Gwinnett County residents are seeking permits to carry firearms at a greater rate than ever before.
The county’s Probate Court has received more than 4,500 weapons carry applications through April 10 — a pace that could mean more than 16,000 applications submitted by the end of the year.
The record for applications was set last year at 8,300.
Gwinnett County commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to add $39,000 to the Probate Court’s budget so Judge Christopher Ballar can hire four temporary part-time employees to help process the paperwork over the next six months.
Ballar said he’s not sure whether the pace of incoming applications will continue for the rest of the year. But he wants to be ready in case it does.
“These numbers, there’s just nothing else to compare it to,” Ballar said. “We don’t have any other history like this. So it’s hard to know if this is the new normal or if it’s temporary. I’m just trying to play it smart and handle it one step at a time.”
The permits allow people to carry firearms, and some knives, into public places where they are otherwise prohibited.
The surge in applications is happening in the midst of a national political debate over whether semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazine clips should be regulated by the federal government. There is also debate over whether there should be universal background checks required before guns are purchased.
The national debate was sparked by mass shootings in Connecticut, Colorado and Arizona over the past few years.
Ballar said it’s hard to know exactly what is driving the spike in demand, but he said it is “probably a combination” of those shootings, changes in state law related to permits and individual problems with crime.
Patrick Parsons, executive director of the nonprofit Georgia Gun Owners, said he believes the political debate over gun regulation is exactly what is driving the demand.
“I don’t think it’s much of a surprise,” Parsons said of the spike in applications. “Just look at not only the political climate but what’s been happening in the last few months. There’s a perception that (people’s) best defense against criminals who want to harm them is to be armed in public in their daily life.”
Georgia Gun Owners wants a change in law that would allow people to carry guns at any time, without seeking a permit from the government.
Although Georgia has a reputation as one of the friendliest states to gun owners, opposition to allowing concealed weapons on the state’s college campuses stopped gun legislation last month in the state Legislature. It was the most notable among the more than two dozen bills filed by state lawmakers this year in the wake of December’s school massacre in Newtown, Conn. While many sought to allow gun owners to carry their weapons in more places, others sought expanded background checks and restrictions for people diagnosed with mental disabilities.
In addition to weapons carry permits, the Probate Court’s ministerial duties include issuing birth certificates, death certificates and marriage licenses. Ballar said the increase is having an impact on all the court’s responsibilities.
“The court does not have the capacity to respond to the demand without hiring additional staff,” Ballar wrote in a memo to commissioners before the vote. “The staffing situation has undoubtedly affected our turnaround time … in nearly all other areas of the court.
“It’s virtually impossible to remain compliant with the strict statutory time limits for processing weapons carry license applications with the workforce that we have in place now.”
Staff writer Kristina Torres contributed to this article.