Newtown in recent years has issued about 130 gun permits annually. Police say the town received 79 permit applications in the three months since the Dec. 14 massacre, well over double the normal pace.
“A good percentage of people are making it clear they think their rights are going to be taken away,” said Robert Berkins, records manager for Newtown police.
The increase in applications in Newtown came as firearms sales surged around the country driven by Washington’s new focus on gun control.
Both sides of the debate have been well represented in Newtown, a town of about 27,000. The horror of the massacre inspired a groundswell of gun violence-prevention activism by new, local organizations such as Sandy Hook Promise and Newtown Action Alliance.
But gun ownership has long been a way of life in Newtown, which is home to the National Shooting Sports Foundation trade association.
A spike in complaints in recent years related to gunshots, primarily about noise and fear of shots being fired, led the police commission to propose an ordinance limiting when guns can be discharged and establishing a process for the police chief to approve shooting ranges, according to Joel Faxon, a police commission member.
Gun applicants traditionally involved hunters, target shooters and business owners, but now police are seeing a wider variety of applicants, Berkins said. Some said they never thought about getting a gun but heard their right to have one is going to be taken away, he said.
Berkins said he wonders how many of the applicants will actually go out and buy a gun. Only a few applicants get turned down for permits each year, he said.
Victor Benson, who owns the Freedom Shoppe gun store in nearby New Milford, said business has tripled since the school shooting. Some of the customers are first-time buyers, he said.
“It’s just the mentality of people when you tell them that something is going to be banned, well they want to get one while they still can,” Benson said. “We’re all upset about what happened in Newtown, but it doesn’t mean ... we want to have our rights taken away.”
The killing of 20 first-graders and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School has led to proposals for universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The gunman, Adam Lanza, killed all of his victims at the schoolhouse with a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle that he took from the house where he lived with his mother Nancy Lanza. He killed his mother at their home earlier and used a handgun to kill himself.
The FBI conducted more background checks for firearm sales and permits to carry guns the week following the Newtown shooting than it has in any other one-week period since 1998. The second-highest week for background checks came mid-January as President Barack Obama announced sweeping plans to curb gun violence.