Sterrin Holcomb plugged in 12-hour work days this week to get a grip on Umatilla County’s concealed handgun license applications.
Holcomb, 38, is the sergeant who heads up the sheriff’s office civil division, which processes the applications and handles other duties. The division processed 330 new applications from Jan. 1 through March 31, she said, compared to 147 new applications over the same period last year — a 124-percent jump.
The county is on track to surpass the 788 applications it had in all of 2012, she said, and that was busy year. Applications for a concealed handgun licenses are by appointmentonly, and last year it would normally take less than two weeks to get into the office for a new appointment.
“We’re booked out into October now for appointments,” Holcomb said. “Last year it would normally have taken less than two weeks to get into our office for a new appointment. We are still attempting to keep some openings for renewals, so that those renewing can usually get into us within two to four weeks.”
An Oregon concealed handgun license is good for four years, and the number of people seeking to renew theirs has shot up. The civil divisionreceived 246 renewals in the first three months of 2013, compared to 107 for the same period last year, according to Holcomb.
Umatilla County, like the rest of the nation, has seen a steady increase of people wanting a license to carry a concealed handgun since 2008. Holcomb said the most dramatic increase in applications has been since 2012. To put it in perspective, she said the county processed 177 new applications for all of 2007 and 136 new applicants in February of this year alone.
Concealed handgun license applications also are up in Morrow County. Sheriff Ken Matlack said 108 people — 82 who are first-timers — applied for a license from Jan. 1 to April 30 this year, equivalent to what the county usually gets in an entire year.
CHL applicants in Oregonmust demonstrate they have handgun safety training, such as through the military, law enforcement work or at a handgun safety class. A person also can find training online, but Holcomb said Oregon is picky about who teaches these classes. Anyone taking an online safety class should check to make sure the instructor meets state requirements, she said, such as a certification from the National Rifle Association.
Grant Asher, who retired as Hermiston police chief in 1994, has the NRA certification and teaches handgun safety classes. More people have taken his class this year than all of 2012, he said, and that was good year.
Some take the class to help ensure their personal safety, but plenty take it out of concern and even fear of what’s going to happen to gun laws, he said.
“That’s what a lot of people who are taking gun classes say,” Asher said.
Asher stressed how to safely handle, load and carry handguns during a class Sunday at the Les Schwabbuilding in Hermiston, but also pushed the NRA line: “As you know, there is a group of people who want to take our guns away from us,” he told a class of eight men. To avert that, he said, gun owners must “stop doing stupid things with guns.”
None of the eight men at the class responded to a request for comment.
Matlack recently spoke at a concealed handgun class in Heppner that 65 people attended, including one man from Portland. He echoed what Asher said — that many who want to carry a gun are worried about laws banning or restricting guns, so they buy firearms, stock up on ammunitionand obtain the CHLs.
Oregon doesn’t recognize any other concealed handgun license, but 16 states recognize Oregon’s.
Matlack said that Oregon’s “we’re better than you attitude” about other CHLs needs to end. Oregon had requireda hands-on componentfor a license for years, he said, but that ended when the state allowed people to complete a safety course online.
The sheriff said as long as the processes to obtain a permit is the relatively the same, Oregon should recognize other licences.
An Oregon resident who meets the handgun safety requirementcan apply for the concealed handgun license, which costs $65 — $50 for the sheriff’s office and $15 to the Oregon State Police for the background check. A renewal costs just the $50 for a sheriff’s department.
In order to apply, Holcomb said a person must present two valid forms of identification, have their fingerprints taken, fill out the paperwork and wait on the results of a background check. Oregon is a “shall issue” state, meaning the license is a go if an applicant clears the background check.
To possess an Oregon license, a person must not have any felony convictions on their record, and no misdemeanor convictions within the last four years. The state barsregistered sex offenders from applying. Convictions for drug crimes — with some exceptions — are red flags.
Commitmentsto mental institutions also can block an application, and Holcomb said the law allows sheriffs to deny and revoke licenses based on someone’s behavior, such as a history of being aggressive toward law enforcement.
“So some background checks can get a little intensive, but for the most part the people who apply are pretty stand-up citizens,” Holcomb said.
Matlack said it won’t be long before CHL reciprocityis no differentfrom driver licensesreciprocity, which states have done for decades. A few years ago, Oregon sheriffs even talked about doing away with the concealed to carry licenses, he said, but people liked having the documentation from a sheriff.
Holcomb said she should be able to return to a typical routine next week. And around May 25 the divisions will gets its $6,000 electronic fingerprint scanner, which will speed up the process.
But the number of people seeking a license to pack heat won’t slow down. And the civil divisionhas also taken on more foreclosure sales.
“A court ruling caused many of these sales to be sent through the court system, which means that they end up as sheriff’s sales,” she said.
The office received 12 property sales from the courts in 2012, she said, but 49 judicial foreclosure sales were pending as of Jan. 28.
Holcomb said all of this means a lot of work for the civil division and long waits for the people who need its services.
Contact Phil Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0833.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.