Is “Constitutional Carry” good for the rest of us? Let’s make sure it is through education!

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So-called “constitutional carry” is becoming more popular around the country. This refers to being able to carry a concealed handgun in public without any sort of permitting or licensing process, assuming that the person is legally allowed to possess the handgun.

(The term “constitutional carry” is itself a reference to the Second Amendment’s wording of “keep and bear arms”. As constitutional scholars are quick to point out, however, the term isn’t really accurate; however, since it does have a generally agreed upon colloquial meaning I’ll use it here even though I’m aware it isn’t technically correct.)

This is a relatively new movement. Just a few years ago only one state in the Union — Vermont — allowed concealed carry without any sort of license. (In fact, as far as I can determine that has been the law of the land in Vermont from their acceptance into the Union until today, leading some to refer to the practice as “Vermont carry”.)

As I write this, Idaho has just passed (and their governor has signed) a bill making them the eighth state in the Union to allow generally unrestricted concealed carry, with another half-dozen that reportedly allow it in specific instances (usually as an adjunct to hunting.) Many more states, including my home state of Oregon, have introduced “constitutional carry” legislation without success. Some of those states are very close to being able to get legislation passed and signed, and I suspect we’ll see more of them join the ranks in the next few years — in the same way that shall-issue concealed carry laws swept the nation. In fact, this movement reminds me of the early days of the concealed carry revolution!

What’s the problem?

At the same time I’m a little leery of that happening, for one very specific reason: I’m concerned that people who decide to carry in public will be even less trained than those who do so now. Before you head to one of the gun forums to declare that I’m a closet prohibitionist, understand that I’m in full favor of these laws; I believe that anyone who is legally allowed to possess a handgun should be allowed to have it on his/her person in public. If someone isn’t responsible enough to carry it in public, perhaps they shouldn’t even own it!

What I’m not in favor of is a government-mandated training curriculum, largely because government mandates are rarely effective at achieving anything of value. At the same time I have to acknowledge that the use of a deadly weapon in public carries with it some very specific legal risks and responsibilities with which the concealed carry should be conversant, and by removing licensing we’re assuring that a large percentage of the people doing it won’t know about those risks and responsibilities.

In the last few months, for instance, I’ve read numerous reported incidents involving concealed carriers using their firearms to intervene in situations which a) did not really concern them; b) did not involve the immediate threat of death or grave bodily harm to innocents; c) were relatively petty crimes which were actually escalated by the concealed carrier’s involvement; c) did not justify the use of lethal force and d) put the general public at risk because of their actions. In other words, they used their lawfully carried firearms completely inappropriately.

Now most of these occurred in states where there was some sort of licensing process and some sort of mandated training was required, yet the participants obviously still did not understand what the legalities of the use of lethal force were.

That’s a problem, because aside from the danger of a bystander being hit by a bullet (let’s face it — if someone is dumb enough to think that they get to play police officer whenever they see a purse snatching, they’re probably not the type who practice their marksmanship) we also run the risk of those incidents being used at the legislative level to diminish rights for all of us. When people go off half-cocked and decide they’re going to star in their own action movie and save the day with their gun, we come a little close to the anti-gunner’s visions of the “Wild West”.

Their ignorance, therefore, is a  concern to the rest of us who do take our responsibilities seriously!

That brings many people back to the idea of government-mandated training. As I’ve said before, that isn’t the solution. No matter how specifically a training requirement is worded it would never be sufficient, and even if it was there would still those who wouldn’t listen because it’s a class that they’re forced to take against their will. Yet they need the education. How to resolve this dichotomy?

How do we educate new concealed carriers if the government won’t?

If we’re going to get an informed and responsible population of concealed carriers, which is in our own best interest, the educational incentive needs to come from the shooting community itself. For that to happen all of us will need to think a little differently about how to convince our fellow gun owners to get the training they’re certain they don’t need.

How is this going to happen? Frankly, it won’t be easy. Those of us who are trained and responsible need to have mechanisms by which we can impress on the new and untrained concealed carriers the need for proper education in both the legalities of the use of force and the physical skills of employing that force.

It starts with the guy or gal at the gun counter; they should understand the need for knowledge when dealing with a subject as important as defensive shooting. They can then convince and guide their customers to the resources available for their education. The National Shooting Sports Foundation — the NSSF — is the group most closely associated with the business side of the industry, putting them in the perfect position to start this educational revolution. Unfortunately they’ve not really taken on this enormous challenge, and what little they have done has often been a hodgepodge of conflicting ideas and goals.

The NSSF should accept this challenge, and to do that they’ll have to open up their board of directors to members of the training community. Right now it’s composed of manufacturing and retail CEOs; there is no one on their board who represents the training side of the industry, and only when that changes will the organization be able to step up to the plate and make this happen.

Everyone needs to be involved

While we’re waiting for the NSSF to get their heads on straight, the rest of us can work at the grassroots level. When we meet “that guy” or “that gal” at the range — the one who doesn’t understand what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, or when they’re allowed to do it — it’s up to us to have a gentle and friendly conversation with them. We all need to be able to explain, in non-judgmental and non-threatening ways, exactly why they should get an education in concealed carry and defensive shooting, and then point them to the places where they can get that training.

It’s going to take all of us, working together as a community of responsible gun owners and concealed carriers, to educate these newly-empowered concealed carriers who will be coming into our ranks. We won’t get every one of them, of course; then again, it’s pretty obvious just from reading the news that the government-mandated training in force in most states isn’t getting all of them, either. What we can do is work toward a much more educated and capable concealed carry population and raise the overall level of competency.

We can’t shy away from this task. Not only is it in our best political interests, it’s also the responsible thing to do.

– Grant Cunningham

 

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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