DENVER — Despite the practice being targeted for restrictions by some municipalities, the number of Coloradans obtaining concealed handgun permits (CHPs) in 2022 still climbed above pre-pandemic levels.
Such local gun rights restrictions are possible after Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 256 in 2021. The new law unwound decades of state preemption and allows local governments to manage their own gun laws, but only so long as they are more restrictive than those at the state level, meaning the law only allows for a one-way ratcheting up rather than true local control.
To date several communities have been successful in passing laws prohibiting concealed carry in public-owned buildings or parks, including Denver, Boulder and Broomfield. The City of Edgewater originally included such a ban in a broader package of potential ordinances but backed off after a large public outcry.
Such a patchwork of laws make it tough on gun owners to know where they can and can’t carry as they travel the state, and is one of the reasons the legislature originally passed preemption around gun laws.
However, except for a surge in permits issued in 2020 and 2021 at the height of the COVID lockdowns and in the wake of the George Floyd riots, the number of new Colorado residents who have chosen to go through the process to lawfully conceal a weapon is still rising.
According to recent data recently released by the County Sheriffs of Colorado, 27,031 new concealed carry permits were issued statewide in 2022, with another 26,622 existing permits renewed. That is down from 2020 and 2021 when permits skyrocketed in Colorado and around the country, but it is 14 percent increase over 2019 (23,250) and a 6 percent increase over 2018 (25,643).
According to the Crime Prevention Research Center, just over 15 percent of the Colorado population 21 or older holds a carry permit.
Training a growth industry
Rep. Gabe Evans, R-Fort Lupton said he is not surprised by the increase considering Colorado’s crime rates are among the highest in the nation in several categories including violent offenses and car thefts.
Evans, who is a former Arvada police lieutenant and a concealed handgun permit instructor said the demand for classes has been so high, the company he works for part-time had to hire an additional full-time instructor at his location.
“They had to hire someone just to keep up with the demand from people who are scared to death because Colorado’s violent crime is just not going down,” Evans said, adding a “substantial” number of new trainees are women, and in particular female realtors. “Think about it,” Evans said. “Who is vulnerable? A female meeting a strange person she met over the internet, alone, in an empty house.”
All this comes even as Colorado’s laws around concealed carry permits are stricter compared to many other states. Twenty-five states do not require a permit for concealed carry, as long as the carrier is an adult who can lawfully possess a handgun.
In Colorado, which is what is known as a ‘shall issue’ state, permit applicants must pass both a criminal background check and a firearms training class by a certified instructor, and it must be taken in person. Sheriffs are allowed some leeway for denials or revocations if they believe the applicant is a danger to themselves or others.
Permits are usually issued by the individual elected county sheriffs, though in Denver it’s the through the police department, and depending on where you live the process could be completed in a few weeks to many months.
For example, in Denver, there are long waits because applicants must make appointments for fingerprinting and then wait longer times for the application to be processed. It is sometimes as long as 9 months or more before the permit is issued.
Whereas in Weld County where there are no appointments required and the sheriff processes applications much quicker, a permit can be issued in just a few weeks. As result, Denver, with a population of 711,000 reported 2,613 applications submitted in 2022, while Weld County at half the size, 340,000, reported nearly double the applications submitted at 4,254.
Likewise, the cost can also be prohibitive. In Denver, a permit is $152.50, while in Weld County it is $52.50. Weld County, which is the ninth most populous county, issued the third most permits in 2022 (4,254), only behind El Paso and Arapahoe counties.
In an open letter to the Denver City Council prior to the passage of the city’s parks ban, David Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute* and adjunct professor of advanced constitutional law at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, noted that concealed handgun permit holders are among the most law-abiding citizens, presenting data that showed an adult with a permit is about 39 times less likely to be arrested for a crime than an adult without one. “The only people who bother to go through the onerous process are people who are so concerned about legal compliance that they spend significant resources just to obtain a card from the government allowing them to legally do what they could done anyway for free, and with very low risk of being caught,” said Kopel.
Evans said as long as Democrats in the legislature continue to hold a supermajority, as well as the Governor’s office, he believes it will only get worse, citing the past few years of legislation that has led to higher crime rates and at the same time an increasing desire to disarm citizens.
“It’s the same emotions I had when I was a police officer,” Evans said about feeling helpless to stop his colleagues. “I can’t do my job because of how the legislature is handcuffing me and handcuffing public safety. But with the numbers how they are at the state capitol, they are going to vote how the governor dictates and unfortunately that results in a less safe Colorado.”
* Independence Institute is the publisher of Complete Colorado.
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