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Gun permits spike in Alle-Kiski Valley counties

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 1:17 a.m.
Armstrong County Chief Deputy Sheriff Frankie Shumaker was on hold with the state’s background check center for more than 30 minutes for a permit-to-carry application at the Armstrong County Sheriff Department's office in the courthouse on Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. The county processed more than 400 new and renewal applications for gun permits in December. MITCH FRYER | LEADER TIMES
Reed Mueseler, 14 months, passes time while his parents, April and Justin Mueseler, wait in line to obtain their first gun permit at the Westmoreland County Courthouse on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. Steph Anderson | For the Tribune-Review
Alan Ehrensberger of Latrobe has his photo taken to obtain a gun permit for the first time at the Westmoreland County Courthouse on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. Steph Anderson | For the Tribune-Review

April Mueseler said she was surprised to find a line of people waiting for a permit to carry a concealed weapon at the Westmoreland County Sheriff‘s Office last Friday.

But nearly two hours after Mueseler, 29, and her husband, Justin, 35, arrived to apply for permits, they were still waiting — and trying to keep their two young children occupied.

“We‘re just afraid the regulations were going to get harder,” April Mueseler of Sewickley Township said of recent talk about gun control. “We‘ve been talking about it and hadn't made the time to do it until now.”

The number of license-to-carry permits issued are up sharply in the Alle-Kiski Valley's counties.

Butler's nearly doubles

The number of new and renewed carry permits nearly doubled in Butler County in 2012.

As of Monday, Sheriff Mike Slupe said his office issued 7,330 new or renewed permits, nearly double the 3,671 in 2011.

Permits must be renewed every five years.

The increase was sharpest in the second half of the year. From January to June, Slupe's office handled 2,885 permits, up 85 percent from the 1,559 in 2011; from July 1 to Monday, it handled 4,445, up from 2,108, a 110 percent increase.

On a normal day, the four-person staff handles 25 to 40 applications. The week of Dec. 17, the daily number was between 65 and 98.

On Dec. 28, it hit a record 130, Slupe said.

“I would imagine after the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, the fact that the government leaders are talking about banning certain types of weapons, and Butler County has always been rich with hunters and those who hold their Second Amendment rights very near and dear. …” Slupe said, his thought trailing off.

“It will slow down eventually,” he said. “I don't know when.”

Allegheny's up by a half

As of Friday, Allegheny County had issued 18,653 new or renewed permits.

That's about 50 percent more than the 12,472 issued in 2011, Sheriff Bill Mullen said.

As of noon Monday, New Year's Eve, there had been 157 applications that day.

“This is the highest anybody can remember,” he said.

The number of applications was increasing before the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Since that incident, “we've almost tripled the amount we've had as compared to last year,” Mullen said.

“It's been steady all year. Since the shootings, it's definitely up.”

Mullen said an informal survey in his office found people were getting permits because they don't feel safe and want to carry weapons for personal safety.

Westmoreland's way up

In Westmoreland County, permits are up by nearly 4,300 over last year — with 12,507 permits issued as of the end of business last Thursday.

Sheriff Jonathan Held said his office has been busy all year processing the carry permits, which typically increase in a presidential election year.

But he has noticed two spikes in applications. The first came after the July movie theater shooting that left 10 people dead in Colorado, and the second spike came after this month‘s school shooting in Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults died.

“I guess it‘s just the tenor in our society right now,” Held said.

During those spikes, the department averaged 150 permits a day — three times more than a normal day.

Long lines are not uncommon, Held said. And crashes or slowdowns of the background check system frequently have forced deputies to phone information into the state rather than use the online system.

Sometimes, those checks have gone beyond the office‘s 4 p.m. closing time, and, in some cases, the office has mailed permits to people rather than have them wait if the system is bogged down, Held said.

Late Friday afternoon, about 30 people found whatever space they could to sit or stand to wait for an hour or two for their permits.

Armstrong up ‘greatly'

“There's been a great increase,” Armstrong County Sheriff Larry Crawford said. “We're very busy doing them.”

Crawford said his staff was so busy processing permit applications that he couldn't ask them to stop to figure out how many have been issued in 2012 compared to 2011.

“People are worried about gun bans, so everybody is out buying them right now,” he said.

Staff writer Brian C. Rittmeyer contributed to this report. Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

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