The Jackson County Sheriff's Office has been handling a surge of concealed handgun license applications and renewals — a trend driven by local population growth and more people buying guns in the wake of mass shootings across the nation, officials said.
The Sheriff's Office processed 3,030 license applications and renewals in 2014. Numbers rose to 3,220 in 2015, jumped to 4,364 in 2016 and climbed to 4,813 in 2017, according to statistics provided by sheriff's Sgt. Dace Cochran.
There are currently 15,427 active concealed handgun licenses in Jackson County, data show.
Cochran attributed the rise to the county's growing population and the impact of mass shootings, including those at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and Umpqua Community College in Roseburg.
In December 2012, Adam Lanza shot 20 children and six adults at the Connecticut elementary school.
Closer to home, Chris Harper-Mercer shot an assistant professor and eight students at Umpqua Community College in October 2015.
Mass shootings typically cause a surge in gun sales as buyers look to protect themselves. People also buy weapons out of fear that legislators will enact new gun control laws.
Cochran didn't have concealed handgun license application statistics from before 2014, but he said the December 2012 Sandy Hook shooting caused a spike in applications in 2013. Since licenses renew on a four-year cycle, the Sheriff's Office processed a wave of Sandy Hook-related renewals in 2017, he said.
The Sheriff's Office sent out about 800 more renewal letters in 2017 than average, Cochran estimated.
In addition to processing incoming license applications and renewals, the Sheriff's Office spent more staff time and used better technology in 2017 to help catch up on a backlog — earning it an Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association award in December 2017.
According to the FBI, mass killings are happening with more frequency in America, and death tolls from incidents are rising.
In a five-year period from 2002 through 2006, 197 people were killed in 38 active shooter incidents, FBI statistics show.
From 2007 through 2011, 502 people died in 77 active shooter incidents, according to FBI data.
From 2012 through 2016, shooters killed 737 people in 98 incidents, FBI statistics show.
The statistics do not count the deaths of shooters, only victims, according to the FBI.
Dan Thornton, president and chief executive officer of Good Guys Guns on Crater Lake Avenue in Medford, said a wave of people came to the store following the Umpqua Community College shooting in Roseburg.
"The biggest surge was after Roseburg because that's closer to home," he said. "People thought, 'If it could happen in Roseburg, it could happen anywhere.' "
Thornton said interested gun buyers — men and women — visit the store following mass shootings.
"When they see mass shootings, people are mainly interested in making sure they are safe and their family and friends are safe," he said.
Thornton said Good Guys Guns encourages each gun buyer to take a class to become more familiar with his or her weapon.
"We also encourage them to get their concealed handgun license," he said. "In doing so, they're able to learn more about the laws and rules and regulations, as well as learning more about their firearm and being able to carry legally and safely."
As gun sales surge in the United States, some research has shown an increase in accidental shootings.
In the four months following the Sandy Hook shooting, approximately 3 million more guns were sold than would have been expected based on historical trends. Accidental firearm deaths rose by 27 percent, with an additional 40 adults and 20 children killed, according to study published in the journal Science in 2017.
In Oregon, unintentional firearm deaths increased from four in 2012 to eight in 2013, but then dropped back down to five in 2014 and six in 2015, according to the most recent data from the Oregon Violent Death Reporting System.
Statewide, there were 53 homicides using guns in 2012, 56 in 2013, 51 in 2014 and 92 in 2015 — the year of the Roseburg mass shooting, system data shows.
From 2010 through 2014, males between the ages of 18 to 24 had the highest rate of being homicide victims, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
While homicides get the most attention, most gun deaths were due to suicide, Oregon Violent Death Reporting System data show.
Guns were used in 367 suicides in 2012, 390 suicides in 2013, 411 suicides in 2014 and 363 suicides in 2015, according to system data.
Firearm deaths caused by legal intervention, such as shooting a robber, dropped from 11 in 2012 to eight in 2013, rose to 14 in 2014 and dipped to 11 in 2015, according to the Oregon Violent Death Reporting System.
Death rates by gun are highest in rural counties, with Southern Oregon counties occupying six of the top 10 spots statewide. Jackson County ranked 10th, with Curry County first, according to state data. Other Southern Oregon counties in the top 10 were Douglas, Josephine, Coos and Klamath counties.
— Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.