By Julie Watts

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The shelves are bare at local gun stores and firearms training courses are overwhelmed with people applying for permits to carry concealed weapons ahead of the election.

Firearms instructors and local gun store owners say, in addition to an increase in the number of people applying to carry a concealed weapon, they are seeing a shift in clientele including more women, senior citizens and people who are politically more liberal. They cite a combination of catalysts for the increase including civil unrest, home defense, and fear that it could be harder to get a gun following the election.

A Glut of New Gun Buyers

A recent study found an estimated 110,000 Californians purchased new firearms since the start of the pandemic, 47,000 of them were first-time gun buyers.

“They go out as fast as I can bring them in,” said Eddie Ford, co-owner of the NorCal Gun Vault. “[We’ve seen] 160% demand over last year.”

He says most of his customers are buying guns for home protection. “There’s been a marked uptick in Bay Area residents coming up here and because the supply is so short,” Ford said. “I can’t supply them fast enough.”

At NorCal Gun Vault, Ford says the rush on guns began in March and spiked this summer amid the civil unrest, then spiked again ahead of the election due to fears of stricter gun laws under a new president.

Ford says the same thing happened in 2016, however this year, in addition to guns, he says about one-third of his customers also want a permit to carry a concealed weapon (CCW).

The training courses offered at Ford’s store have been full for months and they’ve recently begun offering ladies only classes in response to a changing demographic.

More People Want to Carry Concealed Weapons

While it’s been widely reported that gun sales are up amid the pandemic, data obtained by CBS13 indicates applications to carry a concealed weapon in public (CCW) are also up dramatically.

Paul Manifredi, 77, at the gun range.

There are 26% more new CCW applications in Sacramento County so far this year than there were in all of 2019. In Placer County, there are 63% more new applications this year, with more than 700 still pending or backlogged due to the pandemic.

Seventy-seven-year-old Paul Manifredi’s application is among them.

“I’m a strong constitutionalist. I adhere to the right to bear arms,” Manifredi said.

When we asked Manifredi why he’s choosing to get a concealed weapon permit for the first time now, after 77 years, he cited the push to decrease police funding and a growing desire to protect himself and his family amid the civil unrest.

“The demographic is definitely changing,” said CCW trainer Don Ratkowski, owner of Protection Plus Tactics in Placer County. “[There are] more women and elderly that want to protect themselves in addition to more left-leaning people who avoided guns in the past.”

He says his phones have been ringing non-stop with people interested in training to carry a concealed weapon. His students cite a combination of catalysts including civil unrest, home defense, and concern about stricter gun laws under a new president.

However, he says the common factor among most of his students is a growing sense of a need for protection amid the pandemic and civil unrest.

CCWs Vary Greatly by County 

While owning a gun is a right, carrying a concealed weapon is considered a privilege in California. Getting a permit is a long process that includes a required training course made up of mostly classroom work.

“Knowing your responsibility with a weapon in the public. That is the most important thing,” Ratkowski explained.

Ratkowski takes his students through simulations focused on the preservation of life, using the gun as a last resort. However, the actual requirements for a CCW vary greatly by county.

“Placer County is an eight-hour course, in Sacramento County, it’s a 16-hour course,” Ratkowski said.

Concealed weapon permits are issued by county sheriffs, and some chose not to issue any at all. The State Auditor raised concerns in 2017 about inconsistent CCW programs among some of the largest counties that do issue the permits.

For instance, while you must show “good cause” to carry a firearm, the interpretation of “good cause” varies greatly by county.

Data obtained by CBS13 reveals so far this year, Sacramento County has denied roughly 70% of CCW applications while Placer County has denied fewer than 5% of the processed applications.

The Sacramento Sheriff’s Department would not reveal the reason for the vast number of denials stating, “When a CCW is denied, we do not give a specific reason as it creates an opportunity for people to craft their applications around screen out criteria.”

In contrast, the Placer County Sheriff’s Department revealed that most of the denials were due to incomplete or withdrawn applications.

Ratkowski points out that not everyone who takes the required CCW courses ends up with a permit. He says about 10% of his students don’t pass the course and another 5% withdraw their application.

“Sometimes they feel that responsibility and commitment and it might be a little too much and they decide I’m not ready for it,” Ratkowski said. “And sometimes they come back once they’re ready.”

Julie Watts

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