Learning to do it right

I carry a weapon under Virginia’s liberal concealed carry law. I could carry one openly as well under the Old Dominion’s equally-liberal open carry rules but that’s a story for another day.

I’m a gun owner.  Have been one most of my life. I grew up in a family of hunters. I support the right to own and carry guns. Over the years, I have held various gun permits issued by states and the federal government. In each and every case, I’ve had to prove that I knew how to handle a handgun, treat it safely, field-strip it, and fire it on a course to prove a specified level of accuracy.

To me it seems both incredible and impossible that any government entity would authorize anyone to carry a weapon — especially a concealed one — without the training necessary to use one.

Yet a few months ago, Dan Casey of The Roanoke Times obtained a concealed carry license (CCL) in Virginia without owning a gun or even touching a weapon. In fact, Casey had never even fired a handgun.=prior to getting the license. He tells me he now has and the local constabulary has not issued an all wants and warrants for him so it mus have gone well.

Wrote Casey:

I was under the silly impression that my absolute lack of experience in firing a pistol rendered me unqualified to obtain a concealed handgun permit in Virginia.

You have at least to show somebody that you know how to load, or hold, or fire a pistol, don’t you?

Not exactly, and certainly not anymore. At least not anywhere in Virginia, thanks to state Sen. Kenneth Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax. He is running as the Republican candidate for Virginia attorney general.

A law the senator sponsored, and which took effect July 1, has removed all doubt about that.

You can take an online handgun course and meet the education/training requirement for a concealed handgun permit without ever touching a pistol.

So that is exactly what I did Monday, after seeing an ad on the Web site Craigslist, where you can also find cheap bicycles or instant hookups for casual sex.

The Craigslist ad took me to the Concealed Carry Institute, which is owned by a guy named Robert Marcus, who also owns Bob’s Gun Shop in Norfolk. He’s been in the business 42 years.

For $39.95 billed to a credit card, I took the course, which is an hour of streaming video and includes about 11 minutes of instruction on how to actually shoot a handgun.

Then I took a simple, 20-question online test, answered 15 of the questions correctly and earned my certificate.

Dan’s a friend but we disagree when it comes to guns. He wrote that column in 2009. when Cuccinelli was still a State Senator. Today, as most of us regretfully know, he is the attorney general of Virginia and under his “leadership” as state’s head law enforcement agent, he not only allows the “never touch a gun” courses to continue, he even encourages citizens to obtain handgun permits by taking online courses via the Internet.

This is not the first incredibly stupid stunt by Cuccinelli. Sadly, it will not be his last.  I’ve talked to a number of police officers and judges who say they are shocked that such limited training is allowed to obtain a handgun permit but their hands are tied. They have to enforce the law as it is handed down by the state attorney general who is also the nutcase who introduced the legislation.

For most people to obtain a concealed-carry permit in Virginia, a military discharge document called a form DD-214 is all that is required to include with an application to provide proof of firearms capability. I have several federal documents which prove firearms prowess but they remain in a folder someone in a box that we have not yet unpacked from our move here five years ago and is probably stored in the attic, a storeroom or one of the various storage rooms that occupy our property so I needed a Virginia-certified course to attach to an application for a current concealed carry permit for the Commonwealth.

Two weekends ago — between the two surgeries on my back — I saw various chances to take one of several courses — an online one which showed a short film on handgun usage followed by a 2o-question test that could be taken over and over until I passed or I could have picked one of two “classroom” courses at a gun show at the Salem Civic Center that also showed a film and gave  a written test.

None of these courses involved even touching a handgun, much less proving any proficiency with one.

Instead, I opted for the all-day course at PSS Range and Training on Shenandoah Avenue in Roanoke.  For $75.00 you get a full session of classroom instruction along with range time and qualification testing to prove that you can fire at something and hit it without hitting or hurting someone else or yourself.

The course’s official listing of topics covered includes:

  • Safety Rules and Behavior
  • Firearms, Ammunition, Holsters & Ammo Carriers
  • Firearms and the Law
  • Civil and Criminal Liability
  • Use of Deadly Force
  • Justifiable Deadly Force
  • State Laws Regarding Concealed Weapons
  • Self-Defense
  • Principles of Marksmanship
  • Range Qualification

I’ve been though several firearms courses over the years and can say without hesitation that this was one of the best I’ve taken.

Instructor Mark Holder is not only a licensed instructor but a competition shooter and his instruction style was easy going yet firm when needed. A couple of people in the course were very unfamiliar with guns but his patience with them had both handling weapons safely and competently by the end of the day.

With my aching back, which had undergone the first of two surgical procedures just two days before, I was nervous with the range section but Mark showed me a different stance that reduced the pressure on my back and turned me loose on the course.

It worked. My shooting score with my Glock 17 was 100 percent.

If you are going to get a concealed carry permit, or even if you just want to know how to safely handle and fire a firearm (as anyone who owns one should), you should ignore the online courses or those that mass-produce certificates.

Go to a team of professionals like those at PSS and learn to do it right.

Their address is 2203 Shenandoah Avenue, NE in Roanoke. Phone (540) 563-8194.

(Corrected on Jan. 2, 2011, to correct the date Dan Casey wrote his column. I originally had 1969 when it was actually written in 2009.  Guess I’m taking too many drugs for my back. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

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