LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett County probate court was so busy processing firearms applications last week that, on both Thursday and Friday, no staff members could be reached to provide updated statistics.
Amid a flourishing national debate over gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, Gwinnett Probate Judge Walter Clarke said Wednesday that his court had received record numbers of applications for firearms permits.
"This week has been unusual," Clarke said. "We'll probably break our record for issuing firearm licenses during the year."
Until new photo IDs were introduced this year, Clarke said his office had averaged about 15 permits per day. The improved ID cards bumped that number up to about 30 for the majority of 2012, he said.
On Monday, officials said 57 gun permits were filed. On Tuesday, 74 more were received. Clarke said he expected Wednesday's total to surpass even that, which he believed to be a record.
On Friday, a staff member said everyone in the court's office was too busy filing applications to provide updated statistics. A line for the probate office -- which also handles other functions including marriage licenses and birth certificates -- was nearly to a neighboring courtroom.
Clarke said there's usually no line at all.
The retiring judge didn't speculate as to the rationale behind the surge, but applicant Tyrone Hill did.
"It's for my own protection, and it's also one of those situations where you don't want to be the only one without one," said Hill, a Snellville resident who recently returned home from the Navy. "I'm just trying to keep within the limits of the law, before they change the law."
In recent days, President Barack Obama has urged tighter federal gun laws and asked Vice President Joe Biden to head up a task force on gun violence. The National Rifle Association held a press conference Friday advocating armed guards in the nation's schools.
Hill, who spent nine years in Japan, where guns are prohibited, said he was attempting to be permitted for a firearm both out of habit formed during his military service and because of gun rights' uncertain future.
"My other big reason was because even though they're supposedly banning assault rifles, that's not stopping the criminals from getting assault rifles," Hill said. "Only law-abiding citizens follow the laws. So what are we going to do about the criminals that have these guns, and they ways they get them?"
Suwanee resident Duane Downs was also applying for a gun permit Friday, but said his action wasn't spurred by anything in particular.
"I don't know that we should be feeling any more afraid where we live than we did last month, or the year before, or the week before," he said.
On the flip side, Gwinnett County police said they haven't received many guns from residents in light of the tragedy. It was reported last week that authorities in Camden, N.J., had received a record number of such voluntary forfeitures.
"We have not seen an increase in this type of thing," police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said. "We get very few of these (in general)."