Concealed-carry grows in Suffolk

Published 8:50 pm Saturday, April 27, 2013

Suffolk’s Schadel Sheet Metal Works on South Saratoga Street isn’t located in the safest part of town.

Together with an accident at the end of 2011 that has left him considerably frailer than he was, that’s why Jo Asbell, its co-owner, obtained a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

His son Chris Asbell had “been at me for a couple of years to go and get one,” the 66-year-old said.

Matthew A. Ward/Suffolk News-Herald Suffolk’s Jo Asbell, 66, recently obtained a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Applications for such permits have recently spiked in Suffolk, in the wake of mass shootings last year and the reignited national gun debate.

Matthew A. Ward/Suffolk News-Herald
Suffolk’s Jo Asbell, 66, recently obtained a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Applications for such permits have recently spiked in Suffolk, in the wake of mass shootings last year and the reignited national gun debate.


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“Finally, after I got a little straight, I went up there (to the courthouse) and applied for the permit, and got it.”

Though Jo Asbell said December’s shooting massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School had nothing to do with his decision, it appears to have prompted a big increase in applications for concealed weapons permits in Suffolk.

According to records, the Circuit Court accepted 51 such permits in the week following Sandy Hook — three times the weekly average from 2010 through 2012.

While 2010, 2011 and 2012 saw 671, 809 and 1108 applications, respectively, the court has accepted 703 to date for 2013, only a third of the way through the year.

“We finished sort of strong last year, and they started rolling in” with 2013, said Randy Carter, clerk of the court.

“We knew from the middle of January we were going to have many more applications than the year before.”

Driving the increase, Carter believes, is fear the government is going to disarm the citizenry. “You read some of these blogs, some people believe the government is going to come and take their guns and their ammunition away,” he said.

“You go to a store and try to buy ammunition … you go to certain stores and try to buy weapons, they are just very difficult to come by.”

Some states — Virginia not included but Connecticut among them — have notably toughened their gun laws in the wake of Sandy Hook, and the National Rifle Association has recently pinpointed state legislatures as a future focus for its intense lobbying efforts.

But on the national front, President Obama’s gun-control push has failed to win the support of enough federal lawmakers for success.

Indeed, efforts to extend background checks for gun purchases by closing the so-called “gun show loophole,” were killed last week in the Senate.

But not everyone rushing to arms and concealed-carry permits is worried about an oppressive government, Carter says. Fear of violent crime is also a factor.

Thursday’s homicide on Hunter Street was Suffolk’s fourth this year, he noted, and the fear was also stoked by Colorado, as opposed to Sandy Hook, he said.

“The Colorado (shooting) was in a movie theater, a place of amusement,” he said. “People go pay to see a movie. Schools, you don’t have everybody moving through there willy-nilly.”

Jo Asbell, meanwhile, hasn’t yet gotten a handgun to go with the concealed-carry permit he was issued March 7. He said he owns an old .22 revolver, but he is looking for a better weapon, at the right price.

“I don’t think the problem is with law-abiding citizens,” Asbell, said. “It’s people with mental illnesses and criminals who get handguns, or other assault weapons. I don’t have a problem with background checks.”

Asbell adds the fact that his wife has cancer to the reasons why he got the permit. They’re both more vulnerable in their old age, he said, and being armed gives his family peace of mind.

According to permit records, Suffolk families often apply for concealed weapons permits together. Jo is the third Asbell to apply this year.

Though they got theirs years earlier, Jo Asbell’s son and daughter-in-law also have permits.

“We just got talking about it,” Emily Asbell said of the couple’s decision. “I’m really glad I got it, because right after I got pregnant, there were a couple of situations that made me a little uneasy.

“Just going grocery shopping at night, it just makes you feel a little bit safer, knowing that you have something within range.”

Neither Emily Asbell nor husband Chris Asbell have ever had reason to use a concealed weapon in the little more than five years they’ve carried one, Emily Asbell said.

She says society would be safer if more law-abiding, mentally stable citizens were armed.

“Honestly, I would think they would want teachers and faculty to arms themselves to protect our kids,” she said.

“I think if they were armed and more prepared for something like that (Sandy Hook) … I just think that our kids’ lives are in their hands, how could they not be prepared, in a sense?”

From July 1, apart from those who open-carry, it will no longer be possible to determine which Virginians go about their day armed, after the governor has signed a revision to state law, closing identities of permit applicants to public scrutiny.

Outcry over newspapers publishing full lists of concealed-carry permit holders “really was the engine that was pulling the train on this,” Carter said.

“It’s going to be an unfunded mandated in respect that people in my office normally attending to other things are going to have to be doing this,” he said.