At least two of York County's state representatives are packing heat, and they're among a growing number of Yorkers who, unbeknownst to those around them, carry concealed weapons.
Sheriff Richard Keuerleber's office has had to lengthen its counter hours to accommodate an increase in applications for concealed weapons permits.
The five-year licenses allow holders to carry firearms on their person at numerous public places, such as in stores and on the road.
The sheriff said there has been a notable spike in new applications and renewals over the past couple of years, with demand apparently undaunted by a $20 fee, a background check that includes calls to references and employers, and a series of all-caps questions including: "Is your character and reputation such that you would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety?"
The annual number of York County permits issued has grown 63 percent, from 3,836 in 2001 to 6,238 in 2011, the most recent year for which the state police have data.
The number of permits issued grew 24 percent when the two recent years
are compared, from 5,015 in 2010 to 6,238 the next year.
Class for carriers: State Reps. Seth Grove, R-Dover, and Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, who both occasionally exercise their concealed weapons permits, hosted a class for license holders Saturday.
There was such demand for the event that it reached its 60-person capacity shortly after it was announced, prompting Grove to seek a larger venue to accommodate a couple of hundred people at a second session in the fall, he said.
An attorney will discuss concealed-carry laws and explain the Castle Doctrine, the state's home-protection law. An officer from the Northern York County Regional Police will explain how to interact with the police while carrying a firearm.
Why? Regan said the swift response to the class shows that permit holders want to be educated and exercise their rights in a safe manner.
"I think there is an increasing number of people who are of this mind ... inquiring as to how to obtain a gun permit," said Regan, a former federal agent who has special firearm-carrying privileges. "I think it's probably just a lot of it being caused by the world we live in. Crime, people feeling like they want to exercise their Second Amendment rights."
He said the class will educate permit-holders about their legal requirements and safety guidelines.
"It's a huge liability to carry a firearm," he said. "You constantly have to know ... where the gun is, and is there one in the chamber or is there not."
Grove, a target shooter, said the class will also address misunderstandings about carrying weapons.
"I think the general public thinks it's a wild, wild West mentality," he said. "But most people wouldn't even know if someone's carrying."
He said he doesn't carry a gun often, adding, "it just depends what I feel like doing that day. If I'm going shooting that day, I'll carry it on my hip and throw a box of bullets in the car."
His constituents carry guns for reasons such as personal defense, and they include business owners who carry a lot of cash, people who work in dangerous areas and people who live by themselves, he said.
Grove said politics and opposition to gun control measures probably account for some of the increased interest in gun permits, but people are also dealing with insecurities because of terrorism, the bombing in Boston and mass shootings.
Correlation with Con gress: Keuerleber said there's a direct correlation between the number of applicants -- which is different from permits issued -- and congressional contemplation of gun control.
Incidents such as the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., last December and the resulting talk of law changes are reflected in business at the counter in the sheriff's office, he said.
"When people think their Second Amendment rights are going to be infringed on, we see it in the numbers," he said.
In 2011, the number of new applications and renewals increased 18 percent, he said. In 2012, it increased 71 percent.
The number of requests in the first three months after the Newtown shooting -- January, February and March of this year -- alone equaled a 50 percent increase over the total number of permit requests for the entire year in 2012, he said.
He declined to disclose the number of applicants.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.