Gun Culture

Colorado Concealed Carry: How Many of Your Neighbors Are Packing Heat

Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown, left, in the front-cover photo from his office's 2021 annual report.
Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown, left, in the front-cover photo from his office's 2021 annual report.
The 2021 annual report from the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, released this week, is largely promotional, with page after page festooned with photos of happy, smiling law enforcement officers greeting children, petting dogs and so on. But it does include some specific data on a topic that frequently gets treated in a general way: the increasing demand for permits allowing residents to carry a concealed firearm.

According to the report, last year the sheriff's office issued 6,100 permits, compared to 2,333 in 2020. Renewals of previous permits also more than doubled, going from 1,655 in 2020 to 4,024 in 2021, while permit denials or revocations remained essentially static: a combined 88 in 2020 versus 87 in 2021. From year to year, the total active concealed-carry permits in Arapahoe County rose from 20,495 to 21,905.

The ACSO isn't alone in compiling such statistics. The Colorado General Assembly has required sheriff's offices in every Colorado county to submit detailed annual reports on the subject every year since 2003; they can all be found on this statutory reports page overseen by the Colorado Legislative Council. The stats reveal an enormous upswing in the number of Coloradans legally sanctioned to pack heat.

To get a sense of how concealed-carry permits have proliferated over the past decade, Westword accessed reports from 2011, 2019 (the year before the COVID-19 pandemic and the George Floyd social justice protests supercharged interest in firearms across the country), and 2021. Here are the totals for Arapahoe County, which reveal a four-fold increase from 2011 to 2021. (Note that the 2021 and 2019 surveys offer separate sums for new and renewed permits, while the 2011 edition combines them.)
Arapahoe County
2011
Total applications: 1,505
Permits issued/renewed: 1,574

2019
Total applications: 3,786
New permits issued: 2,085
Permit renewals: 1,618

2021
Total applications: 6,100
New permits issued: 4,024
Permit renewals: 2,076
The reports also spell out the reasons concealed-carry applications were denied or revoked. In Arapahoe County in 2021, for instance, sixteen were denied and thirteen were revoked because the individual in question had an arrest record; twelve were denied and one was revoked for reasons characterized as "discretionary"; four were denied because the applicant wasn't a resident of the county; thirteen were denied and seventeen were revoked because of restraining orders; and nine were denied and two were revoked due to "mental illness or addiction."

The Colorado counties that have issued the most concealed-carry permits are generally the most populous, including Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson in the metro area, as well as El Paso County, anchored by Colorado Springs, and northern Colorado's Larimer and Weld counties. Increases occurred in all of these jurisdictions: doubling, tripling, quadrupling or even quintupling over the past ten years. While liberal Denver County, whose city council passed an ordinance banning concealed carry in city buildings and parks last month, saw the most modest bump, conservative El Paso County experienced by far the largest spike.

Here are the numbers for all of those counties, ranked in ascending order by 2021 concealed-carry totals.
Denver County
2011
Total applications: 736
Permits issued/renewed: 688

2019
Total applications: 1,977
New permits issued: 1,107
Permit renewals: 870

2021
Total applications: 2,015
New permits issued: 1,438
Permit renewals: 577

Douglas County
2011
Total applications: 1,158
Permits issued/renewed: 1,058

2019
Total applications: 3,877
New permits issued: 1,581
Permit renewals: 2,096

2021
Total applications: 5,624
New permits issued: 2,880
Permit renewals: 2,744

Adams County
2011
Total applications: 1,155
Permits issued/renewed: 1,038

2019
Total applications: 3,634
New permits issued: 1,636
Permit renewals: 1,695

2021
Total applications: 6,237
New permits issued: 4,318
Permit renewals: 1,919

Larimer County
2011
Total applications: 928
Permits issued/renewed: 838

2019
Total applications: 3,161
New permits issued: 1,434
Permit renewals: 1,727

2021
Total applications: 6,247
New permits issued: 3,558
Permit renewals: 2,689

Weld County
2011
Total applications: 1,111
Permits issued/renewed: 829

2019
Total applications: 3,801
New permits issued: 1,621
Permit renewals: 2,061

2021
Total applications: 6,456
New permits issued: 3,513
Permit renewals: 2,943

Jefferson County
2011
Total applications: 2,672
Permits issued/renewed: 2,283

2019
Total applications: 5,223
New permits issued: 2,200
Permit renewals: 1,981

2021
Total applications: 6,671
New permits issued: 3,468
Permit renewals: 3,208

El Paso County
2011
Total applications: 4,514
Permits issued/renewed: 4,471

2019
Total applications: 8,375
New permits issued: 4,026
Permit renewals: 4,349

2021
Total applications: 13,120
New permits issued: 6,691
Permit renewals: 6,429

The concealed-carry permits either issued or renewed in just these eight counties add up to more than 50,000 in 2021 alone. But how many of these people actually carry a gun most of the time? "Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States: 2021," a study by Crime Prevention Research Center authors John R. Lott and Rujun Wang published last October, references a 2017 Pew Research Center survey that found the following:
• 30 percent of American adults say that they own a gun.
• 72 percent of the people who own a gun say they own a handgun or a pistol.
• 11 percent of handgun owners say that they carry all the time, 26 percent say they carry most or all the time, and 57 percent say that they carry at least some of the time.
After doing the math, Lott and Wang conclude that the total number of concealed-carry permits is at least 21.52 million, or about 8.3 percent of the adult population in the United States. Moreover, they determine that approximately 5.4 percent of Americans carry a gun with them all or most of the time.

Not counting those who presumably do so without bothering to get a permit.

Click to see Colorado concealed-handgun permit reports from 2021, 2019 and 2011, plus the 2021 Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office annual report and the study "Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States: 2021."