The number of people carrying concealed weapons in Bryan County is going up.
Six hundred and three permits to carry a concealed weapon were issued in the county in 2008, which is double the amount of the 300 permits issued in 2007.
"When you consider Bryan County only has a population of 30,000, that is a huge number," said Bryan County Probate Judge Sam Davis, who issued the permits.
Davis said he believes there are two reasons for the recent surge. He said some issues were raised during the presidential election which led people to believe in a potential gun ban in 2009. He also said the economy may play a role.
"With economy the way it is, it may tempt people to have to resort to criminal means," Davis said. "The permit increase may indicate a growing need for individuals to protect themselves. People are just running scared right now. I would expect to see more of it unless our economy turns around."
Richmond Hill Police Department Captain Mike Albritton said 2008 did not see a drastic change in Richmond Hill crimes, but "you see a lot more in the news. Robberies have increased in Savannah, and that’s our next door neighbor. People see that."
Albritton said the publicity regarding House Bill 89 may have caused a surge in gun purchases as well. The bill, which passed the in 2008, is aimed at expanding the allowed areas that gun owners can carry their weapons – including parks and restaurants that serve alcohol.
"I think the public showed more of an interest in guns after seeing the change in the gun permit law," Albritton said. "I think it’s because it showed the public how easy it was to get a permit."
Albritton said he does not foresee a problem with the increase in permits "as long as these numbers reflect gun purchases by law abiding citizens that follow the proper procedures in possessing a firearm."
He did say there have been at least two incidents in 2008 involving permitted users - including a recent case where an intoxicated woman drew a gun on a resident after "she felt threatened" outside Jeff’s Beverage Depot on Hwy. 17.
He said no one was injured, but it was a close call.
"Now, would she have been carrying a firearm if she did have a permit? I don’t know, but the chances of it certainly increase," Albritton said. "Another area of concern is the fact that citizens can now carry concealed weapons in their vehicles, but we haven’t had any incidents regarding that new law as of yet."