A rush of Washington residents — especially women — are obtaining concealed-carry permits in record numbers.
Between 2005 and 2012, the number of state residents receiving new concealed-carry permits tripled to 62,939. Now 451,000 Washington residents are allowed to carry a hidden handgun almost anywhere they go, more than 100,000 of them women.
Washington’s rate for concealed weapons is now higher than almost any state. Of the 36 states that responded to Seattle Times records requests, Washington ranked fifth in permits per capita — above states such as Texas, Florida and Montana.
The growth rate for women getting new permits is twice as fast as that of men.
What is going on?
Washington’s recent boom in concealed weapons mirrors a national trend. State and national experts, law-enforcement officials and others, including permit holders, offered different explanations for the concealed-carry explosion here.
But a common concern emerged from interviews with women who carry: the importance of self-defense.
That concern found an echo last month after a gunman killed six people near the University of California, Santa Barbara, sparking a national conversation about women’s concerns about their safety.
Concealed permits have ballooned nationwide because they are easier to get, thanks to new technologies and fewer requirements such as training, said Arkadi Gerney, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress think tank.
“That drives more adoption,” Gerney said.
Washington is one of about 40 “shall-issue” states, meaning that law-enforcement agencies must issue the state’s “concealed-pistol license” (CPL) if minimum requirements are met.
To get a license, an applicant must be 21 years of age or older, undergo a criminal check and be fingerprinted. You are disqualified if you have a felony conviction, commitment for mental illness, dishonorable discharge from the armed services, illegal drug use within the past year, among other reasons. No firearms training is required.
Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Association, said tragedies such as the mass slaying of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, have left people feeling helpless and in search of a way to protect themselves.
“They think that if they have a CPL and they have a firearm maybe they can do something,” he said.
For Michelle Locke Hemby, the question was not why get a permit. It was why not.
Hemby, 48, of Seattle, said she loves the sport of shooting and is well-aware of the practical benefits of a permit, such as being able to avoid the waiting period to buy a handgun.
A facilities and corporate services manager, Hemby said she applied for a license in March after hearing rumors the government might try to restrict permits.
“It’s one of those things that because I can and because I enjoy the sport, it’s something I should take advantage of,” she said.
Hemby is something of an anomaly in her Queen Anne neighborhood. Her ZIP code has one of the lowest rates in Washington for concealed permits, 2.7 percent. The ZIP code for Seattle’s International District has the lowest rate, 1.9 percent.
By contrast, the ZIP code for tiny Wilbur (in Lincoln County in Eastern Washington) has the highest rate, 22 percent.
Gracie McKee, 26, is a concealed license holder who came from a small town, in her case Brush Prairie, about 13 miles northeast of Vancouver, Washington.
“The reason I carry is out of a deep-seated love for myself, my family and the innocents,” said McKee, now director of training and a range manager at West Coast Armory in Bellevue.
McKee knew by age 19 she wanted a concealed-weapon permit and after turning 21, she obtained one. She has since become an NRA training counselor, a certified instructor and a range-safety officer.
Anette Wachter, a member of the U.S. National Rifle Team and a Belltown resident, secured her CPL three years ago.
“I carry because I feel I am responsible for my own safety,” she said.
“I do feel everyone should have safe gun-handling training,” Wachter said. “But I don’t believe it should be a requirement to have training in order to buy a gun or have a CPL because of the fact that some women really may be in a dangerous situation and may need that protection.”
Phyllis Buckridge, 84, of Marysville is among the oldest women in the state with a license to carry a concealed weapon. She considers it a tool, one she used, beginning as a young adult, when hunting, hiking and “traipsing through the woods as a signaling device. I can’t yell very loud.” Today she doesn’t carry the weapon much.
“At my stage in life, I’m not out rousting around,” Buckridge said. “I do know where it is in the house.”