Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, January 17, 2020

No training, big problem

Gun sellers, trainers warn against permitless-carry proposal

Justin Noland, left, and Meghan Phair of Nashville shop for handguns at the Nashville Armory. Assisting them is Jason Edgley, the store’s general manager. - Photo by Michelle Morrow | Hamilton County Herald

Even as firearms instructors, gun sellers, gun owners and potential owners get used to a new law that cuts the cost and level of training required for a concealed-carry gun permit, state lawmakers are preparing to push a bill to make it possible to carry a weapon with no permit at all.

It’s the latest chapter in a continuing debate over gun rights in Tennessee, where more than 650,000 people hold gun permits.

The no-permit proposal comes from two Republican lawmakers representing rural districts, Rep. Bruce Griffey of Paris and Sen. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald. Griffey first filed it last fall for consideration in this year’s session of the legislature, which started this week. Hensley became the Senate sponsor in December.

The bill essentially decriminalizes carrying a gun for the purpose of going armed. It’s highly likely that lawmakers will hear from the same groups and individuals who unsuccessfully opposed the 2019 law making it easier to obtain a handgun concealed-carry permit. Their main point centered on public safety requiring more extensive, hands-on handgun training than the 2019 bill required in order to obtain a concealed-carry permit.

Many speaking out against the new bill held carry permits themselves.

The easing of gun laws comes as many in the state say it should be harder to purchase guns.

A December poll released by Vanderbilt University found 86% of Tennesseans favor stronger gun laws. A large majority, 86%, approve of background checks for gun show and private gun sales. Also, 68% support the creation of a universal database to track all gun purchases.

At least 51% of Tennesseans believe that assault-style weapons should be banned.

A 2018 MTSU poll showed 46% of Tennesseans favored stricter carry laws.

State law allows a person to keep a gun in their home, car or boat without a permit, and makes it a crime to carry a gun outside those places unless the person has a legal right, such as a carry permit, to do so. The permit is considered a defense to criminal charges under state law.

The bill Griffey and Hensley are proposing, however, would allow anyone who isn’t prohibited from owning a gun to legally carry the gun, with or without a permit.

Griffey says he would like to make it possible for someone who legally owns a firearm but doesn’t have a carry permit to be able to use the gun in self-defense outside the home. This is in keeping with his view of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution, he adds.

So far, 16 states allow people to carry a gun without a permit, the National Rifle Association reports. Four of these states – Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri – border Tennessee. The U.S. Supreme Court so far hasn’t ruled on whether the Second Amendment requires permit-less carry.

“You’re not going to stop senseless, deranged (mass shootings) unless someone has a gun to stop them,” Griffey continues. Permit-less carry could deter mass shootings, he notes.

Regarding the training that current Tennessee law requires in order to carry a concealed handgun, Griffey says those who want to carry a gun for self-protection know the dangers of guns, that they are deadly instruments, and will take steps voluntarily to make sure they are trained and know how to use the weapons.

In addition, he says, there’s no legislative solution to people being negligent (as in leaving unsecured guns in a house or in an unlocked car). “By and large most people recognize the dangers” guns pose and the possibility of legal liability from gun use.

The legislation would take effect July 1 if passed as written.

Training days

Meanwhile, lawmakers are beginning to see how Tennesseans are utilizing a new gun-permitting process that went into effect Jan. 1. Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, and Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, sponsored the new permit bill.

The law “was intended to provide (a permitting option to) individuals who wanted to exercise their right to bear arms but could not get a permit due to the regulations that put up significant time and cost barriers,” Stevens explains. Those people include “single mothers, people who work nights and low-income individuals who could not afford an eight-hour training course – which cost not only the payment of the course fee but also the investment of time.”

In the first eight days of this month, 1,200 people applied for the new carry permit. That compares with 3,161 original concealed-carry permits issued in January 2018, the most recent permit-issuance numbers available online. State data indicate that most gun-permit applications are approved.

Before Jan. 1, it cost $100 for a permit that allowed both concealed and open carry of firearms. Applicants had to take an eight-hour handgun safety course unless they could provide proof of specified military or law-enforcement training.

An eight-hour course costs $95 at two Nashville locations. The pre-2020 permit is now called the Tennessee Enhanced Carry Permit, and it’s still valid.

Now, under the 2019 law, people can obtain a concealed-only handgun carry permit for a fee of $65 after successfully completing training that can include a state-approved online course that’s at least 90 minutes long and includes a competency test or quiz.

Firing a weapon under supervision at a firing range isn’t required, as it is with the enhanced carry permit.

