Asheville, NC, may be something of an artsy mecca in western North Carolina, but it is also becoming very well-armed.

Whatever the reason for getting a concealed carry — self-defense, political beliefs about the right to bear arms, worries about terrorism, crime or societal implosion — the numbers of concealed carry permit holders keep rising.

That mirrors a national trend in which the number of concealed carry permit holders rose by 136 percent from 1999 to 2014, when it passed 11.1 million.

In Buncombe County, the number of permits issued in 2010 was 1,238. Last year it was 2,491, a 101 percent jump.

The rise comes amid proposals in the General Assembly to make the process for buying a handgun less burdensome. One would remove a requirement for a county Sheriff’s Office permit. Another bill that would create a special class of concealed carry permit holders that would have to undergo extensive training but would then be allowed to carry essentially wherever law enforcement can, with the exception of courtrooms.

Concealed carry permits are good for five years, with the holder having the option to renew with another background check and fee payment. The current number of concealed handgun permit holders in Buncombe stood at 9,662 as of April 22, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

“The biggest thing I see is it’s all ages now,” said Jeff Stucker, co-owner of On Target Shooting Range in South Asheville and a gun instructor for 20 years. “It used to be 40- , 50-year-old guys, maybe some in their 20s and 30s. Now, it’s almost as many women taking it as men. That’s the biggest thing — they want it for self-defense for their home or car.”

Younger, urban, and female shooters are the fastest growing demographics in the shooting sports in recent years, and that trend appears to be accelerating, even in cities that lean strongly leftward in politics.

This new reality is undermining the handful of leftist news media who insist that a single survey, the General Social Survey (GSS), “proves” that gun ownership is declining, when all it is really doing is proving that people don’t want to talk to pollsters about firearms.