Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is photographed in Bismarck, N.D.
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – A record number of North Dakota residents can carry a hidden firearm nearly anywhere they want to go, leading to a pistol-packing population that has more than doubled in less than four years.
That’s due, in part, “to major crimes getting headlines,” threats of federal anti-gun laws and a dramatic rise in concealed-carry instructors pitching firearms for self-defense, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said.
“I think people feel fairly safe in North Dakota,” said Stenehjem, the state’s top law enforcement officer. “People obtain concealed-carry permits for a variety of reasons and personal safety is one of them.”
For more than a year, Stenehjem’s office is seeing up to three dozen concealed carry applications per day, he said, with most coming from western North Dakota’s oil-producing region, and many from women. North Dakota has 38,898 people who hold concealed weapon permits, up from about 16,000 in 2011, State Bureau of Criminal Investigation records show. The data does not give a breakdown of the number of men versus the number of women who apply or receive permits, an agency spokeswoman said.
Leading the nation in population growth, North Dakota has a strong economy thanks to the western oil fields, which have attracted thousands to take up residence and given the state its largest population: more than 739,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
A “changing North Dakota” is the reason Kim Iverson of Bismarck got her concealed-carry permit two years ago with her husband and his parents. The 31-year-old nurse and mother of two young children said her husband, who is in the military, is away from home “sporadically and for long periods of time.”
“With all the changes going on in the state, it just made me feel better and my husband feel better,” she said.
North Dakota’s crime rate per capita last year rose 4.4 percent from 2013, due in part to a “worrisome” record increase in illegal drug activity, Stenehjem said.
The Republican-led Legislature approved a spate of pro-gun legislation this year that allow a concealed-carry permit holder to pack heat in public parks, rest areas and liquor stores, and at political functions and concerts.
Stenehjem said his office denied 861 concealed-carry permit applications last year, mostly due to applicants having criminal records. Per the new law, authorities are allowed to tell someone why they were denied, which was prohibited prior to Aug. 1.
About 140 instructors are authorized to teach the state’s mandatory, hour-long concealed carry classes, up more than 100 from three years ago. The classes, during which applicants must pass an open-book test, cost about $100. Additional testing requirements, including actually firing a gun, are necessary for permit holders to have reciprocity with 38 other states.
Bruce Potts, owner of Valley City-based Dakota Carry LLC, has taught classes for about five years to “everyone from college students to senior citizens.”
“I am seeing an uptick in the number of women and I think a lot of them are doing it on their own, and not being coerced by their husbands or boyfriends,” he said.
Most of Potts’ students are from eastern North Dakota and “the vast majority of them aren’t carrying – they’re doing it so they can legally transport and store guns in their vehicles.
“But in the western part of the state where they are blessed with oil, I’d have to say that number is reversed,” Potts said. “It’s not Mayberry out there anymore.”