By Dustin Luca
---- — Andover residents are going gun-crazy.
That’s the word from the Police Department, which last week won approval from the Board of Selectmen to create a full-time position to handle the rise in gun permit applications.
“In 2009, we processed 82 firearm licenses,” police Commander Charles Heseltine said. “That includes renewals and requests for new ones. In 2013, we had 456.”
The town now has about 1,600 residents who are officially licensed to carry guns, Heseltine said.
The rising interest is not just a local trend. In fact, while gun permit ownership increased about 9 percent last year in Andover, it went up by 29 percent in Everett and 17 percent in Winthrop, according to figures from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
The statewide rise in gun ownership mirrors a nationwide trend of people getting permits out of fear that firearms laws are about to change.
“What we get is many people saying they’re coming in from the recent gun regulations,” Heseltine said. “There has been a huge uptick in that, and people are worried the laws will change and they’ll be unable to purchase firearms.”
Police chiefs have more power than ever in assessing prospective gun owners.
One question that often comes up when police departments sit down with permit applicants is why they’re getting a license.
“They would say they want it for home safety — primarily they won’t keep the weapon on the person, but they want it for their home,” Heseltine said.
More women are seeking applications than in the past as well.
Terrel Harris, spokesman for the state’s Office of Public Safety and Security, says the recent surge being felt in Massachusetts has been caused by a bubble of expiring licenses that pops up every six years since licenses are no longer issued for life.
“There is no backlog at the state level,” Harris said. “And we don’t expect to see the type of spike we saw last summer again for another six years. That’s when all the licenses will be up for renewal again.”
The demand has put pressure on the Andover Police Department since there is a lot of work that goes on before a license is issued.
The process starts with a background check. Once the applicant passes that review, the department then gets the person’s fingerprints, takes photographs and more, according to Heseltine.
The background work is done by Andover detectives, while the paperwork has been managed by a part-time employee.
Processing an application “takes roughly 30 days on our part of it,” Heseltine said. “Start to finish could take a couple months.”
That’s because an application, once given a green light locally, is then sent to the state’s Firearms Records Bureau for final review. If that agency signs off, it prints and sends the license back to the local department to present to the applicant.
The result is a lot of paperwork that has become backlogged, hence the need for a full-time clerk to handle gun permit applications, local police say.
“For us, the demand is there,” Heseltine said.
Because of the demand, getting to yes has taken too long lately. With around 60 to 65 applications recently “in the pipeline to be processed,” Heseltine said more help is needed.
“We’re overwhelmed with it,” he said.
BY THE NUMBERS
Gun license requests in Andover.
Note: Figures include applications rejected as part of the background check process.