The number of Americans interested in obtaining concealed carry permits to secretly bear arms in public has jumped dramatically since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February – with some states having seen as much as a 250 per cent increase in training requests for this type of permit.
In the 50 days since the Parkland, Florida shooting, companies and networks of firearm instructors that provide training for the permits in dozens of states have seen enquiries spike. One company said it had even received more requests for training than after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
“There’s been a lot of shootings, unfortunately, in this country, but we’ve never seen a spike this big before, even with Newtown,” Chris Schultrop, the CEO and co-founder of Minnesota-based concealed permit training network National Carry Academy (NCA), which works across 27 states, told The Independent.
The intensified interest comes as some Republicans in Washington are leading a push to pass a sweeping national concealed carry law that would force states to recognise all permits issued in the United States. That would mean states that do not allow concealed carry permits would have to allow people to use them. Meanwhile, teenage survivors of the Valentine’s Day Parkland shooting are leading a national movement pushing in the opposite direction; for stricter gun control laws.
An analysis by NCA found that it had seen a 103.5 per cent increase in interest in it’s trainings in the month following the Parkland, Florida shooting in February, including a spike of as much as 283 per cent in Ohio.
That’s similar to what other networks have experienced, like Concealed Carry Inc, which markets itself as the largest concealed carry training network in the United States and works across 28 states. Jacob Paulsen, a trainer with the network, said that it saw about a 250 per cent increase in interest over concealed carry in Florida alone, and at least a 100 per cent increase in its network as a whole.
Mr Paulsen says the pattern repeats after each mass shooting that captures headlines in America.
“Why is there an increase after these events? I think people are more proactive about being concerned for their own personal safety,” Mr Paulsen said, noting that unlike the NCA, his organisation saw more interest following the Newtown shooting than the one in Parkland. “I think there’s a concern that the police can never be there fast enough in these situations, and you have to be responsible for your own personal safety.”
The argument that Americans need to arm themselves to protect themselves against criminals is nothing new, and gun rights advocates and their sympathisers – including President Donald Trump – have even gone so far as to say that the Parkland shooting would likely have been far less deadly, had teachers been armed when the shooter entered the southern Florida school.
Meanwhile in Congress, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act – the National Rifle Association (NRA)-backed effort to force states to honour concealed carry permits from every other state – is currently with the Senate, having passed the House.
But detractors note that state concealed carry laws, and the qualifications to get a permit, vary widely across the country. Forcing a state to respect another’s concealed carry permit would mean forcing a state to potentially allow people in states with few safeguards or gun training requirements to walk their streets with the same gun rights as the citizens in the stricter state.
“I think a fundamental problem [with conceal reciprocity] is that in some states, like California, you need a good reason to have a gun, and it can’t be, ‘I like guns’, or ‘I think someone is going to shoot me’. You have to have an actual, particular need. You also have to prove you have good moral character,” said Laura Cutilletta, the legal director at the Giffords Law Centre, a group that advocates for gun control in the US.
“In other states, it’s pretty much checking off boxes, and they are usually pretty basic: whether you’re prohibited by federal or state law from possessing a gun, there’s usually an age limit, and sometimes that’s about it,” Ms Cutilletta continued. “You don’t need to show any reasoning. You don’t need to show good character. Law enforcement issuing the permit has no discretion to say no.”
In some states, convicted felons, individuals with outstanding warrants and individuals with outstanding domestic violence injunctions have been able to receive permits, even if rules may prohibit them from doing so, according to the Gifford Law Centre.
In many of those states and others, as Ms Cutilletta noted, individuals are able to get concealed carry permits without proving that they have even shot a gun, much less have had training to ensure they can shoot one accurately, and know how to appropriately respond to a crisis scenario.
Rick Strohmeier, a Kentucky firearms trainer, said he thinks his state – a predominantly Republican one, and far from a gun control haven – has the right idea to mandate live-fire training before giving someone the ability to legally bring a gun with them nearly anywhere they want.
“You would not believe the number of people I get who, one: have never fired a weapon, two: maybe their husband or boyfriend gave them a pistol and the only thing they told them was, ‘It’s loaded: drop the safety and shoot,’” Mr Strohmeier, a former military officer and criminal justice firearms trainer, said.
Mr Strohmeier said that the training could save a gun owner’s life – he teaches them what to do when pulled over by police with their guns, for instance – and helps avoid accidents caused by an unfamiliarity with firearms.
“It takes 2,500 repetitions to build muscle memory. If you want to do something right, you have to practice it,” he said. “The way the carpenter becomes good hammering the nail is he did it 2,500 times. You have to pick up your weapon 2,500 times until your finger automatically goes into the right grip. Shoot it 2,500 times. The right stance, 2,500 times. Anything you do in your life – combing your hair, wiping your butt – took 2,500 times before you know what you’re doing.”
Most firearm instructors, like Mr Strohmeier, recognise the value in live-fire training to the effectiveness of a gun owner’s ability to protect themselves and others, but generally stop short of advocating for a legal requirement for live training before a concealed carry permit is issued.
For Mr Paulsen, of Concealed Carry Inc, the question of guns training is one of personal responsibility. He thinks that the more his Colorado gun students train with a firearm, the better and safer they’ll be – but says that he does not think the government should arbitrarily define how much training is enough.
“I think the more education and training anyone gets, the more able they are to be able to defend themselves. More is always better,” he said. “All gun owners, especially those who carry guns for self-defence, should be proactively getting as much training as they can.”