The number of people who hold handgun carry permits grew across the state and in every south-central Minnesota county again last year.
More people applied for a new permit or to renew their permit in 2018 than in 2017 and 2015, but not as many as the peak of 2016.
Sheriffs across Minnesota issued more than 66,000 permits allowing people to carry handguns in public last year, according to an annual report recently released by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
The state annually tracks carry-permit statistics. It does not tally permit-to-purchase data.
Minnesota law requires applicants to complete a training certification and pass a background check. Permits must be renewed every five years.
Nearly 291,000 Minnesotans had a permit to carry as of the end of last year. That's up from 283,000 at the end of 2017 and up from less than 162,000 at the end of 2012.
The number of permitted gun carriers also has climbed in all eight counties in The Free Press coverage area. Blue Earth County was home to nearly 3,000 permit holders at the end of 2018, which is 200 more than in 2017. Nicollet County had nearly 1,400 permit holders, up nearly 100.
Two area permit-to-carry instructors said the growth is likely at least in part because more women are choosing to carry.
Gustav Sandborg of At the Ready Armory in North Mankato and Martin Healey of Wells Personal Defense in Wells both said more women are taking their classes. Both instructors now offer classes specially designed for women.
“They are deciding to take their security into their own hands,” Sandborg said.
“For women it is the most effective means of self-defense. It evens the playing field,” Healey said.
The state report does not contain statewide or countywide statistics on the number of female permit to carry holders.
But the report does count female recipients of new or renewal permits in each zip code. That data show upticks in many of the most populous zip codes in the region.
In the Mankato area 56001 zip code, 78 women received permits last year, up from 62 in 2017. In the St. Peter area 56082 zip code, the 18 permits issued to women in 2018 was two fewer than in 2017 but up from 10 issued in 2013.
Looking at permits issued and re-issued last year to both genders, the number increased in every area county. There was a peak in 2016, a dip in 2017 and a rebound last year in every area county.
Sandborg and Healey said they don't know if there is an explanation for the year-to-year variations.
They don't think the renewed push for gun control in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last February had much of an impact. Prior mass shootings probably had already motivated people who were considering arming themselves for protection to do so, they said. And prior gun control pushes have likely already spurred those who are worried about their rights to get their permits.
Economic volatility might play a role in both permits and gun purchases, Healey said, as cost is a roadblock for some potential carriers.
Both instructors said they also have noticed an upturn in the number of pupils attending permit-renewal courses.
“Most people who get it are keeping it,” Healey said.
In all area counties more new permits were issued than renewals last year. In Blue Earth County there were over 400 new permits issued and nearly 300 renewals.
Sheriff's offices denied less than 1 percent of permit applications last year. Most area counties rejected one or two applications in 2108. Blue Earth County denied four requests, each because the applicant had a prior criminal conviction that made him or her ineligible.
Nicollet County has the lowest area permit holders per capita: 4 percent. Faribault County has the highest proportion of handgun carriers: nearly 8 percent.