Reactions to Alaska's revised handgun law are mixed, but generally favorable.
"I applaud the changes," said gun enthusiast Joe Buell, manager of Outdoor Headquarters. "They simplify a process that was made unduly complicated in the first place."
"I don't think the officer on the street feels more endangered (under the new law)," said Lt. Ron Forneris of the Juneau Police Department.
The law, which took effect Tuesday, allows Alaskans to renew their concealed handgun permits through the mail, rather than in person, and does not require fingerprinting upon licensee renewal. First-time applicants still must take a handgun safety course, but they no longer will be limited to the weapon type used during the class.
"The gist of the changes as I understand them loosen up the restrictions on the kind of handgun that can be carried after you go through the (required) training. That isn't a big change," Forneris said. "The new law also allows that people who have permits from other states with similar requirements to Alaska can carry concealed here. That, too, isn't a big change, because we require similar training.
"We have seen some evidence that, in other states where people have permits to carry concealed handguns and weapons, there has been a drop in crime. As a group we watch those statistics, and the longer that we see these laws in effect without huge problems arising, the more confident we are that they work."
Steve Bean, salesman at Western Auto-Marine, which sells outdoor gear including guns, said he has no problems with the new law.
"If you have a second fingerprint (taken when a license is renewed), it's just redundant paperwork that we taxpayers have to pay for," Bean said. "However, what I would like to see is, people who commit crimes with guns, off with their heads. It would end right there."
Margaret Simmons, supervisor of the Permits and Licensing Unit of the Alaska State Troopers in Anchorage, said she thinks the new law will work better than the old one.
"It's going to streamline things because people can renew their permits by mail instead of in person. The department will not have to take thumb prints for renewals, which will save us significant time. With manpower shortages the way they are, (the new law) will help trooper posts all over the state," Simmons said.
Between 11,000 and 12,000 concealed handgun permits have been issued in Alaska, Simmons said. But the Alaskan who carries a concealed handgun fits no particular profile. Applicants must be at least 21, and have been a resident for at least 90 days. Otherwise they represent a broad cross-section of the population, she said.
"They are professionals such as teachers, as well as mothers, blue collar workers, homesteaders, people both urban and rural," Simmons said.
Joy Lyon, who in May participated in a Juneau gun-control rally observing the Million Mom March, said members of the group see the revised law as "a step sideways at best."
"We are pleased to see that training and testing are required, but we are concerned that this does not move us out of ranking in the bottom 10 states in the country as far as safety of children," Lyon said. "The question is, do you feel safer sitting next to someone with a concealed weapon? It's not like sitting next to an armed police officer who knows that a gun can escalate situations."
Local Million Mom members are forming a chapter to work on gun control and gun safety issues year-round, Lyon said. The Million Mom group promotes safe storage of guns as well as penalties for adults who leave guns out than can injure children.
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