Amid highly publicized mass shootings, talk of the end of days and a presidential election, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation issued 39,875 concealed carry permits last year, the highest total ever recorded in the state.
The figures, released Tuesday by the bureau, also show the number of concealed carry permits issued in the state has skyrocketed during the presidency of Barack Obama.
From 2009-12, the bureau issued 126,868 concealed carry permits to Oklahoma residents, more than the seven years prior combined. OSBI does not have figures available before 2002.
The latest permit totals in Oklahoma also show they were issued at record levels during the first and last years of Obama's first term in office.
The 39,875 concealed carry permits issued in 2012 bested the previous year's total by more than 15,000.
In 2009, the first year Obama was in office, concealed carry permits totaled 35,962 in Oklahoma, nearly twice the 18,510 issued the previous year.
The number of permits issued during Obama's first four years in office represents the four highest totals in state history, yet the increase hardly came out of nowhere.
Even though they have exploded during Obama's time in office, concealed carry permits have been steadily increasing over the course of the past 10 years.
In 2002 and 2003, there were less than 9,000 permits issued statewide, although nearly 18,000 were issued in 2004, an election year.
After the 2004 election, the number of permits issued to Oklahoma residents hovered around 10,000 before starting to steadily climb in 2007.
Oklahoma's two largest counties have followed a similar trend during the past decade.
In 2012, Oklahoma County residents were issued 5,523 concealed carry permits, far more than the 1,319 issued in 2002.
Tulsa County residents were issued 6,468 permits in 2012. In 2002, they were issued just 1,271.
Uncertainty may be fueling increase
Gun owners and retailers say there is definitely a connection between the president and the rise in Oklahoma's concealed carry permits, although other factors are certainly affecting the growth.
Darren Burger, co-owner of the gun shop Locked and Loaded in Choctaw, said he believes a “fear of legislation” is driving the current upward trends in gun sales and applications for concealed carry permits.
Burger said even though concealed carry permits aren't being specifically targeted by the Obama administration — which is focusing more on background checks and limiting what kinds of ammunition and weapons are available to the public — people typically become nervous when the president starts to focus on gun control.
“There is just a lot of uncertainty, especially around elections,” Burger said. “People don't know what's coming, so it's that fear of the unknown.
“People are in a rush to get something people are telling them they can't have … even if they haven't told them anything yet.”
Burger said he believes the mass shootings of 2012, including the deadly attacks at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and a movie theater near Denver, have little to do with an increase in concealed carry permits.
“After Sandy Hook, things turned into a madhouse around here. Not so much with the Colorado thing,” he said. “But I don't know that people going out and buying guns means they are going out and getting concealed carry permits.
“Like I said, people just want to do something if they think there's a chance they won't be able to anymore. And that comes back to a fear of legislation.”
Dave Therio, a college student from Newalla, is in the process of getting his concealed carry permit through the Cleveland County sheriff's office.
Therio said he has lived in neighborhoods “where I feared for my safety” and once had his apartment broken into.
“Not something I want to go through again,” he said. “So, I decided I better go get a permit while I can.”
Therio said gun owners, in general, are “intimidated” by the president and his position on firearms.
He said Obama's proposals and general attitude toward guns motivated him, in part, to apply for a concealed carry permit last week.
“If something was to happen and there were more restrictions, I'd rather be grandfathered in now then find out later they're putting the hold on them,” Therio said. “I don't think he has the manpower to take all the guns, but I think he can make it more restrictive.”
Mike Mathews, owner of Gun World in Del City, said he believes the large number of news reports on gun violence and gun control — even before the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary — may be driving the increase in concealed carry permits.
Mathews said he believes Obama has little to do with any trends in guns sales or concealed carry permits.
“I think it's all the stuff they read in the media,” Mathews said.
“I don't know what makes people do what they do … but they watch the news and the media and develop a need based on what they see.”