Citing an obvious concern from citizens about changes to gun laws, law enforcement officials say they were hit hard in 2012 with applications for permits to purchase a firearm.
And if the first week of 2013 is any indication, the interest in being able to buy, and carry, a firearm is going to continue to grow.
"The numbers don't lie," said Northfield Interim Police Chief Chuck Walerius. "We are definitely seeing more applications, much more so than in other years. I would say changes in the laws had something to do with that."
Walerius said his department saw 103 applications in 2012, up from 49 in 2011. Faribault Police saw 71 more permit to purchase applications last year than they did in 2011. The Waseca County Sheriff's Office shows the number of gun permits issued was up by 115 in 2012. In 2011 they had 220 and in 2012 they received 335.
The Northfield Police Department didn't track permits month-to-month, but at the Rice County Sheriff's Office, 58 permits were approved and handed out during December alone. Faribault police issued 35 permits to purchase that same month. Though neither Faribault nor the county tracked permit data month-by-month before 2012, officials from both say the increase compared to past Decembers was significant.
Local law enforcement officials agreed that the increase was likely at least partly attributable to people concerned about a possible federal ban on assault weapons. Walerius said that while he had not studied Northfield's permit applications in any detail, he noted that when he was in Cabela's in Owatonna before Christmas, the outdoor store was sold out of assault rifles.
"From a police perspective, the numbers in general concern me," Walerius said. "It puts more weapons out there that might fall into the hands of the wrong people."
Immediately following the Newtown massacre in which 20 school children were shot and killed by a gunman armed with an assault rifle, members of Congress began talking about an assault rife gun ban. Recently, Vice President Joe Biden has been in discussion with congressional leaders and the gun lobby about possible executive orders and/or legislation.
That doesn't sit well with Northfielder Jim Ingham, who believes more gun control would be a violation of his Constitutional rights at the very least.
"I want to have things in order if it does change, partly because of what is going on, but mostly because we have the right to keep and bear arms," said Ingham, who recently applied for a conceal and carry permit. "If it starts with assault rifles, where will it end?"
Besides, Ingham said, enacting laws that are more strict isn't the answer because criminals rarely abide by the law anyway.
"Only law-abiding citizens will obey gun laws. The criminals will not," he said. "The only thing it will do is make it harder for law-abiding citizens to enjoy guns as a form of recreation."
Permits to carry, which require a training session and approval from the county sheriff, have now more than tripled in Rice County since 2007, when just 97 were issued.
A total of 334 were issued in 2012.
"Some of the people who have come in for a permit to carry told me, 'I don't know if I'm ever going to carry it, but just in case,'" Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn said. "They wanted it all done legally, just to be prepared."
A total of 307 permits to purchase were issued by the sheriff's office in 2012, though no data was kept in previous years to which to compare. In Waseca County, permits to carry rose by six -- 66 in 2011 and 72 in 2012.
Larry Ahlman, owner of Ahlman's gun shop in Morristown, said he saw a jump in attendance in the business's estimated 25 gun courses held in 2012. The classes range from "first shots" for people who have never fired a gun before, to advanced training for law enforcement.
While Ahlman confirmed an increase in sales for last year, he said the sales are following a trend that began when Barack Obama was elected president four years ago. He also agreed that activity increases when changes to gun laws are brought to the forefront.
"People fear the government more than anything," he said. "I think there are two factors that are tossed around a lot -- that government will disarm them and that crazy people are going to attack their families."
Although data would show that more people are buying firearms than ever before, law enforcement said those people who take the appropriate steps aren't the ones they worry about.
"If people are doing things for the right reasons and following the rules, great," Dunn said. "The people I think we have to worry about are the ones who break into homes and steal, who go about things the wrong way."
Bohlen said he hopes to see some "common sense bipartisan discussion" on gun legislation, though he believes in the Second Amendment.
"Law abiding citizens should have that right, but they need to be secured, they need to follow the rules," said Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen. "There do need to be some changes to better understand people with a mental illness. You do have to disclose on the application if you've ever been committed to a mental health facility, but there are still some holes in the system."
Managing Editor Jaci Smith contributed to this report. Reach reporter Rebecca Rodenborg at 333-3128, or follow her on Twitter.com @FDNRebecca. Northfield News managing editor Jerry Smith also contributed to this story.