published Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Tennessee database shows 15,000 gun permits in Hamilton County

LOCAL CITIES

Number of carry permits in Hamilton County municipalities:

Chattanooga: 7,362

Collegedale: 49

East Ridge: 398

Lakesite: 13

Lookout Mountain, TN: 91

Red Bank: 111

Ridgeside: 1

Signal Mountain: 939

Soddy-Daisy: 2,146

Walden: 2

Source: Tennessee handgun permit database

AROUND THE REGION

Total handgun carry permits by county and ratio of permits per 100 people age 21 and older:

Bledsoe: 796/7.138

Bradley: 5,526/6.507

Franklin: 2,151/6.061

Grundy: 771/6.536

Hamilton: 14,907/5.107

Marion: 1,251/5.099

McMinn: 3,643/8.066

Meigs: 806/7.843

Polk: 1,000/6.854

Rhea: 1,7926/569

Sequatchie: 957/7.893

Source: Tennessee handgun permit database

COMPARED TO ...

Percentage of Hamilton County residents:

With high school diploma: 85.8

Owns home: 65 percent

Registered voters: 64.5

Income below $25,000: 30.2

With four-year college degree: 27.4

Income above $100,000: 14.4

Military veteran: 11 percent

With handgun permit: 4.49

Source: U.S. Census, Hamilton County Election Commission, Tennessee handgun permit database.

Mention guns, and many folks picture the inner city.

But for the heavy armament, you have to hit the suburbs.

The largest percentage of lawfully strapped Hamilton County residents don't live in the poor neighborhoods of downtown Chattanooga.

Instead, the large majority of the city and county's 15,000 permit holders are in East Brainerd and Lookout Valley, Hixson and Harrison, Tennessee's handgun carry-permit database shows.

And, given the volume of the furor over firearms on both the pro and anti sides, it also would be easy to believe that everybody and his brother are getting the piece of paper that allows them to carry a concealed weapon.

But the number of permits to pack doesn't exceed 5.5 percent of the population in even the most concentrated neighborhoods, the database maintained by the Tennessee Department of Safety shows. Figures are from January and reflect the number of people who have received permits, not the number of guns sold.

As of January, there were 386,074 permit holders in Tennessee. Here's what the database shows about Chattanooga and the region:

Soddy-Daisy has by far the most permit-holders outside Chattanooga, with 2,146. Ridgeside has just one resident with a carry permit.

Hamilton County residents are falling behind their neighbors in the race to arms: about five permits for every 100 people in Hamilton, compared to 6.5 per 100 in Bradley, 7.9 per 100 in Sequatchie and 8 per 100 in McMinn County.

But that may be changing, says John Martin, owner of Shooter's Depot on Shallowford Road. He's seeing all kinds of people in his store, from just-turned-21 youngsters to single moms and gray-haired grannies.

"Our customers are not just urbanites, just up-and-coming yuppies, just farmers from Bradley County. They're urbanites and yuppies and Bradley County farmers. They're everybody," Martin said.

He's boosted the number of safety classes that are required for obtaining a concealed-carry permit from three a week to six, and is about to add a seventh.

"I can't imagine it can stay like this forever, because eventually everybody in the state of Tennessee is going to have a permit."

He said fear of crime is part of the reason. He mentioned a man who was beaten up by a gang of teens last summer while walking on Valleybrook Golf Course.

"He was in our store the very next day, bruised and battered," to buy his first handgun, Martin said. That man was part of the new demographic coming for training, he said.

"You hear them say, 'I never thought I'd own a gun, but I just don't feel safe anymore.' You hear that in here all the time now."

There's another fear, too: that President Barack Obama is going to try to outlaw all firearms. The president is pushing for a ban on military-style assault weapons.

But since Obama spoke in Newtown, Conn., after the December massacre of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, "it amazes me, the wave of people that heard somehow in what he said, 'We're going to take away your right to own and carry a gun,'" Martin said.

He said his shop sold an average of 360 firearms a month -- handguns, rifles and shotguns -- in 2012. And he's just one of around 1,100 licensed firearms dealers in Tennessee, he said.

However, it's important to remember that the number of people with concealed-carry permits doesn't say anything about how many people actually are carrying.

Chattanooga has tallied at least nine shootings to date, many gang-related, police said. It's a good bet that the triggermen didn't have any kind of permit, and most of the guns used probably are stolen, said Boyd Patterson, coordinator of Chattanooga's gang task force.

"For all we know, they could be coming from some of these folks out there in the suburbs with handgun permits," he said.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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