Hollow Points

State requirements for a concealed weapons permit are hit or miss

A couple students say yes.

"Wrong," says Vaughn. "That longhaired guy is a DEA undercover agent, and he's busting the clerk for dealing meth from behind the counter. You've just killed a federal agent, and you're going to prison for a looooong time."

4. Mental conditioning for use of deadly force

Urban Firearms Institute Instructor Ben Gruner
Mark Poutenis
Urban Firearms Institute Instructor Ben Gruner
Urban Firearms Institute Instructor Ben Gruner
Paolo Vescia
Urban Firearms Institute Instructor Ben Gruner

I own guns. Real estate agents describe my central Phoenix neighborhood as "in transition," so I have a shotgun for home defense. When I was younger and dumber than I am now, I had guns pulled on me three times in three months, and had my life threatened by a rap group to which I gave a bad review, so I bought a more portable 9mm and learned how to shoot (a skill not required for a 12-gauge at close range).

More than once I've found myself daydreaming about using the guns I own in a shoot-out, then shaken off the bloody reverie because I thought it wrong. One of my greatest concerns about fellow gun owners is I imagine them regularly fantasizing about shooting people.

Which is just what Vaughn teaches my CCW class to do. He calls it "Game planning."

"Whenever you have free time, you should visualize yourself in self-defense scenarios, employing the weapon you train with," he says. "If you mentally prepare yourself for the worst, you'll more capably deal with it when it happens."

When. Not if.

I decide Vaughn is paranoid. Then I remember his job used to be guarding and observing maximum-security prisoners, many of whom are now out. He knows better than most how evil the lesser members of our species can be, and how many they number.

5. Marksmanship

I'm not a crack shot, but I believe I could pass the state's minimum CCW marksmanship test blindfolded and huffing WD-40.

Here are the rules: To get a permit, you have to fire five rounds at a human silhouette from 10 feet and five rounds from 15 feet. Seven of the 10 rounds must hit the target. This is little more than a point-and-click exercise.

There is no time limit. Even so, instructors at some state-licensed CCW schools will reload a student's weapon for him, and allow the use of stabilizing bench rests.

The test for my class is far harder, but still easy. We must fire 20 rounds at distances ranging from 15 to 30 feet, repeatedly reholstering and drawing our weapon, with Gruner shouting orders behind our backs. A score of 75 is required to pass the course, meaning a student cannot miss more than three times badly, or five times slightly. I put one shot into my target's throat instead of its head and score a 94. The lowest score in my class is an 86.

Not many people fail CCW courses, and most of those who do wash out because they can't shoot straight. But they can come back and try again, in a reduced-price session which concentrates on marksmanship.

I've seen a group of remedial CCW applicants trying to pass the Urban Firearms Institute's test for the second time. One old man's hands shook with palsy. He could barely hold up his long-barreled .357 Magnum. Next to him stood a tiny woman firing a .45 semi-automatic whose recoil knocked her off balance. The instructor would bark orders like "Two! Two to the body!" and the old man and tiny woman shooters would throw lead in all directions, knocking paint off the walls and putting holes in the cardboard above their target. Few rounds found their mark.

Upon a command to fire one shot into the target's head, the woman drew her .45 and promptly blew to bits the clothespin clamping her target to its holder, two feet away. It fell sideways and dangled. She put down her gun and buried her face in both hands.

6. Judgmental shooting

The state requires CCW schools to run students through a battery of verbal scenarios, "what-ifs" where the students must decide whether to draw their weapon and/or open fire.

Caswell's Institute also runs its students through the Range 2000, a live-action simulator used to train police officers. Susan Dunlap, the retired special agent, drills us through the low-rent holodeck in groups of four. She picks me to go first while the other three watch.

Dunlap directs me to stand behind a line about 15 feet in front of a massive projection screen. She gets behind a computer to my left, which she would use to select scenarios and control their progress according to my reactions. Dunlap gives me a semi-automatic pistol altered to fire invisible beams of light which appear on the screen as circular splashes of red. Not unlike a video game.

The lights go out. A disembodied voice announces, "You have just been involved in a minor traffic accident. You and the other driver have pulled to the side of a busy road."

The screen comes to life, showing the world from a first-person perspective. Both vehicles come to a stop. I get out of my car as the other driver exits his pickup truck. He is enraged, and begins screaming threats. I politely ask him to calm down. He grabs a club from inside his truck's cab. I draw my gun and shout for him to put down the weapon. He charges. I blow him away. He crumples to the pavement. The club rolls from his limp hand.

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