Hand guns for sale are display at Peters Indoor Range & Gun Shop Inc. in Roseville, MIch. on February 6. CPL classes and gun sales are both up according to local gun ranges. / Jessica J. Trevino, Detroit Free Press
DETROIT -- Daniel Oltesvig served in the Army for 26 years, but it wasn't until the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that he decided to apply for a concealed pistol license for himself.
"Too many crazies out there," the 61-year-old Chesterfield Township man said while waiting in line to discuss his CPL application with officials at the Macomb County Clerk's Office. "I want something to protect me when I travel and at my home."
Oltesvig isn't alone.
The Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six adults by a gunman at the Connecticut school and the subsequent nationwide push for tighter gun laws have people lining up in metro Detroit communities and across Michigan for permits to carry a concealed handgun. Some counties reported CPL applications doubled in January, compared to the same month last year.
Gun shops and firearm training facilities are also reporting brisk business.
The applicants' reasons vary; but for many, the theme is similar, officials said.
"I have talked to some and they are just afraid the (gun) laws are going to change," said Justine Schlak, vital records supervisor for the Oakland County Clerk's Office.
The Oakland County Clerk's Office took in 2,112 applications in January -- more than twice as many as the 994 applications it accepted in January 2012. Going into 2013, Oakland had 48,377 residents licensed to carry a concealed handgun -- or about 4 out of every 100 residents.
On Wednesday, the line at vital records at the Macomb County Clerk's Office -- where residents turn in their CPL applications -- snaked out the door and wrapped around the hallway in the county courthouse, with about two dozen people in line late in the afternoon. Staff said the majority of people were turning in CPL applications and many paid extra to have their picture taken for the licenses.
Macomb County recorded its highest daily total of CPL applications ever on Jan 16 with 109 applications, more than twice what the Clerk's Office normally accepts in a day, vital records supervisor Lynn Brown said. Seventy-four were new applications and 35 were renewals. The county accepted 1,464 applications last month, compared to 784 applications in January 2012, Brown said.
Brown said Macomb County added an extra gun board meeting in February. All new applicants must appear in person before the gun board in Macomb County, a requirement that officials there said is unique.
The county gun boards -- composed of one representative each from the county sheriff's and prosecutor's offices and Michigan State Police -- approve or deny CPL applications. Applications can be denied for a variety of reasons ranging from mental health issues to convictions for various criminal offenses.
Few are denied.
"Numbers are up due to public's belief that stricter gun control laws are looming coupled with (the) Newtown tragedy," wrote Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, who is president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.
Even in sparsely populated Gratiot County, north of Lansing, County Clerk Carol Vernon said she is seeing more new CPL applications. The county, with a population of only about 42,000 people, had a total of 1,192 approved CPL applications going into 2013.
The exception may be in Wayne County, where officials said they haven't seen a surge in CPL applications compared to similar months' a year prior.
Jina Sawani, spokeswoman for the Wayne County Clerk's Office, said numbers may spike a bit in January and February, partially because of tax refunds and monetary Christmas gifts.
Statewide, as of Jan. 2, there were 355,586 approved CPL permits with nearly two-thirds of them new applications and nearly a third of them renewals, according to the statistics. Another 87,740 applications statewide have either been denied or are expired, pending, revoked, suspended or have been withdrawn, according to the numbers.
There were 60,852 federal firearm background checks for firearm sales in Michigan last month, up slightly from December and the two months prior, according to FBI statistics released Feb. 5.
County officials said they often see an influx in applicants after required training classes wrap up. The classes, which can range from 16 to 50 students, are quickly filling up, with many locations not having open spots for weeks or months and others adding more classes. Many students, who range in age from 21 to 80, are new to firearms.
Mill Creek Sport Center in Dexter offered classes every couple of months but may start offering them more frequently, such as every couple of weeks, general manager Maureen Heikkinen said in an e-mail.
Action Impact in Southfield has classes five days a week, up from three days a week just two months ago, owner Bill Kucyk said.
"What I'm sensing is people are living in a bit more fear than they were prior to the Connecticut incident and they see the concealed pistol license as one way of doing something about it," Kucyk said. "I'm sensing that they feel their primary source of safety is themselves. They want what they believe to be an effective way to protect themselves."
Duane Bell, 57, who was among those in line last month in Macomb County, said he was renewing his CPL, which he received five years ago, for one reason -- protection.
He lives in Eastpointe and often visits family and friends in Detroit, where he said there is a "lack of police force."
"You gotta take it upon yourself to protect you and your family," Bell said.
Jennifer Dalecke is among a growing number of women signing up for CPL training classes. The 35-year-old mother of two from St. Clair Shores said she wants a firearm and a Taser, now legal to carry with a CPL in Michigan, for personal protection.
"You never know when you're gonna break down on the freeway in a not so good neighborhood," she said.
Dalecke said her husband Randy, 42, who is renewing his CPL, convinced her to get a license. The Newtown school shootings and talk of proposed gun bans sealed her decision.
"It's just crazy what people are doing. I want to get mine before they ban them," she said.
Dalecke said she can't carry a gun into her job as a cocktail server at a Detroit casino, but she can take in a Taser which she said would provide protection on her walk to and from her job and parking spot.
Don Haigh, one of the owners of The Firing Line in Westland, said the political environment may be prompting people to buy guns to show the federal government that they have a right to own and carry a weapon. President Barack Obama is trying to build support for gun control legislation, including an assault weapons ban, limiting high-capacity magazines and requiring universal background checks.
But, Haigh said, most people interested in a CPL are those who want to lawfully carry a firearm when they travel and protect themselves, especially with many municipalities laying off police officers.
"People are becoming more aware that with proper training they can defend themselves. They don't have to be the victim. Make the bad guy the victim," said Scott Pruitt, co-owner of SP Guns-N-Ammo Inc. in Southgate.
But, he added, carrying a concealed handgun "is a huge responsibility. You need to practice and be proficient on it. You have to spend money. You have to go to the range."
Gun ranges are crowded these days, and gun sales have skyrocketed. Some stores report they unable to get some types of guns and ammunition from distributors because demand has wiped out available inventory.
"Shortage, shortage, shortage. You can't get the guns. You can't get the ammo," said Tom Potapa, manager of Peters Indoor Range and Gun Shop in Roseville.
Potapa said gun sales probably tripled in the month after the Newtown shooting and have gone up tenfold after talk of possible changes in gun laws. Because of ammunition shortages, he said, the range is limiting customers.
Pruitt said people are buying items they believe are going to be banned.
"Everything they can get their hands on," he said.
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