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After attacks, a spike in gun-permit requests

By lunchtime Wednesday, in the middle of what has been a hectic week at the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, 20 people already had shown up to seek gun permits.

That followed 39 applicants for permits or renewals on Tuesday, and 46 on Monday — at least double the daily average from last month.

According to Sheriff Carolyn Bunny Welsh, the bump has everything to do with last week’s terror attacks across Paris. “People are frightened and more aware of self-defense,” she said.

The fallout from the attacks that killed 129 and left 350 injured evidently is having effects 3,700 miles away, in West Chester, Doylestown, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere across the country.

The application spike didn’t happen in Philadelphia or Delaware or Montgomery Counties. It was not clear whether a spike had occurred in New Jersey, which has strict gun laws and a lengthy approval process.

But requests for permits doubled this week in Bucks County, Sheriff Edward J. Donnelly said. At this time of year, about 20 applicants usually appear each day, but this week, about 40 have come in for permits each day.

“People get a little excited about things and they want the protection,” Donnelly said.

And in Allegheny County, the sheriff’s office has been so swamped with inquiries since Friday’s attack — and a subsequent ISIS threat of strikes in America — that it took to Facebook to implore people not to call the office and to submit permit requests by email.

The Pew Research Center reported last December that for the first time in 20 years of surveying, a majority of Americans, 52 percent, favored gun rights over gun control.

That doesn’t translate to ownership. About 870,000 Pennsylvanians, or 8.7 percent of the population, have permits to carry guns, according to the National shooting Sports Foundation. In New Jersey, only 32,000 had permits, or about 0.5 percent.

In related news, Paris terror attacks: What you need to know about the militant group.

Spikes in permit requests shouldn’t be surprising, said Robert Cottrol, who teaches criminal law and legal history at George Washington University Law School. He said they commonly occur after natural disasters and civil-unrest incidents.

He said people might feel that in times of crisis, they would be more vulnerable because security forces would be distracted.

“They looked at Paris and saw a situation where basically, large numbers of police and military personnel were drawn to the different incidents,” Cottrol said. “They’re probably thinking, if there’s a similar event here … ‘Well, I’m going to have to protect myself.’ ”

Welsh says she has seen similar bumps in application traffic after highly publicized incidents.

So, too, do proprietors of gun stores and shooting ranges.

“We can tell if there is a headline by how many people come into the store,” said firearms instructor Ed Hartzel at Clayton’s Hunting & Fishing in Horsham, Montgomery County. Gun sales there are up about 25 percent since Friday, he said.

Bob Bonnett, general manager at Targetmaster in Chadds Ford, said he saw a “huge spike in business” after the 2012 shootings at a school in Sandy Hook, Conn., and the resulting talk of gun restrictions.

“People are concerned about their safety,” said Bob Kostaras, owner of Classic Pistol Gun Range in Southampton, Bucks County, who says an increase in weapons sales started after the 9/11 terror attacks. “People have the right to defend themselves. There are a lot of good people out there who are willing to protect others.”

mschaefer@phillynews.com

610-313-8111@MariSchaefer

Inquirer staff writer Barbara Boyer contributed to this article.

This article was written by Mari A. Schaefer and Michaelle Bond from The Philadelphia Inquirer and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.