By Rachel Stone

The number of concealed-carry permits in the Rockbridge area has dramatically increased in the last few years.

From 2007-2012, the average number of permits issued by Rockbridge County Circuit Court each year was 270. But in 2013, the Circuit Court issued 521 permits. In 2014, 566 were issued, and as of earlier this week, 449 so far this year.

“Would you rather be better prepared to take care of that situation or be sitting there helpless?” Lt. Tony McFaddin of the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office said. “I think the increase of concealed handgun permits is in direct reflection of the acts of violence that are going on.”

A concealed handgun permit is valid for five years. So, to get an approximate total number of people in Rockbridge County and Lexington City who have that permit, add the number of permits issued by the Circuit Court in each of the last five years. Using that process, more than 2,000 people currently have a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

“You see it on the local or the national media of the different acts of violence that have happened … and I think that people want to be prepared for that,” McFaddin said. “I want to be prepared for that.”

In the last two weeks, there were mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., and Colorado Springs, Colo.

Locally and more recently, state and local law enforcement searched for three days for William Evan Hall. A convicted felon, Hall shot at a sheriff’s deputy on Saturday after being pulled over for a traffic violation. He then fled the scene, leading to the local manhunt.

STONE gun pix
Applications for gun permits started increasing locally after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting three years ago.

On Monday, Hall was found dead in the attic of Redeeming Life Ministries Church. But Rockbridge County and Buena Vista schools had shut down because of the manhunt.

Supporting the general trend of more permits, Monte Jessee, owner of the local gun shop High Country Outfitters Inc., said he has also seen an increase in handgun ammunition sales in recent years.

Ammunition sales initially surged following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in December 2012, according to Jessee.

“Handgun ammunition sales have remained high since then,” he said. “Pretty level, but for the past two or three years it’s been elevated versus what we’re used to seeing.”

Jessee said he has had a concealed-carry permit for about 20 years. Though he used to work in the military, he said he initially sought the permit for “protection of myself and family. I’ve got to be able to defend myself. … Now it’s just a way of life.”

Last week, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, urged students there to take a concealed weapon permit class and legally carry handguns. The university offers these classes for free.

“I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in killing,” Falwell said in a convocation speech Friday. “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

Robby Agnor, owner of Agnor’s Gunworks LLC, said he too has had a concealed-carry permit for 15 to 20 years.

“Everybody has a right to protect themselves,” he said. “There’s people like William Hall out there, so people have the right to protect themselves from people like him.”

In October, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order on gun violence, which included a rule barring concealed guns in most state offices. This concealed-carry ban went into effect last Thursday. It has exemptions only for law enforcement, security and military personnel.

McAuliffe characterized this ban as a preventive measure. But not everyone agrees.

“I just do not see if a person is a law-abiding citizen and they have taken appropriate measures, then why should we start picking places where they can and cannot carry their weapon?” McFaddin said.

Although Jessee also favors the rights of people for concealed-carry, he stressed that proper training is needed.

“I’m a pro-gun guy, but I’m a pro-responsible gun guy,” he said. “Just because you have a gun doesn’t mean you’re adequately trained to make the right decision.”

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