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Concealed weapon permits up in metro, Oil Patch

FARGO -- Cass and Clay counties experienced a big jump this year in the number of people asking for permits to carry concealed weapons, though increases in the metro region pale in comparison to how permits have skyrocketed in North Dakota's Oil Patch.

In Clay, 115 permits were issued in 2011 and 235 so far this year.

In Cass, the number of requests for a permit went from 696 last year to more than 980 so far this year.

Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said his office has not experienced a jump in applications following Friday's deadly school shooting in Connecticut, but before people can apply, they must first complete a training course.

But the sheriff said from what he understands, firearm sales are strong locally, with one gun dealer telling him "It's nuts" for selling guns right now.

Bergquist doesn't know what accounted for the jump in permit requests this year, but he speculated worries about possible changes in regulations might be a factor.

Numbers in Cass County support the theory. According to data from the state attorney general's office, there were 398 permits issued in 2007.

In 2008, as President Barack Obama was running for his first term, the number jumped to 434 and then to 608 in 2009, according to the state statistics.

The number of permits issued in Cass dropped to 419 in 2010 but increased to 582 in 2011 and are on the rise again this year. There were 681 permits issued in the county through the end of July.

Permits to carry a concealed weapon are leaping even more rapidly in western North Dakota, according to the attorney general's office.

In Stark County, home of Dickinson, there were 188 permits issued in all of 2011. Just through July 27, 719 permits were issued in Stark County -- more than were issued in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 combined.

In Williston's Williams County, 459 permits were issued in 2011 and 170 in 2010. Through July 27 of this year, 769 were issued.

There were 1,374 permits issued in Burleigh County through July 27 this year, compared to 674 in 2011 and 515 in 2010.

Bergquist said Minnesota law does not allow him to deny a concealed weapon permit except in very limited circumstances, such as if the applicant has a felony conviction, is wanted by authorities or has a documented mental illness.

Bergquist said he has denied only two requests during his time as sheriff.

Many who seek permits in Clay County are farmers who want to carry a gun while they are out working on their land, but don't want the hassle of unloading and casing their guns every time they get into a vehicle, he said.

North Dakota law allows officials to consider the reason someone is asking for a permit when deciding whether to grant one, said Sgt. Tara Morris of the Cass County Sheriff's Office.

Fargo and West Fargo residents who want a permit to carry a concealed weapon must first complete a training course before submitting an application to their respective police department.

County residents outside of Fargo and West Fargo may submit applications directly to the sheriff's office.

After police review an application, it is sent to the sheriff's office for further review and then to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which has final say.

The BCI performs state and federal records checks and runs the applicant's fingerprints through a law enforcement data base.

There are some applicants rejected.

Cass County, for instance, reports it processed 696 permit applications in 2011, but state data shows only 582 permits were issued in Cass in 2011.