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January 19. 2013 11:31PM

Requests up for gun licenses

Since the Connecticut school massacre in mid-December, New Hampshire State Police have been conducting record numbers of background checks for handgun purchases, and local police departments are seeing a sharp rise in how many pistol licenses they are approving for people to carry concealed firearms.

State police processed a single-day record of 611 background checks on handguns on Jan. 12, the first day of a Manchester gun show. The first day of the same gun show last January featured 283 such checks, according to Sgt. Sean Haggerty. The gun show dominated both days' tallies, which also included background checks from other federal firearms licensed dealers around the state, he said.

"Prior to December of 2012, we would rarely get more than 200 calls," Haggerty said. "We're routinely on every single day above 200 background checks a day. That's been going on all of December. . . . This huge spike occurred in November and December and rose to historic levels, and it's certainly occurring through January."

On Dec. 13, the day before New Hampshire native Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six educators in a Newtown, Conn., school, New Hampshire State Police completed 173 background checks. The day of the school shooting, Dec. 14, there were 259 checks. The day after the shooting, there were 468. Dec. 22 saw 555 checks, said Haggerty, commander of the state police permits and licensing unit.

Over the past month, Manchester, Bedford and Nashua have seen more people seeking a pistol/revolver license to carry a concealed firearm.

Manchester police Capt. Nick Willard said there was an "immediate uptick" after the Connecticut shooting.

"The records department called up saying they were getting inundated with applications," he said. "The majority of people recently are putting on 'self-defense' (where the application asks for a reason for the license request), where in the past you'd see 'target shooting."'

Between the Newtown shooting and last Wednesday, Manchester police received 280 applications, or about 70 a week, compared with a typical weekly average of 28 per week. A total of 4,486 Manchester residents have pistol licenses, which must be renewed every four years.

Bedford police investigated a well-publicized home invasion on Nov. 24, prompting security concerns among some residents. The police department in December issued 91 pistol licenses, compared with 29 during December 2011.

From Jan. 1 through Wednesday, Bedford police issued 38 licenses and had an additional 14 applications being processed. For all of January 2012, the department issued 28 licenses.

In Nashua, police approved 168 pistol licenses between Dec. 14 and Wednesday, compared with 87 for the same period a year earlier, according to David Lavoie, the department's records manager. The city has 3,511 active licenses.

At least two police departments said they saw a shift in demographics among those seeking pistol licenses.

Over the past six months, Willard said, "I have noticed there are more females that are applying for pistol permits. I'm also seeing a lot more couples, a lot more married couples that are requesting pistol permits."

Salem police detected a similar demographic trend.

"It seems like there's more husbands and wives requesting pistol permits," said Salem police Detective Sgt. Michael Kelly.

Between the day of the Connecticut shooting and Thursday, Salem police approved 78 permits, with 35 more applications pending. That compares with 32 approved and about five pending for that period a year earlier.

"I think it's based on the facts of what happened with the Newtown shooting," Kelly said. Others fear a "crackdown on the gun laws," he said.

The owner of Riley's Sport Shop in Hooksett said he has been experiencing "unprecedented" sales since many government officials started calling for gun restrictions soon after the school shooting. Ralph Demicco said sales have never been higher in his 39 years owning the store, adding it's difficult to keep shelves filled with ammunition, and he is limiting how much people can buy.

"What's driving this is law-abiding citizens fear the government is going to irrationally implement some firearms restrictions," Demicco said Friday. "The demand (for firearms) is off the charts. Supplies are limited and everything that does come in goes out as fast as it can."

But former Sen. Burt Cohen, D-New Castle, who backed bills calling for firearms restrictions, said the federal government is not going to take away guns people use to hunt or to protect their homes. He blamed the leadership of the National Rifle Association.

"There is this fear the government is going to take away their guns, so people are going to gun shows buying every gun that they can get," Cohen said.

Rochester police actually saw a decrease in licenses issued since Newtown.

Between Dec. 14 and Friday, the department issued 54 permits, compared with 63 for the same period the previous year. For all of 2012, police issued 478 licenses, almost 100 more than the 387 approved in 2011, according to Capt. Paul Toussaint.

In Plymouth, police issued 11 pistol licenses between Dec. 14 and last Thursday, compared with six for the same period the previous year.

Don Gorman, a Deerfield pistol-shooting instructor, said his advance bookings now stretch a month longer than they did a year ago, with people afraid for their personal safety or concerned the government will restrict access to firearms. Within three days of the Bedford home invasion, Gorman said three people from Bedford signed up for his class.

"All of this gets back to one word: fear," Gorman said. "People are scared to death."

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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