More Pennsylvanians across the region are carrying concealed firearms, officials say
The number of Pennsylvanians who are carrying guns has sharply increased across the region over the last year.
Officials expect the trend of applying for licenses to carry to continue to rise.
In the commonwealth, residents over the age of 21 can apply for a license to carry through their local sheriff's office.
"A License to Carry Firearms is issued to carry a firearm concealed on one's person or in a vehicle within this Commonwealth," according to Pennsylvania State Police. "Any person who carries a firearm concealed on or about his person except in his place of abode or fixed place of business without a valid and lawfully issued license commits a felony of the third degree."
Dane Anthony, Franklin County sheriff, saw 1,894 more applications come through his office in 2020 compared to the previous year.
"There were a lot more new ones this past year than normal," he said.
Overall, Franklin County saw a nearly 62% increase in applications in a single year.
Fear of social unrest
Societal unrest seems to be the reason behind the increase, Anthony said.
"It's pretty obvious - It had to do with the election and it had to do with the Black Lives Matter movement," he said. "A lot of people were worried that if Joe Biden wins the election - they're going to take our guns, they're going to take our weapons or they're going to take our ammunition. I think the rioting had people scared, and people just wanted to have a chance to protect themselves, and having a license to carry is one way to do that."
In nearby York County, the number of licenses issued jumped considerably.
The sheriff's office saw a 30% increase in renewal applications. With 10,338 new licenses issued in 2020, the count reflected a 126% increase from the previous year, according to Richard Keuerleber, York County Sheriff.
For Patrick McGinnis, 50, of Marion, a license to carry has become an essential part of his life. He's had his license to carry a firearm for almost 30 years, and recently, he encouraged his adult daughter to apply for hers as well.
"It's no different than a fire extinguisher," he said. "If you need one and you don't have one, then you're really up the creek."
McGinnis has been around firearms all of his life.
"My philosophy has always been to get comfortable with it, to use it, to be around it, to shoot it," he said. "Learn about it, take it apart to clean it, and put it back together. All that is important stuff because it just makes you more comfortable with what you have in your hand. It is a very serious machine, it's not to be played with. You don't get it out just to show people. You don't use it as a scare tactic."
Tiffini Umbrell, 44, of Shippensburg, grew up around firearms, too. She applied for her license to carry for the first time this past year, citing concern for protecting her children.
Her daughter experienced a school shooting when they previously lived in South Carolina.
"I know some parents with other school shootings advocate for gun control," she said. "It's not that I don't think it should be controlled, but I absolutely think that it opened my eyes, even more, to have extra protection with a gun at schools. If you have a shooter that's going to unload on a school and they know that there's something in there that could shoot back at them, they're probably going to think multiple times before they enter that school."
Umbrell also reflected concerns that Anthony noted.
"All of the chaos that's been within the last year with the whole Black Lives Matter and ANTIFA and with President Biden coming in, I think it's going to create more division and hostility," she said. "With the threat to take our guns away, to try to do that to Americans when we have guys overseas fighting for these rights for us - I think that Americans stepped up and were like, 'that's just not gonna happen.'"
Paul DiGiacomo, 38, of Waynesboro, is also a first-time concealed firearm carrier.
"It was a mixture of things, something I've just always kind of wanted to do," DiGiacomo said. "When I was younger, I had gone through various levels of training with some police departments and a few other resources. I always just felt very comfortable handling firearms from the safety aspect of it and wanted to protect my family and operate my Second Amendment rights."
Gun safety is paramount
If there's one thing these gun owners agreed on overall, it's safety.
"The one thing I did do for my family's well-being was I made sure that I took some additional safety courses, locally here in Waynesboro, just to make sure that my family knew that if I was making that choice, I was going to make it with the right level of training and comfort to do so," DiGiacomo said.
He's taken steps to ensure proper containment for his firearms in the home to keep them out of the hands of his children. Additionally, he has even enrolled his children in firearm training courses.
"I believe that firearms are incredibly dangerous, as we all know, and accidents happen," DiGiacomo said. "They can happen so easily, and if you're not properly trained or don't understand how to handle it properly or how to store it properly - that's when bad things can happen. If you want to carry a firearm, fantastic, that's your constitutional right, but please make sure that you're doing even just basic training."
Umbrell shared that she also considers safety around firearms of the utmost importance.
"Safety is huge when it comes to guns, especially if you have children in the home," she said. "You don't just carry a gun and think you know how to use it, it's a very serious thing. You don't pull it out unless it's a life or death situation."
Across the commonwealth, training courses are offered at shooting ranges and even through local law enforcement.
Last January, the Franklin County Sheriff's Office began taking steps to implement a program for homeowners on handling firearms - a one- or two-day training at a local rod and gun club, according to Anthony.
The COVID-19 pandemic put the program on hold for now, but Anthony hopes to get it up and running as soon as possible.
"The bottom line is safety," he said. "Just be careful, learn the weapon, familiarize yourself with a weapon, go out and practice. These weapons are deadly weapons. Just be safe."
DiGiacomo said that he believes there is always room for debate on gun policies. Overall, though, he wishes more people would understand why some Americans feel the need to carry a firearm for protection.
"I think there's a lot of people that they don't know that there's a lot of underlying concerns and other reasons - some people have some very real concerns for their safety or their loved one safety," he said. "I think it's good for them to be able to protect themselves in a proper manner."
For Umbrell, exercising her Second Amendment right is crucial.
"That makes me proud, honestly, to be part of America," she said.
Last January, the Franklin County Sheriff's Office issued 342 licenses to carry. This January, it issued 518.
"I don't know if every month this year will be like that, but I certainly think we will continue to see an increase in these license to carry permit sales," Anthony explained. "The world we live in today, it's just crazy out there."
Interested in applying for a License to Carry? Here's who to contact:
- Franklin County - Franklin County Sheriff's Office
- Lebanon County - Lebanon County Sheriff's Office
- York County - York County Sheriff's Office
- Adam's County - Adams County Sheriff's Office
For more information on License to Carry laws in Pennsylvania, visit the Pennsylvania State Police's website.
Carley Bonk is a Watchdog Reporter for the USA Today Network - Pennsylvania. Her coverage spans across the southcentral region of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @carls_marie.