Local concealed-carry firearms safety courses are booming.

Missouri's concealed weapons law became effective Feb. 26, 2004. Among the requirements to apply for a concealed-carry endorsement is completion of an eight-hour firearms safety course.

Because of concerns President Obama may try to push for a federal ban on carrying concealed weapons, instructors are seeing a surge of people taking these firearm safety courses.

"All of your people who are real gun shooters, your diehards, came in the first year or two," said Marty Williams of Charleston, Mo., a reserve sheriff's deputy for Mississippi County who has been teaching firearms safety courses at Re-Armms in Sikeston and at a community center in Mississippi County since the law took effect.

"We're getting a different crowd now," Williams said. "Most of the people we are getting now are people who shoot very little or have never shot."

The course is taught at Re-Armms in two four-hour sessions Mondays and Tuesdays. It has typically been offered once a month, but with the surge in signups, more sessions have been added.

"We've been going twice a month since about October," Williams said. "This month we're doing three."

Because each class is limited to 12 participants, those who put off signing up may have to wait.

"The classes are filling up," said Alan Reiman, owner of Re-Armms. "The demand is up."

The first four-hour part of the course begins with a discussion of a mindset that "promotes a positive attitude toward your personal safety," Williams said. "Training goes beyond merely learning how to shoot."

Owning a gun is serious business and includes obligations, he said.

"When you carry a gun, you have a responsibility to yourself and to the community to keep that weapon safe and secure at all times," Williams said.

Serious self-defense

And using a gun in self-defense is even more serious.

"A gun is not a magic wand that will frighten your assailant into submission by merely producing it," Williams said. He made clear that those who choose to carry a gun must ask themselves if they are capable of taking the aggressor's life in defense of their own or someone else's life.

During the course, requirements for being eligible for a concealed-carry permit are covered in detail as well as laws pertaining to using firearms.

"Gun safety is the primary concern," Williams said, "but it is also a course on where you can and can't carry and how to carry. It also covers deadly force."

Participants are taught about the kinds of handguns, their parts and operation, how to correctly use gun sights, loading and unloading, weapon malfunctions, trigger control, stance and grip.

Williams said there are a lot of people who take the course who have no intention of carrying or applying for a permit, however.

"They just want to know how to handle a gun," he said.

While the first day of the course is all pencils and paper, on the second day the class is broken up into three groups to do live fire exercises.

With all new shooters in recent classes, the second portion of the course has been taking a bit longer than previous classes that were usually made up of experienced shooters. "The classes ran a little quicker and smoother with them because they understood the weapons a little better," Williams said.

It doesn't necessarily mean those shooters were better, however.

"Sometimes the people who have never shot are your best shooters because they have no bad habits," Williams said. "I'd rather have someone who knows nothing about it they're easier to teach than someone who has been shooting for 20 or 30 years. And a lot of your women are better shots than the guys: they have good eye control and trigger control."

Participants may bring their own firearms or use firearms brought by the instructors.

"If they have a certain gun they are going to carry, that is what they want to bring and go through the course with. For the course, participants are asked to bring 100 rounds," Williams said. "You'll probably shoot 80, 90. I always say to bring 100."

Safety practices are taught by Williams' assistant, Bruce McClintock of Dexter.

"The first thing you do when you pick up a gun is point it in a safe direction," McClintock told participants, watching to make sure everybody is doing just that.

Fingers don't touch the triggers until the guns are being sighted at the target. Drills all begin and end with the guns in "a range-safe condition" unloaded and opened up and are not loaded until the instructor gives the word.

The first shooting drill starts with a single shot and return to ready position. After six single shots, participants return their guns to range safe condition and the instructors critique the shots.

The second drill is a "double tap" two shots. Next is three shots followed by a drill with six shots, some speed shooting and some shooting with a single hand both the strong hand and the weak hand. Critiques are offered after each drill.

The last 40 shots are two 20-shot qualifying rounds during which each shooter must hit the target area with 15 out of 20 shots from a distance of 21 feet at their own pace.

"You have to qualify with a revolver and an automatic," Williams said. "I have to keep those targets you qualify with at seven yards on file for four years."

As participants qualify with both an automatic and revolver during the class, those who are approved for concealed-carry permits can carry either an automatic, a revolver or both.

The course ends with advice from Williams, McClintock and Reiman on how to carry concealed handguns, advantages and disadvantages of different types of handguns and how to take care of them.

For those who do decide to carry a concealed gun, it is a private matter, Williams said. He recommends getting a separate identification for concealed-carry permits.

"You don't want it on your driver's license," he said, as other than law enforcement, "you don't want anybody to know you are carrying."

Even though a lot of material is covered during the eight-hour course, participants are reminded the course is only a foundation to build on.

"Practice, practice, practice," McClintock said.

By Scott Welton
Source: Southeast Missourian