Like most busy sales executives, Nicole McMahan spends a lot of time traveling.
On trips away from her home office in the East Mountains, McMahan, the regional sales manager for an insurance company, is alone—eating in unfamiliar restaurants and spending nights in areas she hasn't seen before.
For safety, she admits she's usually packing a Lady Smith .38—a five-shot revolver.
"I would have no problem using it," McMahan tells SFR.
That's a moral decision she says she made before attending a rigorous 15-hour concealed-carry weapon training program four years ago.
McMahan's not alone. The New Mexico Department of Public Safety reports it has issued 26,860 permits since lawmakers approved the concealed-carry permit a decade ago.
And the number of permits has been increasing: New Mexico State Police Special Investigations Division Director Bill Hubbard says he's seen a spike in permit applications since the Newtown, Conn., school shootings last December.
Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 26 of this year, 2,282 permits were issued in New Mexico. And when you add that to the 7,009 new permits issued in 2012, it amounts to a 283 percent increase since 2007, when only 7,000 residents had concealed-carry permits.
State law prohibits DPS from releasing identifying information of individual permit holders, such as the share of concealed-carry permits issued to men versus women or the ages and races of permit holders. But DPS readily provided permit numbers by county and zip code. SFR combined that information with 2011 population estimates by the US Census Bureau (the most recent population data available) to calculate the average number of concealed-carry permits per person. (The number of concealed-carry permits does not reflect the total number of guns in New Mexico, however, as a single permit-holder can own several firearms.)
Bernalillo County, the state's most populous, had 7,777 permits—the highest total number, but below average in terms of the ratio of permits per 100 people, which averages 1.65 statewide. Santa Fe County had 1,501 permits, the fifth-most total, and averaged roughly one permit per 100 people. In general, the ratio of concealed-carry permits per 100 people was higher in the southern and eastern portions of the state, and lower in the northern and western parts.
Yet even as gun sales spike, the number of households reporting gun ownership is declining—especially in the mountain West.
According to a study by researchers at the University of Chicago, the rate of gun ownership in the US has dropped from an average of 50 percent in the 1970s to just 34 percent in 2012. In a recent New York Times article, experts cited a decline in hunting and an increase in the nation's Hispanic population as possible explanations.
State-level numbers offer further insight. In New Mexico, the counties with the highest percentage of Hispanic populations had some of the lowest ratios of concealed-carry permits per 100 people. In heavily Hispanic Rio Arriba, San Miguel, Guadalupe and Mora counties, concealed-carry permits average just .87 per 100 people—roughly half the state average. In the national survey, only 14 percent of Hispanics reported having a gun in their house.
McMahan visited one of the state's 461 registered concealed-carry permit trainers to qualify for both semi-automatic weapons (.45 caliber and below) and revolvers (.44 caliber and below). DPS reports 14 trainers in the city of Santa Fe, and another three in Santa Fe County.
Santa Fe County Sheriff Robert Garcia isn't opposed to concealed weapon permits, but says people need to be careful.
"I always tell people: 'If a criminal is demanding your money or property, just give it to them. Guns are risky, and none of that is worth risking your life,'" he tells SFR.