By Carol Robinson
Look around. For every 10 people you see in Jefferson and Shelby counties, one just might be packing.
Legally, that is.
Ten percent of adults in Jefferson County, and 10.4 percent in Shelby, hold pistol permits issued by the sheriff’s departments in those counties, according to officials there. Between the two counties, 65,616 people are licensed to carry a concealed weapon.
Men are more likely to carry a legal weapon than women in both counties.
In Jefferson, men are three times more likely to hold pistol permits than women. In Shelby
County, men are 2.5 times more likely than women to carry a gun.Rick Shelton, 63, rarely goes anywhere with without his gun. The Graysville husband and father always has a gun on him, or at least close by.
At a recent gun show in Birmingham, Shelton browsed the goods with a Beretta .22-caliber pistol in his jeans pocket. However, he was buying two Concealment T’s, a cotton undershirt with a built-in holster, to make keeping his gun close even more convenient.
“You can look at the news and somebody’s getting killed every day in Birmingham,” Shelton said. “For myself, it doesn’t matter. But for my family, I’m going to have it close. I am going to protect my family.”
Across the state, 157,460 people hold permits in Alabama’s largest counties: Jefferson, Mob
ile, Madison, Montgomery and Shelby.
“There is a wide range of gun owners,” said Shane Thomas of Birmingham Pistol Wholesale in Trussville. “It’s not gender-related, or socio- economic-related. It’s across the board.”
In Jefferson County, there are currently 50,247 people with pistol permits. Of those, 34,912 are men; 15,335 are women.
Ashley Jackson falls in the latter category.
Single and 24 years old, the Birmingham woman starting carrying a gun a couple of years ago. Wherever she is, there is a Taurus .45-caliber handgun in her purse.
“I feel safe with it,” she said. “I would hope I don’t have to use it, but it’s there if I do.”
Statistics released by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office show the racial breakdown to be: white, 30,367; black, 19,634; Asian, 209; and Indian, 37.
In Shelby County, the breakdown is white, 14,307; black, 990; Asian, 56; Indian, 9 and unknown, 11.
There are 11,214 men with pistol permits in Shelby County; 4,159 women.
Officials say these numbers reflect those who have gone to the trouble to buy a permit and do not account for those who illegally possess firearms.
The annual cost of the pistol permit is set by legislation for each individual county. In Jefferson County, the permit fee is $7.50 a year. The sheriff’s office, said Chief Deputy Randy Christian, gets 50 cents for every permit sold.
In Shelby, the permit fee is $20. All proceeds from the permit sales in both counties go to the Sheriff’s Fund, a discretionary account audited by the State Examiner’s Office. The law is very specific that the money only be used for law-enforcement items, such as equipment, training, supplies, communications, pre-employment screening, prisoner extradition, weapons repairs, office supplies, canine support, and Project LifeSaver support.
A permit applicant must be a U.S. citizen, a resident for the county in which they are applying for a permit and at least 21 years old. In Shelby County, at age 19, the sheriff will consider issuing a license with parental permission. Background and character checks are done.
There are many, however, who are prohibited from getting a gun permit. They include:
•Anyone convicted of committing or attempting to commit a violent crime.
•Anyone who is a drug addict or habitual drunkard.
•Anyone convicted of a felony.
•Anyone deemed by a judge as mentally incompetent.
•Anyone convicted of domestic violence.
A license to carry doesn’t mean a license to carry anywhere. Gun permit holders are not supposed to carry a pistol while consuming alcohol or drugs, or while inside an airport, a courthouse or any other public building that specifically prohibits firearms. Guns also aren’t allowed at sporting events, political events or parades.
A sheriff can deny or revoke a permit at his or her discretion.
Thomas said there is no shortage of people buying guns. At Birmingham Pistol Wholesale, they sell 150 to 200 guns a week.
The buyers’ reasons are many. For some, it’s just part of turning 21 in Alabama. “It’s almost a rite of passage,” Thomas said.
“I have older people because they think the end of the world is coming,” he said. “I have young people, young ladies, who fear for their safety. They want to be protected if they’re on the side of the road with a flat tire, or walking to their car late night.”
Thomas said he’s seen an upswing in older people arming themselves. “They fear for themselves and their personal property more than ever,” he said.
Gun sales, sellers said, tend to rise in an election year. “People are scared the gun laws are going to change,” he said.
Christian said he doesn’t consider 10 percent of the population to be a high number of people carrying guns.
“I don’t think that’s a huge enough number to say we are heavily armed,” he said. “On the criminal side of things, we do seem to have a lot of gun violence. That’s why we strongly advocate that good, law-abiding citizens be licensed, armed and trained.”