He looked at the handgun closely, examining how it felt in his hand as he pointed it at the ground, then asked to see another model.

Spending more than half an hour inside The Outdoorsmen in the Center Grove area, Morgantown resident Mike Wheeler looked at more than four different handguns, but ultimately opted against purchasing one — for now. Wheeler is still waiting on his gun permit, or license to carry, that he applied for on Dec. 9. He has plenty of time to find the right gun he plans on carrying most days.

More than 400 Johnson County residents applied for or received a gun permit in December. At the same time, more than 2,400 gun permits were issued across the state of Indiana.

Last year, a total of 17,459 Johnson County residents had gun permits. That means 16 percent of the county’s adult population, or one in every six adults, had a license to carry, according to data provided by the Indiana State Police.

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And that number has been growing. In 2013, the number of Johnson County residents with gun permits was 13,716. In just two years, the number has increased by 27 percent.

Already this year, at least 100 Johnson County residents applied for a gun permit. Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 8, 99 Johnson County residents had submitted their application for a license to carry, according to data provided by the Indiana State Police.

Business at The Outdoorsmen has been indicative of that statistic. In the span of an hour, more than 10 customers stopped in to browse and hold handguns and were interested in buying one. When Wheeler handed the gun back over the counter, salesman William Rogers didn’t have time to fret over losing the sale. As Wheeler walked away, another man approached asking to see a handgun.

Since December, Rogers estimated selling about 40 handguns per week, Rogers said. And more than 100 customers come in each week, curious and intrigued by handguns and the idea of buying one. Many who come to The Outdoorsmen are looking at a gun for the first time and when Rogers strikes up a conversation, the reason is almost always the same: personal protection.

“We’ve seen a lot of people new to handguns, worried about their own personal protection. I’d say nine out of every 10 people who are in the store are looking at handguns for protection,” Rogers said.

At the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, administrative assistant Lauren Brune assisted twice as many residents trying to obtain a gun permit in December as she did in November last year, she said. And the numbers don’t lie. The amount of residents who came into the sheriff’s office to pay fees for their permit application more than doubled from November to December.

Many of the Johnson County residents Brune assisted wanted a permit for personal protection, Brune said.

The sheriff’s office is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and late into the evening at the sheriff’s office, residents were standing in line, waiting to pay their permit application fees, Maj. Duane Burgess said.

The rush on gun permits pulled jail employees away from their duties to assist with permit application fees, Sheriff Doug Cox said.

“We had a huge, huge increase in December and it really pulled jail staff away from the jail,” Burgess said. “Young and old, people came in and almost all of them were there for self-protection, others in fear gun permits will be taken away.”

Protection was in the forefront of Wheeler’s mind at The Outdoorsmen, but his main concern centered around the national conversation regarding gun laws and the Second Amendment. Wheeler has been thinking about getting his permit for a few years, but finally acted on that urge because of concern over national gun laws changing. If he has his permit before any changes to gun laws come, he could be grandfathered in, Wheeler said.

Whenever national discussion centers around gun laws and people hear politicians in Washington, D.C., talking about limiting the Second Amendment, they get concerned and apply, Indiana State Police spokesman Dave Bursten said.

And incidents such as the shooting that killed 14 in San Bernardino, California, weigh on the minds of Johnson County residents as well, possibly encouraging someone to get their license to carry and buy a gun, Cox said.

“I’m not a big gun guy. If I wasn’t a police officer, I don’t know if I’d have a gun myself. But when something critical happens, like a school shooting or some of the ugliness going on, and the president talks about steps to tighten gun control, I think that spikes concerns and gun permit numbers,” Cox said. “The increase in December doesn’t surprise me at all.”

By the numbers

Sixteen percent of adults in Johnson County had a gun permit, or license to carry, in 2015. Here is a look at how our county compares to other counties across central Indiana.

Brown County

Adult population: 12,000

Adults with permits in 2015: 2,752, or 23 percent of adults.

About one in every four adults had a license to carry in 2015.

Morgan County

Adult population: 53,000

Adults with permits in 2015: 11,559, or 22 percent of adults.

About one in every five adults had a license to carry in 2015.

Hancock County

Adult population: 54,700

Adults with permits in 2015: 10,182, or 19 percent of adults.

One in every five adults had a license to carry in 2015.

Shelby County

Adult population: 34,350

Adults with permits in 2015: 6,176, or 18 percent of adults. 

One in every six adults had a license to carry in 2015.

Johnson County

Adult population: 112,150

Adults with permits in 2015: 17,459, or 16 percent of adults.

One in every six adults had a license to carry in 2015.

Hendricks County

Adult Population: 115,500

Adults with permits in 2015: 18,406, or 16 percent of adults.

One in every six adults had a license to carry in 2015.

Bartholomew County

Adult population: 61,000

Adults with permits in 2015: 8,157, or 13 percent of adults.

One in every eight adults had a license to carry in 2015. 

Hamilton County

Adult population: 214,900

Adults with permits in 2015: 24,656, or 11 percent of adults.

One in every nine adults had a license to carry in 2015.

Marion County

Adult population: 700,700

Adults with permits in 2015: 74,764, or 11 percent.

One in every nine adults had a license to carry in 2015.

SOURCE: Indiana State Police

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Corey Elliot is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at celliot@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2719.