Many people – including other state lawmakers, firearms instructors and everyday Tennesseans who hold concealed-carry permits – are troubled by a law that provides a concealed-carry permit to someone who may not have had hands-on experience with a gun and face-to-face training.

They testified about their concerns during the 2019 legislative session when the new permit bill was considered. Lawmakers supporting the bill spoke about ensuring that people of modest means who are pressed for time should have an option to carry legally that doesn’t put what they consider undue roadblocks in their way. Nothing in the bill prevents them from also obtaining hands-on experience and training with their firearm.

Firearms instructors and permit holders who talked with the Ledger for this article also say they are sympathetic to the single moms, night-shift workers and low-income people the new law’s backers had in mind when advocating for the bill. They also, they add, are concerned about public safety.

Retired Buffalo, New York, police officer Aqil Qadir owns and operates Citizens Safety Academy in Murfreesboro. He has been instructing people in firearms since the 1980s and ’90s and has lived in Tennessee for more than 10 years.

“As an organization, we tend to focus our training and marketing toward nontraditional (audiences such as) students, minorities, women and the LGBT community,” he says. “We believe that the first civil right is the right to protect (oneself), to stay alive and not be terrorized.

“A gun is not the answer; your training is. A gun is the answer to a very slim set of circumstances (that are) very, very bad but very slim.”

The first step is to learn to recognize and avoid dangerous situations, he adds. “Becoming a responsibly armed citizen is a process, not a class.’’

“Our general stance (is that) more training is better; we prefer people to be more trained in defense and personal protection. … We are strong supporters of the Second Amendment,” he continues.

He also recognizes that some people view Second Amendment rights as absolute, and (they) believe that there is a constitutional right to carry firearms without a training requirement or permitting process.

Qadir says there needs to be a balance between adequately educating and training people to use firearms, and placing unreasonable barriers in the way of people who want a permit so they can carry firearms legally. In some states, it can take a year and a half to obtain a permit, which he says is excessive.

He doesn’t, however, think a 90-minute video and a test is enough, he adds.

He prepared his company’s online course, which is three hours long. He considers it a good place to start, but says, “If anyone thinks they’re prepared to use (a handgun) in self-defense (immediately after taking an online course), they’re grossly mistaken.”

Even police officers require continuing training, including firearms training. He considers CSA’s online course to be interactive, with review questions and quizzes; it requires more than simply watching. Once a person pays for the online course, they have a week to complete it and take the test.

‘Everything the bullet touches’

Jason Edgley is general manager of Nashville Armory, one of two Midstate locations of Armory Ranges. Nashville Armory, which sells firearms and accessories, has an indoor firing range and offers instruction, teaches only the eight-hour course required for the Tennessee Enhanced Carry Permit and does not offer a 90-minute minimum online course.

That class, Edgley says, “gives the future permit hold(er) the above and beyond necessary knowledge/tools required to be a successful everyday handgun carrier.”

He adds that online training allowed under the 2019 law “removes all interaction between instructor/student.” It also “removes a standardized graded exam that ensures a thorough and proper check on learning, and it removes the shooting exam entirely.”

Without interaction between student and instructor, he says, questions won’t be answered, “which lends to a higher percentage of potential error.”

Nashville Armory is developing what Edgley calls a “condensed course to supplement the Tennessee Concealed Carry permit.” It will be four hours, with an instructor, a classroom portion that will cover everything required by the new Tennessee Concealed Carry Permit and a shooting portion. There will be a test and certificate for those who pass.

“Before I taught the Tennessee Enhanced Permit Class, I was very much for constitutional carry,” letting everyone that is legally allowed to own a gun carry one, Edgley says.

“After instructing the (eight-hour) class, I have a much different view.

“I am a retired U.S. Special forces NCO. I believe, to my core, in … maintaining and exceeding standards. I also believe in competency. After having taught the ECP Class, I have had to fail clients for not meeting state standards.

“I have seen fully capable people, with no physical limitation(s), miss a paper target at 3 yards.

“This is where I have a fundamental issue with the new process,” he adds. “It will allow those that do not train, do not care about safety, do not have the knowledge, to carry a loaded firearm amongst the masses.”

People that he has failed in the eight-hour course “will be able to pay (the fee), and without having to prove any level of true competency, carry a loaded firearm,” Edgley says.

“We are responsible for everything the bullet touches. I do not want someone that is incapable of hitting a paper target at 3 yards, missing a real-world threat, and striking an innocent person. Most importantly, my family, friends and or myself.

“I would much rather them visit a competent training facility, receive quality instruction and meet a standard.”