Wilkes-Barre resident Paul Weisgerber regretted letting his concealed-weapon permit lapse years ago and chose to wait in line at the Luzerne County Courthouse more than an hour Wednesday to get a new one.
Now's as good a time as any before they decide you can't have one, he said, echoing the sentiment of several other county residents outside the sheriff's gun permit office.
Most of the 20 or so people in the waiting area before noon said they were motivated to apply and wait by their concern that federal officials will pass gun-control measures, making it more difficult or impossible to obtain a permit.
The permits, which cost $20 and are valid for five years, allow guns to be carried inside clothing, bags and vehicle glove compartments and trunks when the permit holders leave home. Concealed guns are prohibited in schools, many government properties and some other places.
Weisgerber, who plans to carry a concealed weapon for personal protection and target shooting, said legislators should notice the barrage of permit seekers here and across the state and country. It's a clear sign that people don't want gun control, he said.
The county hit a daily record of permit seekers last Friday – 96, said county Security Director and interim Sheriff John Robshaw.
Robshaw noticed a spike days after last month's school-shooting massacre in Connecticut, which sparked a national gun-violence debate and talk of regulation changes.
We're averaging 60 or 70 permits a day, up from an average of about 30, he said.
But the number of permits had been climbing before the recent tragedy. The county Sheriff's Department issued 5,216 gun permits in 2011 – a 2,326 increase from 2010.
The number of permits issued last year: 6,978, including 666 in December, Robshaw said.
An estimated 20,500 county residents – or more than 8 percent of the county's adult population – have concealed-weapon permits, officials say.
Dallas resident Elwood Groner was so concerned about gun law changes, he decided to renew his permit a year before his current one expires. He has an assault rifle, pistol and shotgun for personal protection, target shooting and hunting.
Groner said he has had a permit for about 15 years and doesn't see the need for alterations. We have that right, he said.
Ross Township resident Ernie Morgan, also in the permit line Wednesday, said he has been contemplating buying a gun for self-defense for about a year. I have been putting off getting one, but with all the talk about additional gun control, I decided I must act, he said, noting he will obtain training when he purchases a gun.
Mountain Top resident Christopher Kamowski said he has pistols for protection and target shooting and wants a permit so he can carry one with him when he's out. It may come to the point where you can't get one, he said.
Mark Benyo and his father, Andrew, chose to travel from Hazle Township and wait for their first permits because they worry they'll lose the option if they don't act.
The thieves and thugs will still be able to get guns, and people like us will not be able to protect themselves, the younger Benyo said.
One of several women waiting for permits said she doesn't have a gun yet but wants to preserve her right to carry one for protection, largely because her disabled son recently was assaulted while walking in their neighborhood, with his injuries requiring stitches.
Jonathon Scott, Wilkes-Barre, said he's been around guns in his family since he was a boy and decided he was ready for his own now that he's about to turn 24. He recently purchased a pistol.
He has taken gun safety courses and wants the power to take the gun with him for protection, Scott said. I walk around Wilkes-Barre a lot at night, he said. If something happened, I could yell for help, but chances are good nobody would hear me.
At least 20 residents left the courthouse Wednesday because they didn't want to wait in line or deal with a temporary problem with the state system required for permit background checks, workers said.
Robshaw said the state system is backlogged because of an influx of requests from counties and gun dealers. Citizens with applications processed Wednesday will receive their plastic permit cards in the mail instead of on the spot.
The sheriff's office has one full-time clerk to take photos and process permit applications, and other workers have been providing assistance when scheduling allows, Robshaw said.
The sheriff's department in neighboring Lackawanna County has expanded its hours until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays through February in response to application increases.
Luzerne County increased from two to five days to accept permit applications last year, and additional hours are not planned at this time, Robshaw said.