But the thesis may be more interesting if we can link it to data. We may be able to link data to this fear quotient and quantify or measure how much fear we have by county in Minnesota.
We can assess one measure of fear by taking a look at the conceal and carry gun permits issued by each county and dividing that by the number of people in that county who are legally able to get a permit. In this case, we can simplify by using the population over 21 years of age, the age you have to be to get a permit, as the basic eligibility factor.
We can come up with a "fear factor" if you will by county. Those with the more permits per 21 plus population would be considered more "fearful."
The equation assumes that people who carry a concealed weapon have a certain amount of fear. It is a generalization, and possibly an unfair measure, but the results are nonetheless interesting.
We used the number of existing permits in Minnesota as of Dec. 31.
The tip of the arrowhead in Minnesota, Cook County, appears to be a place where one of every 16 people over 21 has a conceal and carry gun permit, the highest ratio in Minnesota. It's a number equivalent to about 6.3 percent of the over 21 population.
It's also the site of a December 2011 courthouse shooting where a man convicted of sexual assault opened fired on the county attorney, wounding him and two others.
The county where people feel very little need to have a conceal and carry permit: Rock County, about as far away from Cook County as you can get, in far southwestern Minnesota. There, about 1 in 97 people over age 21 feel the need to be able to carry a gun under their coat. That's about 1 percent.
For the nine counties of the Mankato region, we seem to feel little need to pack heat.
Sibley County ranks highest in the fear factor among area counties, with one in every 33 people over 21 having a carry permit. That's 43 highest of 87 counties.
Faribault County is next at one in 34 who carry, ranked 48th in the state. Le Sueur County's stats inculde one in every 36 who carry and is ranked 54th. Watonwan is one in 38 and ranked 57th. One in 45 Martin County residents have a permit and that county is ranked 66th. Blue Earth County has one in every 45.5 people with a permit and ranks 68th. Waseca County has one permit every 47 people and ranks 72.
Nicollet County is one permit for every 52.2 people and ranked 80th. Brown County is lowest of regional counties in permits per 21 years and older population with one permit per 74 and a state ranking of 85 out of 87 counties.