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Many more packing heat in N.M.

The growing number of applications for concealed carry permits in New Mexico has forced the Department of Public Safety to employ four temporary workers. (Journal File)
The growing number of applications for concealed carry permits in New Mexico has forced the Department of Public Safety to employ four temporary workers. (Journal File)
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Two items on guns:

• The number of applications for state permits to carry concealed handguns has exploded in New Mexico over the past six months, reaching a rate of more than double what it was last year.

• Federal prosecutors in New Mexico continue to rank among the most active nationwide when it comes to prosecuting cases of federal weapons law violations.

From Jan. 1 through June 14, the Department of Public Safety reported receiving 5,529 applications for concealed carry permits and approving 4,016 of those. For all of 2012, there were 5,859 applications and 4,800 approvals.

The apparent reasons for the spike include the school shooting in December in Newtown, Conn., and the resulting push by the Obama administration and others for additional gun-control laws.

New Mexico firearms dealers, like their counterparts nationwide, have also seen a run on guns and ammunition since Newtown.

The increase in permit applications has put more pressure on an already stressed Concealed Carry Unit at the Department of Public Safety.

The DPS hired four temporary workers for the unit in September to help with a backlog of permit applications. The backlog is gone, but the DPS has kept those temporary workers and hired two more, says State Police Chief Robert Shilling.

As for the current state of affairs at the Concealed Carry Unit, “a good term would be keeping our heads above water,” Shilling says.

Under state law, the DPS must approve or reject an application for a concealed carry permit within 30 days after receiving the results of a national criminal background check on the applicant. The process takes eight to 12 weeks on average, according to the department.

Currently, there are nearly 29,000 valid concealed carry permits, according to the DPS. Firearms training is required for a permit and a person must be 21 or over to obtain one.

Under a state law enacted the previous year, the DPS began issuing concealed carry permits in 2004. The permits are valid for four years, which has meant the Concealed Carry Unit has also had to deal with an increasing number of renewal requests as the program has aged and expanded.

As of the end of May, the DPS had been billed nearly $82,000 for the temporary workers for the Concealed Carry Unit. The workers cost about $18 an hour, including gross receipts taxes paid to the staffing agency, ATA Services, that is providing them.

Shilling says the plan is to continue to use temporary workers as needed for at least the next year. There is a possibility of adding permanent staff to the Concealed Carry Unit at the start of the 2015 budget year, which begins July 1, 2014.

As of June 1, the unit had three clerks and one vacant clerk position. Those permanent employees are paid about $13 an hour, plus benefits.

The application fee for a concealed carry permit is $100 and the fee for renewal every four years is $75. Under state law, the money goes into the Concealed Handgun Carry Fund to finance the permit program. Despite the costs of the temporary workers, the fund has a balance of about $1 million.

Fed prosecutions

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Mexico ranked fifth-best among all such offices nationwide when it came to per capita weapons prosecutions for October through April.

That’s according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University in New York, which obtains and analyzes case information from U.S. attorney’s offices around the country.

There were 85 weapons prosecutions in New Mexico in the first seven months of the 2013 federal fiscal year. The per capita rate of weapons prosecutions in New Mexico was nearly three times what it was nationwide.

According to the clearinghouse, New Mexico ranked fourth-best in weapons prosecutions a year ago; it had ranked among the worst in weapons prosecutions five and 10 years ago.

The clearinghouse also reported a substantial jump in federal weapons prosecutions nationwide for March and April. There were 697 prosecutions in April, up from about 500 in February.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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