ST. PAUL — Gun permit applications surged in St. Paul this month after Gov. Tim Walz announced emergency measures to control the spread of coronavirus.

During the week of March 16, as schools closed and group gatherings curtailed, city police received 153 applications to buy a handgun. That’s roughly six times the weekly average from the first two months of the year.

Joseph Olson, a Roseville resident who is president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, said he believes people are getting guns for protection in their homes.

“I think people are worried about shortages,” Olson said Wednesday, March 25. “They’re worried about America running out of food, they’re worried about people who haven’t planned ahead coming and harming them, especially when the police have announced they’re not going to be making arrests for minor offenses.”

To reduce the risk of infection, Ramsey County’s chief judge signed an order saying all inmates at the workhouse serving sentences for low-level, nonviolent offenses, as well as those classified as medically vulnerable, are eligible to be released to electronic home monitoring. People with similar non-violent cases also have been released from the Ramsey County Jail.

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In Hennepin County, the jail’s population was reduced by 26 percent over the last week, officials announced Monday.

Those moves have also led people to “quite rightly feel that they’re a whole lot less safe today than they were two weeks ago,” Olson said.

Though Walz issued a “Stay At Home” order Wednesday that starts Friday at midnight, state law says that firearm retailers cannot be closed down during a state of emergency, according to Olson and John Monson, owner of Bill’s Gun Shop and Range. Gun shops will be allowed to stay open, but not gun ranges, a spokesman for Walz said Wednesday.

Bill’s Gun Shop, which has five locations, was “extremely busy” last week, though they anticipated the demand and had heavily-stocked shelves, but they’re now about a week behind in restocking, Monson said.

Bill’s is limiting 9mm ammunition to a couple of boxes per customer, according to Monson.

“We’re getting caught up and doing the best we can to get people what they need,” he said.

More permit applications in Twin Cities

Various Twin Cities law enforcement agencies have seen more people applying for permits.

Woodbury police have received 133 applications for permits to purchase in March, compared with 85 applications in January and February combined.

There have been 901 applications to the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office for a permit to carry or renewal this year, which is up nearly 15 percent from the same period in 2019.

Forty-six Forest Lake residents applied to purchase a handgun this month, double the monthly average from January and February.

West St. Paul police have received 29 permit to purchase applications so far in March, compared with 13 last month and 17 in January.

As of Friday, 363 people had applied for permits to carry this month at the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office. The office had 367 applications in February and 419 in January.

In Bayport, four to five people have applied for permits to purchase per week recently, which is double the norm.

South St. Paul, which is processing applications by mail, has not seen a noticeable increase — there have been 48 this year, up by three from the same time in 2019.

Josh Verges, Mary Divine and Nick Ferraro contributed to this report.

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