COLUMBIA --- The number of concealed weapons permits issued in South Carolina has risen sharply this year, state records show, as people worry about crime and their right to bear firearms.
The State newspaper of Columbia reported Sunday that concealed weapons permits issued by the State Law Enforcement Division stood at 28,197 as of mid-October. That's up from 14,630 permits issued in all of 2008 and far outstrips the number of permits issued in previous years.
The newspaper, which researched concealed weapons permits, hunting licenses and FBI background checks done for firearms sales, also reported that the number of concealed weapon permits rose nearly equally among men and women between 2005 and 2008.
"My motto is walk lightly and carry a big stick," said Ed Strickland, a concealed weapons permit instructor in Abbeville.
Abbeville County has one of the highest concentrations of concealed weapons permits holders in the state: one per 31.6 residents.
SLED spokesman Paul Flondarina says South Carolina is following a national trend with more concealed weapons permits.
He says nearly 100,000 people in South Carolina now hold concealed weapons permits.
If they all lived in one place, the people who can legally carry a concealed weapon in South Carolina would comprise the state's third-largest city, behind Charleston and Columbia.
Many concealed weapons permit holders in South Carolina say they are afraid of crime. But only one of the state's 10 counties with the highest concentration of permit holders, Darlington, is also one of the state's most violent.
The demand for permits is being driven, in part, over people's belief that President Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress are a threat to their Second Amendment rights.
"People are thinking, 'I want to get it and get it now,' " said Tom Thompson, the president of the Mid-Carolina Rifle Club in Gaston, in Lexington County. "In case the Democrats try to pull something on us, we're going to have it."
Others increasingly worry about becoming a crime victim.
"I very truly believe there are bad people out there," said Patty Clark, a 49-year-old Gilbert resident with a concealed weapons permit. "Not that every time you walk out the door you're in danger of being attacked, but there are bad people out there who can hurt you."
The proliferation of concealed weapons concerns crime victim advocates, who say a heavily armed citizenry will not make people more safe.
"It becomes a deadly game," said Laura Hudson, the executive director of the S.C. Crime Victims Council. "Where is all of this ending? Is everybody going to have a weapon? Are we going back to the Wild West? It just escalates."