What are Portlanders doing in the wake of national and local unrest? Applying for concealed handgun licenses.

Data from the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, which fields applications for concealed handgun licenses in the county, shows 609 handgun owners have applied for such licenses so far in 2021. That's double the number from all of last January, when 303 people applied for CHLs through the sheriff's office.

A person does not need a CHL to own a firearm. But under Oregon law, such a license permits a person to carry a concealed handgun. Statewide, firearm background checks, which tend to reflect actual gun sales in Oregon, have increased 64% in January so far compared to this time last year, according to Oregon State Police spokesman Capt. Timothy Fox.

The recent spike in applications, culminating in a twofold increase from the year before, may reflect rising political tensions nationally following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the Jan. 13 impeachment of President Donald Trump, and the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden.

But some of that civil unrest is homegrown. On Jan. 6, far right activists held their own Stop the Steal rally at the state Capitol in Salem. On Inauguration Day, anarchist protesters smashed the windows of the Democratic Party of Oregon headquarters. Separately, City Commissioner Dan Ryan told The Oregonian in mid-January that his home had been vandalized seven times since late October, when he voted against cutting the Portland Police Bureau's budget.

The correlation between social upheaval and concealed carry applications in Multnomah County was most glaring in the summer months.

In May 2020, 265 people applied for CHLs through the sheriff's office. In June, shortly after racial justice protests began in downtown Portland, applications rose to 692. They peaked in July (986 applications), followed by August (919) and September (961). Those were the months immediately following Trump's deployment of federal officers to downtown Portland.

By the end of 2020, the demand for concealed firearms began to slacken: In December, the sheriff's office received 514 applications—the lowest number since May. But so far, January 2021 has outpaced December 2020 by almost 100 concealed carry applications.

Applications for concealed handgun licenses in Multnomah County in January of 2021 are double what they were last January.
Applications for concealed handgun licenses in Multnomah County in January of 2021 are double what they were last January.