Mandatory Training for Gun Owners: Constitutional? Useful?

In many states, to get a concealed handgun license you must complete a training class. Some states have very strict requirements for such classes, which teach not only safe use of a firearm but also the legal use of deadly force. Other states have more lax coursework requirements, often requiring only an NRA class on handgun safety. A few states have no training requirement whatsoever.

It feels a bit like challenging motherhood, baseball, and apple pie to criticize mandatory training requirements. Carrying a gun for self-defense is a serious matter, and I think any gun owner would benefit from a course in the safe and legal use of a gun. I can’t imagine any good reason to not take such a course. Nonetheless, I am skeptical of the utility -- and perhaps even the constitutionality -- of such mandatory training requirements.

I’m skeptical of the utility of such requirements from the standpoint of accidents. Handguns are very close to being the ultimate point-and-click interface. The instruction manuals for all modern handguns are astonishingly well-written and complete. If the instruction manual isn’t enough, you probably can’t be trusted with a hammer and nails either. About the only subtle safety issue with modern handguns: after you remove the magazine from a semiautomatic pistol, there is still a cartridge in the chamber. You need to rack the slide to eject that cartridge and render the gun safe. (And the manuals are very clear on this point too.)

Non-hunting gun accidents are pretty rare in this country. Once you remove the accidents involving alcohol or teenagers (who can’t get a concealed weapon permit anyway), there aren’t a lot left -- and many of those are incidents like this. I’m skeptical that even several thousand hours of mandatory training will give someone like that the good sense that God gives to turnips.

There might be a case for mandatory training to make sure that a person carrying a gun does not use it improperly -- for example, in an argument about a parking spot. But I have not seen much evidence that this is a problem. For the most part, people who carry guns seem to realize the very serious responsibility that goes with it. For all the talk about how petty disputes lead to gunfights, in the more than seven years that I have been editing The Armed Citizen, I have been astonished at how few of the more than 4500 incidents we have blogged have fit into that category.

Similarly, while there is good reason to worry about shots fired at a criminal that go astray, it’s not clear how useful mandatory training is for solving this problem. The major use of a handgun for self-defense is as a threat -- it causes criminals to suddenly remember an urgent appointment elsewhere. When the victim opens fire, it is often at astonishingly short range, and under circumstances where marksmanship training is quite irrelevant.

In short: mandatory training as a safety measure may be a solution in need of a problem.