TOWNSEND -- In the past month, firearms license applications have soared in the local communities.
"It's been crazy," said Townsend Police Chief Erving Marshall. "We've been inundated with people coming in for licenses to carry and so forth."
The influx has been so great, in fact, that the computer systems hooked up to the Firearms Records Bureau has crashed several times. The administrative assistant has had to put in additional hours to keep up with the demand.
In the last two weeks, over 50 residents have come into the station to pick up applications for weapons licenses. Last Tuesday, 14 residents, some waiting for two hours, came in to pick up applications.
"Generally we have maybe three or four people coming in. Usually with hunting season, November is our busiest time," said Marshall. "We've been having upwards of 10 to 15 people coming in. We've actually had to start turning people away because there were too many."
In the first three weeks of January, the department processed 34 applications, 17 of which were new applicants. In the entire month of December, the department processed a total of 18 applications, seven of them new.
Pepperell has also noticed a surge of applications.
"Over the last month or so, it's increased sharply," said Police Chief David Scott.
In December, 23 total applications were processed by the Pepperell Police Department, a number consistent with the months leading up to it. In January, the department processed a total of 40 applications. In January 2012, the department processed a total of five applications.
The increase has been so dramatic that the department has posted a notice both in the building and online that due to the high volume, effective immediately, all firearms license applications are by appointment only.
Marshall speculated that the recent trend aligns with the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn. and social commentary surrounding second amendment rights.
"Since Sandy Hook, people are really getting paranoid about the federal government cracking down on firearms. I think that's what's driving this whole thing," said Marshall.
The departments aren't the only places noticing the spike. Massachusetts firearms safety courses have been seeing the same trend.
Steve Hathaway, director of the Massachusetts Firearms Safety School, said he has seen a doubling of the number of students coming in for the training classes in the last month, spiking from approximately 50 students per day to about 100. Mike Zenga, director of Massachusetts Gun Safety School, said he has likewise noticed the increase. A week after the Newtown incident, he said, he noticed about a 50 percent increase in students.
"It's all related, without question, to recent events," said Hathaway.
What's more, said Hathaway, is that because those applying for license renewals are not required to take the course again, nearly all of the students he sees are new applicants.
"People are making the (choice) and paying $100 to take the class, paying $100 to get the license, taking a day class which means taking time off of work. They're putting an inordinate amount of effort into this decision," said Hathaway. "This portion of the populace is basically saying they've made their choice and they're putting resources and significant effort behind that choice."
Hathaway echoed Marshall's speculation on the driving force behind the surge.
"Based on my interactions with some of our students, I get the idea that what's driving these things isn't so much people saying 'I need to do this because bad events like this can happen anywhere and I need to be prepped.' I think what's happened is politicians are scaring people," said Hathaway. "The politicians scrambling to ban guns come off as so aggressive, it makes people believe if they don't get a license now, they will never be able to own a gun. It's ironic because there's probably no one that's more disgusted, if I could use such powerful word, (by this surge) than anti-gun politicians. It's not their intention. They don't want it, but they are cause of it, not anyone in the gun industry."
There are three varieties of licenses that residents are able to apply for: Firearms identification cards (FID cards), class A license to carry, and Class B license to carry. Class A is the only license that allows for carrying a concealed weapon. FID cards permit purchasing and carrying only non-large capacity weapons.
New license to carry applicants must by 21 or older. FID applicants must be 18 or older, or 15-17 with parental approval.
Residents are also able to apply to carry chemical sprays such as mace.
Applicants are required to submit three letters of recommendation and to show proof of residency. Anyone that applies for a first time license to carry must undergo a mandatory training course by an approved instructor. As long as the applicant is a legal resident, anyone can apply.
But not all applicants are accepted. The departments fingerprint every applicant and run criminal history reports through the Federal Records Bureau. Certain things in criminal history result in automatic denials. Convictions for operating under the influence or convictions for any violent crimes, including assault and battery, are disqualifiers.
Additionally, the police departments can deny an applicant for suitability.
"Say they don't have a criminal record, but a resident comes in with a past history domestic violence, though they've never been charged ... I can deny him based on suitability to carry firearms," said Marshall.
Every applicant is also run through the Department of Mental Health, said Scott.