While customers are crowding gun shops and gun clubs after proposed gun control legislation and National Rifle Association push-back, they also are flocking to another place: Probate Court.
The Houston County Probate Court in particular has been hit with an overwhelming number of concealed carry permit applications, Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said.
In my experience, Ive never seen a spike like this at one time, he said.
Now, court officials are asking people to make an appointment for permit applications. They are aiming to process 40 applications a day.
The influx isnt just stressful, Stalnaker said. It also costs the county money.
There are some material costs, but the biggest cost is personnel. The staff is overburdened with permit applications, and the county is looking to hire two part-time workers to help complete the extra work. Also, the county gets less than half the application fee of $72.25, which barely covers the cost of processing the application. The state gets the rest.
When youve got people trying to get gun permits and other people trying get marriage licenses and other things the probate judge handles, somethings got to give, Stalnaker said.
After all, the number of concealed carry applications has more than tripled compared to this time last year.
In January 2012, Houston processed 221 firearm applications. So far this year, that number is 704. The numbers began spiking in December after the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school sparked demands for better gun control. That month, Houston County processed 563 applications -- 322 more than the previous month, according to statistics from Judge Janice Spires.
In Bibb County, the numbers also have spiked. By noon Wednesday, the Probate Court office had processed 306 applications for the month of January. Last January, officials had 131 applications. Like in Houston, the numbers began booming in December, which saw more than double the applications compared to December 2011, Judge Sarah Harris said.
The office has not been forced to dip into its budget, but Harris has pulled workers from other divisions to help process the extra requests.
Were managing. Weve had to juggle some things around, she said. Were spending a lot more time on (firearm applications) as an office, but its getting done, and I dont think anything else is suffering because of it. My employees are working hard, though.
Now, Harris encourages applicants to make an appointment and fill out necessary paperwork online. The office is able to handle the influx of applications for now, but that might not be the case if the rush continues.
If this is sustained for a long period of time, we may need some more help, she said.
In Houston County, Stalnaker attributes the rush to the spate of of gun control media coverage, which alarms people, and misinformation about gun laws. Too many people think they need a concealed carry license to own a gun, and thats not the case, he said. Stalnaker is hopeful the influx will soon abate.
I do think it will taper off, he said. I dont think it can stay at this pace.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.