Gunning For a Concealed Carry Permit

"Be nice. Be polite. Have a plan to kill everyone you see."

That admonition by the instructor came across as a non sequitur following four hours of classroom discussion covering the intricacies of North Carolina laws concerning the justification for the use of deadly force, the quirks of statutory law and the fact that even if a perfectly justifiable situation that you still had a ten-percent chance of going to jail in a jury trial, plus more than an hour of examining videos of legal theory and "shoot/don't shoot" scenarios.

Welcome to concealed carry class.

Early on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, when most people were thinking football, seven of us showed up at a cramped classroom in a gun shop in eastern North Carolina.

Two were university administrators. Another was a dump trucker driver. Two were retirees, and one was a builder. And me. All were men. Only two of us were under fifty. The one woman who was scheduled to take the class dropped at the last minute because of a sick child, and another student missed the class because of recent surgery. It is the only time I can recall ever going to class knowing that everyone in the room was armed.

One of the first things our instructor did when we got to class was ask us why we were attending the class.

Almost everyone in the room stated that their primary reason was so that they could legally carry a concealed weapon in their vehicle on occasion while traveling.

This actually seemed to surprise the instructor a little bit; he's had entire classes that were only taking the class so that they could purchase handguns without having to go through the hassle of going to the Sheriff's Department and fill out permit paperwork every time they decided to buy a handgun (those who obtain Concealed Carry of Handgun (CCH) permits go through a much more stringent background check than typical handgun purchasers, and a CCH permit is good for immediate purchases for five years). It seems, however, that most folks who have permits, don't actually use them on a daily basis.

There are four rigid criteria that must be satisfied to justify shooting another person in self defense in North Carolina, but I imagine the law here isn't too much different in the 30 or so other states where concealed carry is allowed.

In plain English, we can't start a confrontation, must try to diffuse or escape the situation if we can, and can only pull a weapon when some tries to kill or sexually assault someone else or ourselves, and once we fire, we can only shoot to stop the threat, not to kill. That last detail was printed on the bottom of every page of the course syllabus, in bold text: Do not shoot to kill. Shoot to stop the lethal threat.

In practicality, there are three rules to follow in deciding whether or not deadly force is justified. explained as A.O.J.

Ability: the attacker or attackers must have the ability to kill or cripple.

Opportunity: the attacker must immediately be capable of employing that power.

Jeopardy: the attacker is acting in such a manner that a prudent person would conclude that the act was mean to kill or cripple.

You've got to decide if a threat meets all three criteria, and oh, and by the way... in "real world" scenarios, the CCH holder usually has just seconds to make that determination. Legal self defense is not for the stupid. At this point of the class, I was beginning to think that think it would be far more practical to apply for a "concealed lawyer" permit, if I could only find one small enough to shove in a holster.

We also covered everywhere you can't carry a handgun even with a permit, which includes fairs, banks, schools, courthouses, any establishment where alcohol is both sold and consumed, parades, picket lines, private health care facilities, most federal and state property, and any place that posts a sign saying concealed carry is prohibited... even gun shows, ironically, enough. I think I can still legally carry a concealed pistol from my living room to my bathroom, but I'll have to pull my lawyer out of the holster to check.

At some point during one of the many breaks (gun show classrooms aren't exactly known for plush seating), the tow trucker driver decided he'd heard enough, and disappeared. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he was told that he'd probably have to ask for permission to carry his pistol at every single construction site he visited. Somehow, I don't think he'll be dissuaded from carrying a concealed weapon, but he won't be doing it legally.

After hours of the legal review, and after the excruciating "shoot/don't shoot" scenarios presented on video, I'd decided several things. One was that cops make lousy actors. Not just lousy acting, but Gigli spiked with Ishtar and a twist of Showgirls lousy. The second was that even lawyers can bore themselves, as the NC Justice Academy legal specialist who went over the scenarios in the video looked as if he was about to fall asleep in mid-sentence at times.

Finally, coursework done, horribly-acted scenarios reviewed, it was close to time to go to the range. It was only at this point that I got scared of something other than being lawyered to death. Our instructor, after now jolting us out of our multi-hour legal and acting paralysis with the "Be Nice. Be Polite. Have a plan to kill everyone you see," statement that began this article, started going over the actual mechanics of the various basic handgun types, and then asked us what we were shooting.

At this point -- and I can't recall whether it was prompted by a question or not -- one of the retirees announced that he would be shooting a revolver that he has shot perhaps 25 rounds through in 35 years. The other retiree had not fired a weapon since he was in the Navy. I wanted to ask whether that was the Navy of the USA or the CSA, but I realized that wasn't nice. Or polite.

I was starting to get this, and sincerely hoped that neither one of them was going to kill me, whether that was part of their plan, or not.

We then loaded up and drove to the range for qualifying with our firearms. I'll let you take a wild guess which two gentlemen were lined up to my right. I prayed at the firing line. I prayed a lot.

We were told not to try for tight groups, to spread our shots around the target's center mass. "Air goes in and out. Blood goes rounds and round. Any variation of that is bad." Bullets close together cause less disruption than those spread apart affecting different areas. I get that.

I won't bore you with the details of the range qualifications, other than to tell you we fired groups of five shots at 3, 5, and 7 yards, and that I hit my targets quickly and with a decent spread every time. The two gentlemen I was concerned about to my immediate right did just fine. They shot quite a bit slower than everyone else, but they were safety conscious and on target. If they're ever attacked by a tortoise, they may stand a chance.

I have my certification now. My two-hour drive home gave me plenty of time to think about the responsibility I was now on the verge of undertaking. I have no desire to hurt another human being, even a violent criminal. But I have far less desire to become a victim.

Bob Owens blogs at Confederate Yankee.