WESTPORT — The number of gun permits given to town residents has risen exponentially over the last decade.

In 2001, the Westport police issued 26 gun permits, one permit per applicant. Ten years later, in 2011, the number of gun permits approved by Westport police nearly doubled, to 49 permits, which signified a consistent increase in the number of gun permits approved for town residents over the decade.

Five years later, in 2016, the department again saw an increase in gun permit applications and approved 99 permits that year. In 2017, the department approved 102 permits and the number of approved permits for 2018 is trending to be above 100, Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas said.

“A lot of the climb has to do with elections and who’s coming in to be President. In 2008, we had 23 permits and then in 2009, when it changed from Bush to Obama, there was 72,” Koskinas said.

In total, 1,200 Westport residents have gun permits, which represents 0.49 percent of the total gun owners in the state, Koskinas said.

“The weapons vary all over the place. We have everything from antiques to high-powered rifles to military grade weapons,” such as AR-15 rifles, Koskinas added. “The semi-automatic rifles causing havoc in school shootings are military weapons,” Koskinas said.

As of Oct. 10, 2017, Westport gun permit-holders had 6,741 registered firearms, but that number has now grown to over 7,000 registered firearms, Koskinas added.

To get a gun permit residents must first apply with the local police chief and if they receive local approval, can apply for a permit with the state firearms unit, which has final approval, Mike Lawlor, state Undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, said.

“You have to go through an extensive national background check, at least six hours of firearm training, and then you can be denied if you’re not a, quote, ‘suitable person,’ which is not defined but generally speaking people who have engaged in conduct that is not necessary illegal, such as being a habitual drunk or leaving guns around, but things that in and of themselves demonstrate you are not a suitable person to have a gun,” Lawlor said.

Permit-holders can get their permit revoked if they are committed to a mental hospital, are convicted of a crime, or get served a restraining order or exhibit any other law-abiding or irresponsible behavior, Lawlor said.

“Connecticut has one of the tightest gun permitting systems in the country. It’s a system that’s very comprehensive and it works, because we have one of the lowest rates of firearm deaths in the country,” Lawlor said.

Westport has no gun ranges or gun stores, Westport police Officer David Baxter confirmed.

Despite residents relative safety from gun violence compared to other states, town Board of Education (BOE) Member Candice Savin said at the Aug. 1 Board of Finance meeting that the number of gun permits in town makes her scared for Westport students.

“I was very alarmed to learn of the enormous number of gun permits in Westport,” Savin said, adding, “It makes me feel concerned about the access kids who are disturbed or influenced by the larger culture have to these weapons.”

Savin, along with her fellow BOE member, unanimously recommended the finance board fund two police officers to be housed at Westport’s middle schools. The BOE says the officers can protect against gun violence in the schools, but the finance board voted against funding the officers. A proposal to fund the officers will likely again come before the BOF at its Sept. 5 meeting, First Selectman Jim Marpe, a proponent of funding the officers, said.

svaughan@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2638; @SophieCVaughan1