COVINGTON, Ga. — Last year, 2,720 weapon carry permits (conceal carry licenses) were issued in Newton County. Probate Judge Melanie Bell expects to surpass that number for 2020 in a matter of days.
As of Sept. 1, there have already been 2,690 permits issued, Bell said. Over the same time period, only 1,917 were issued in 2019.
“Keep in mind that we issued no licenses from March 14 to May 14 (due to COVID-19),” she said. “We’re probably looking at a record year.”
In speaking with other judges across the state, Bell said she believed it was common for the numbers to go up in a presidential election year.
In 2016, the last presidential election, there were 2,675 permits issued.
In 2017, there were 2,557 permits issued.
In 2018, the last gubernatorial election, there were 3,114 permits issued.
However, an election may not be the sole reason for 2020’s increase.
“It could also be due to civil unrest, protests and other incidents across the country — police issues, Black Lives Matter and other issues being dealt with in Portland and other areas,” Bell said. “Anecdotally, what we’ve been hearing a lot of is: ‘I’ve never had a gun license, but I would just feel safer.’
“We haven’t had any issues here in Newton County. Everything we’ve had had been completely peaceful, as it should be and to be applauded… I think people just watch the news and get nervous.”
Bell said people have told her that many gun stores have started selling to permit holders only, which could be another reason for the rise in demand.
Applying for a weapon carry permit is relatively simple, Bell said. In years past, residents could come in to submit an application as needed, but now it is by appointment only.
For Newton County, and most other areas across Georgia, the process begins online at georgiaprobaterecords.com. Once the application is completed online, Bell said applicants are to call the courthouse to set up an appointment to be fingerprinted for a background check and have their picture taken for the license. Fingerprints are not required if the permit is being renewed.
“Then the judge reviews fingerprint-based background check to make sure you’re legally qualified,” she said.
If approved, applicants should receive their permit in about two weeks, Bell said.
The cost is $78 for a new applicant and $30 for a renewal. Bell said the GBI recently raised its fingerprint fee, which is controlled by the legislature.
Bell said the most difficult part of the process would be if someone’s background check uncovered a felony charge from several years ago. She said it often took time to track down information and get proof that charges were dropped. If charges weren’t dropped, she said her office had programs to help those people receive permits if certain requirements are met.