Hollow Points

State requirements for a concealed weapons permit are hit or miss

This classroom lecture could be titled "Finding your inner predator."

Its premise is that carrying a handgun and training to use it are virtues that are too often neglected, like dental care.

"Good people get killed and raped all the time because they fail to accept this basic responsibility of living in a violent, predatory world," says state-certified firearms instructor Dave Vaughn.

"People who die in mass shootings, whether they're in a high school in Colorado or a commuter train on Long Island or a Luby's restaurant in Texas, they all die the same way: unarmed, cowering . . . praying they won't be next."

A Glock pistol is tucked into the waistband of Vaughn's jeans. His black tee shirt reads "Happiness is being high on the food chain."

He continues: "Crowded, urban environments are the kill-or-be-killed jungles of the 21st century. ATMs are like watering holes, where predators wait for us to come for sustenance."

Vaughn paces in front of a dry-erase board that blares the dictum "No gun handling in the classroom!" He stops and grips a wood podium. His stare is deadly serious.

"The government and the media have conditioned a lot of people to be sheep, because it's a lot easier to control sheep than it is predators.

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of big, bad wolves out there. Us law-abiding gun owners are some of the last good wolves left."

Never mind that you won't find many wolves in a jungle (or, for that matter, many sheep). Vaughn's metaphor is mixed but effective. Counting myself, six students are enrolled in this course and four of them are nodding in silent, somber agreement.

After we pass this course and an extensive background check, we six good wolves will be sanctioned by nine states to carry a concealed handgun, joining an ever-growing pack of armed and dangerous abiders of the law.

In August 1998, Governor Hull signed a bill into law that requires the state Department of Public Safety to actively seek reciprocity agreements with other states where carrying a concealed weapon is legal with a permit.

(A CCW permit is legally required only to carry a gun out of sight. Owning a gun and carrying it openly do not require any sort of license in Arizona. Packing a concealed piece without a permit is a Class I misdemeanor in this state, same as peeing in public.)

As a result, anyone licensed to carry a handgun in Arizona may also do so in Arkansas, Utah and Texas, and vice versa. States with a reciprocity agreement in the works that recognize Arizona's CCW permit in the meantime are Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Wyoming and Tennessee (Vermont does not require a permit of anyone to carry concealed weapons).

The first CCW training facility to be licensed by the state -- there are now 342, including five in Bullhead City -- was the Urban Firearms Institute, based at the Caswell Shooting Range in Mesa. It has since earned a reputation for teaching the most rigorous CCW course in the state, demanding that its students far exceed the state's requirements, especially in shooting accuracy.

It is early February, and I've enrolled in a CCW course there, for the purpose of reporting this column.

It is 16 hours long, spread over four weeknights and team-taught by three instructors: Vaughn, a former guard on a maximum-security wing of the Arizona State Prison-Florence and one of the top-ranked competitive shooters in the country; Ben Gruner, who recently graduated from Arizona State University's Justice Studies program and is now about to get hired by Michigan's State Police department; and Susan Dunlap, a Desert Storm veteran and retired federal agent, who, by way of nonchalant introduction, says she's been "shot, stabbed and survived."

The state's requirements for a CCW course are loose and simple. It must be at least 16 hours in length, conducted on a pass or fail basis, and cover the following six areas:

1. Weapon care and maintenance

Gruner blows through this requirement in one sentence: "Don't over-lubricate, and read your owner's manual."

Next.

2. Safe handling and storage of weapons

Another quickie, dispensed with in less than half an hour, the time it takes for all of us to write down and memorize the "Universal Rules of Gunhandling":

1) All guns are always loaded.

2) Never point the muzzle at anything you don't want to destroy.

3) Keep your finger off the trigger until you have the target in your sights and have made a decision to shoot.

4) Be aware of your target, what's near it and beyond.

The remaining four requirements will wait. Gruner spends the balance of the first night teaching outside the lines.

First we view a 20-minute promotional video put out by Speer, manufacturers of Gold Dot brand hollow-point bullets. The video leads with the disclaimer "Intended strictly for viewing by law enforcement personnel." It shows lots of slow-motion footage of men and women in blue uniforms drawing their guns and pointing them at the cameraman in a blatant violation of Universal Gun Rule No. 2.

There is more slow-motion footage of various calibers of Gold Dot bullets being fired into chunks of gelatin that bear the same density as human flesh, so as to illustrate the massive damage inflicted by Gold Dot bullets, whose destructive power is favorably compared to rival bullets in side-by-side demonstrations.

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