LINWOOD — Gun permit applications increased sharply this year after the high-profile shooting death of radio host April Kauffman in May, police said, and this year’s requests could double last year’s totals.
Police said there were 15 applications for guns in May alone after Kauffman was found dead May 10 in the bedroom of her Woodstock Avenue home, shot multiple times. There have been no arrests in the case, and no announcements in the investigation.
Prior to May, there had been between four and nine applications each month in Linwood. That increased to a total of 59 applications through July — nearly double previous years. Combined, there were 33 applications for the two required documents in 2010 and 38 in 2011, police said.
State law requires people interested in buying a gun or pistol to first apply to their local police department for a Firearms Purchaser Identification Card. They must then apply for additional permits for every additional handgun.
The increase in applications comes as friends of Kauffman have pressed for an arrest to be made in the case.
“They made us feel like it was not a random thing, so the people in Linwood wouldn’t be afraid that there is a killer on the loose. But there is a killer on the loose,” said close friend Lee Darby, 58, last month. “Someone murdered my dearest friend, and I don’t know who it is, and that’s unnerving. Is it someone in our direct circle of people? And am I looking at them every day? It’s very difficult and frightening.”
Detective Jim Norris said, “Maybe people are getting a gun to protect themselves and feel safer.” He added the numbers fit into a broader trend seen by local departments from people who sought to buy firearms out of fear that there would be further governmental restrictions.
Police departments from the three towns that surround Linwood all say that more people have sought guns in recent years, part of a broader trend of sharply increased gun ownership. But none of these officers said anyone said they were motivated to seek a weapon because of the Kauffman shooting.
Police departments in Somers Point, Egg Harbor Township and Northfield reported they saw a combined 449 requests for initial firearms ownership and pistol permits in 2008, a figure that rose to 716 in 2011. As of the end of July, the three departments have seen 715 requests.
In Somers Point, Detective Lt. Michael Sweeney said he doesn’t ask people why they want a gun, but people sometimes volunteer they are getting it for target practice or self defense.
Similarly, in Northfield, Sgt. Paul Newman said he doesn’t ask why they are seeking a weapon. “Most of them say they want to go shooting, or (their) husband shoots, or (their) cousin shoots.”
It is unclear who the people are in Linwood who are seeking to arm themselves. In New Jersey, both the initial application and pistol permit requests are not public record.
“I guess you gotta be careful with who you (annoy) in Linwood, because you never know who has a gun,” City Councilman Tim Tighe said.
City Councilman Elliot Beinfest said that he supports the right to bear arms, adding that the recent applications are “a legitimate purpose.” He owns a pair of handguns and a shotgun, he said. But he said the city is relatively safe and that “I don’t think that everyone should be running out and arming themselves.”
Linwood remains a safe place, federal crime statistics show.
Between 2006 and 2010, the most recent year for which there are statistics, there were 40 violent crimes and 518 property crimes in the city. In that time there was one homicide, in 2009.
In 2010, there were four violent crimes in Linwood, or less than 0.3 violent crimes per 100,000 people, a standard measurement. Violent crimes include murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
By comparison, in neighboring Somers Point there were 48 violent crimes and 5.3 violent crimes per 100,000 people. In Northfield, there were two violent crimes and 0.2 violent crimes per person.
New Jersey recorded a violent crime rate of 307.7 per 100,000 people in 2010, while the national figure was 403.6 per 100,000 people.
Robert James, Linwood’s chief of police, said sharp increases in gun ownership are usually caused by a bellwether moment that provokes a heightened interest, such as the recent run on guns after the Colorado movie theater massacre. If there is a sense of insecurity, James said, the weapon “gives them that security that they feel from owning that.”
James owns three handguns and rifle: “As long as they’re lawfully owned, and the residents seek the training and know how to operate them, it’s a fundamental right as a citizen.”
Some in town said the applications are an expected reaction.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Lewis Tate, who lives near the Kauffman residence.
He said that about 30 years ago a robber broke into his home, escaping through a basement window. The next week, he went to buy a gun. Tate said, “I was scared senseless.”
Mayor Richard L. DePamphilis said the news did not surprise him, when he said, “you have a situation like you had.”
DePamphilis, a former police officer in Longport, still owns a .38-caliber handgun from that time, which he said he kept in a gun safe. “It wouldn’t surprise me,” he said of the increased applications. “I think you’d probably have a lot.”
Staff Writer Robert Spahr contributed to this report.
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