Hollow Points

State requirements for a concealed weapons permit are hit or miss

"Good shoot," says Dunlap.

The screen goes dark. The voice comes again. "You are walking through a neighborhood park when you come across what appears to be a drug deal in progress."

On screen, a group of young men dressed like gang members are making hand-to-hand transactions when they spot me. Most of them take off running, but two assume aggressive postures. Words are exchanged. The one on the right pulls a gun from his baggy jeans and fires a shot that misses. I sidestep, draw my own weapon, and shoot him twice in the chest. He falls. His friend flees. This pleases me.

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

The voice: "You have just come out of a grocery store when a stranger approaches your car." A man runs up to my passenger window. He bangs on it, screaming, "Give me your car! Give me your car!"

I draw my gun and shout something to the effect of, "Get the fuck away from me, motherfucker!"

The man backs away, frightened. This also pleases me. The screen goes dark.

"You just committed aggravated assault," Dunlap says. "That man needed your car because his father just had a heart attack, and he needed to get to a hospital."

For the last scenario, I am a cop.

"Remember," Dunlap says. "It's a police officer's duty to always protect your partner."

I nod.

"Say it back to me."

"Always protect your partner."

"Okay. Here we go."

It is a routine traffic stop. I walk to the passenger's side window as my partner, on the opposite side, asks the driver for his license and registration. The driver is argumentative and looks drunk. I keep my eyes on his hands, which grip the steering wheel. Quick as a cobra, the driver grabs the handle of a gun I hadn't seen, barely protruding beneath his thigh, and shoots my partner through the glass.

I see my partner go down as I blast the driver three times in the ass, then once in the head. He slumps over the steering wheel.

"Well," Dunlap says, "you got the bad guy, but you didn't exactly protect your partner, did you?"

Not exactly.

"You must be ever watchful, grasshopper."

I am not proud of my performance inside the Range 2000, but it beats the hell out of my classmates, who shoot babies in the midst of domestic disputes, fire rounds that miss a fleeing burglar but hit a Girl Scout camp, and gun down a man found breaking into his own car with a slim-jim.

"I thought it was a gun," the shooter says afterward. "Christ, it looked like a gun."

Graduation

On the last night, we get fingerprinted. Before we're approved for a permit, the Department of Public Safety will run our name and prints through seven state and local background-check databases, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation's.

State law prohibits anyone from carrying a concealed weapon if he is under indictment for a felony, addicted to a controlled substance, or an illegal immigrant, or if he has been committed to a mental institution, dishonorably discharged from the military, convicted of domestic abuse or has a restraining order against him.

By contrast, handgun buyers undergo only an instant background check through one database.

As Gruner calls us to the ink pad, one by one, we watched a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms training video narrated by Sylvester Stallone. It shows clips of Stallone machine-gunning Soviet troops in Rambo III interspersed with ATF agents describing what it's like to be in a gunfight.

"Remember to do whatever you gotta do to survive," Stallone says. "Dig deep into yourself and find steel. . . . There is no surrender."

We take an open-book and multiple-choice exam. We trade tests and grade them. All but one of us score 100. Then Vaughn literally rubber-stamps our CCW applications. If we pass the background check, our permits will be good until 2004. Then, according to the current law, we have to take a six-hour renewal course.

Six hours is not enough. Nor is 16. Arizona's CCW law is a tragedy pending. The state is a sitting duck for a wrongful-death lawsuit.

I've known two women in my life who were raped in their own homes, in their own beds, by men they knew. Both believe a gun in their bedroom would have made a difference, and say they would have used it without hesitation. Both have since bought a handgun and carry it as a habit. I would not deny them this small comfort.

Still, based on my CCW class experience, I believe that many of the people who apply for a concealed-carry permit should not receive one, either because they're not smart enough or they can't shoot or because they don't react well under pressure. Or all of the above.

Vaughn leaves us with these words:

"Being good with a handgun is not like riding a bike. It's a perishable skill, requiring constant upkeep. A gun is not a magic talisman to ward off danger. You have to know how to use it for it to do you any good.

"As time has gone by, we've grown a little disillusioned with the state's program. Half the people who come through our CCW renewal class cannot handle their firearms safely, and could not hit the broad side of a barn under combat conditions."

"Okay," he says. "Be safe out there."

Contact David Holthouse at his online address: david.holthouse@newtimes.com

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