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Bucks County Sheriff sees near-record week for concealed weapon permits

For the second time this year the Bucks County Sheriff's Office has experienced a major spike in concealed weapon permit applications following a deadly mass shooting.

The applications are typically heavier in the last month of the year, especially between Christmas and New Year’s Day, but last Friday was no busier than usual, Bucks County Sheriff Chief Deputy Dennis Shook said.

Monday, though, was a completely different story.

Two days after the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, Bucks County processed 90 permit applications, an unheard of number for a Monday, Shook said.

He couldn’t say if the rush was tied to the shooting, but as of Thursday, his office had processed 362 carrying permit applications, a potential record. Bucks County has roughly 30,000 active concealed weapon permits.

“We’ve had non-stop carry permit applications this week,” he added, saying the line was out the door all day Tuesday and Wednesday.

No similar jump in concealed permit applications occurred last week in neighboring Montgomery County, which averages about 35 applications a day, Sheriff Eileen Behr said. There are about 34,000 active concealed weapon permits in the county, she added.

But the county did experience a huge backlog with approvals because of problems with the statewide check systems, Behr said. As a result, the wait for a permit jumped from a half-hour at the most to at least an hour.

“(Thursday) we were telling people to leave the forms and we would call them after they get the approval,” Behr said.

Adding to the delay, several times last week the Pennsylvania Instant Check (PIC) firearms check system crashed due to the “extremely high volume” statewide, so requests had to be phoned in, Shook said.

Pennsylvania State Police spokeswoman Marie Finn confirmed PIC checks last week increased statewide, though the increase can’t specifically be attributed to the Sandy Hook, Conn. shooting. She said Black Friday instant checks were the highest in state police history, though the agency typically seeks a spike every holiday season.

The apparent rush to purchase guns was a national phenomenon and caused the federal system that processes background checks for firearm purchases -- the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) -- to experience heavy delays last weekend, according to media reports.

News events, such as mass shootings or lawmaker efforts to restrict guns, can have a major impact on gun sales, experts point out. FBI figures show background checks for handgun sales rose in Arizona after the 2011 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

A similar spike in concealed weapon permit applications and background checks was noted in the two weeks following the July 20 fatal mass shooting in a Colorado movie theater during a midnight showing of the final "Batman" movie.

Both Bucks and Montgomery county sheriff's offices experienced an unusual spike in concealed permit applications, though neither office could say it was directly related to that shooting.

NICS statistics show in Pennsylvania last month 99,829 firearm background checks were performed, the highest number for November since 1998. That is nearly double the total for November 2007, when 53,595 checks were performs in the state
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