Area sheriffs' offices are issuing more concealed-carry licenses as the state hit a record number in 2018.

Last year, 168,302 concealed-carry licenses were issued in the state, according to a recent report from the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

A majority — 98,927 — were renewals. The 69,375 new licenses issued last year represented a decline of about 10 percent.

The number of license holders has expanded steadily statewide since the law’s introduction in 2004. Currently, about 667,000 Ohio residents possess a concealed-carry license, according to the Buckeye Firearms Association. The licenses must be renewed every five years.

For the most part, the law seems to be working, according to officials at area sheriffs' offices.

Wayne County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Doug Hunter said there was a lot of anxiety among law enforcement professionals and in the general population when the law took effect.

“There were many that felt that there would be gunfights in the streets, but that’s not been the case,” Hunter said. “These are people that are voluntarily taking training.”

In addition to required firearms training, concealed-carry license applicants also are fingerprinted and go through a background check.

Last year, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office processed 1,002 new licenses and 1,914 renewals, according to the attorney general's office. In 2017, it processed 1,376 new licenses and 1,115 renewals. In 2005, the office issued 238 new licenses. Renewals were not yet taking place 14 years ago.

Capt. Kenneth Baka, chief deputy of the Medina County Sheriff’s Office, said that his county has a very low revocation rate. Although there have been some applicants denied for various reasons — such as a record of domestic violence or a DUI — most people seeking a concealed-weapons license get one.

“My bottom line is that we are more concerned about the criminals [who] don’t go through the proper channels and get a permit,” Baka said.

Last year, the Medina County Sheriff’s Office issued 478 new licenses and 1,895 renewals. Seven licenses were revoked. In 2017, the office issued new licenses 816 times and 1,486 renewals. In 2005, 835 licenses were issued.

Proper handling

Inspector Bill Holland, spokesman for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, said the office stresses gun safety and proficiency with applicants. Most gun-involved incidents occur because people aren’t using their firearm properly or handling it with the proper care.

“With carrying a concealed weapon comes responsibility,” Holland said.

Last year, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office issued 1,264 new licenses and 2,750 renewals. Two were revoked, and 68 applications were denied. In 2017, the office issued 1,643 new licenses and 1,558 renewals. In 2005, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office issued 876 new licenses.

Holland said that despite the program’s low rate of revocations and suspensions, an occasional concealed-carry holder will abuse the license.

During a road rage incident in November, for example, two drivers who had pulled over on Interstate 77 in Green exchanged fire. Both were concealed-carry license holders.

One of the individuals was with his wife and two children. One man was injured.

“Predicting human behavior is pretty much impossible,” Holland said. “We can’t stress enough that safety with firearms … is paramount.”

Law-abiding folks

Portage County Sheriff David W. Doak said those who apply for licenses are generally responsible members of society. People with criminal records go another route.

“There are folks who are going to get their hands on a gun no matter what,” he said. “They don’t care about a permit.”

In 2018, Doak’s office issued 1,992 new licenses and 1,469 renewals. None were revoked, although 45 were suspended. In 2017, the Portage County Sheriff’s Office issued 2,169 new licenses and 922 renewals. In 2005, it issued 260 new licenses.

A feature of the concealed-carry law allows residents of one county to go to adjoining counties to acquire a license. That can increase the business for a county that does a particularly good job of processing applicants, but it also can burden a small office that gets too popular.

Dean Rieck, executive director of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said that about 1 in 13 Ohio residents has a concealed-carry license, and that the holders represent a good cross-section of society.

“They are everywhere,” he said. “They are sitting next to you in restaurants. They are your neighbors.”