It was a nondescript strip mall, very much like thousands in America. I parked my Prius outside Central Texas Gun Works, and the sign on the door read “closed – back at 10”. Undeterred I walked through the door and saw a room containing cases full of military looking black handguns – drab, black and angular. On the wall were what looked like assault rifles, and further down the corridor I found a classroom.
The course started with a few facts – it’s illegal to carry a handgun into a University of Texas building and it took 12 minutes for the first responder to the recent AK47 tragedy to arrive – an Austin Police Department motorcycle cop who needed backup before entering the building. It’s legal to carry a handgun into the Capitol to watch legislature debates. The case was being built and a video was shown – interviews with witnesses to the Omaha mall shootings. Our instructor asked what would we do if we found an intruder entered our house at 3am. He built a picture of the darkness, the anxieties of knowing where our family members were, the implications of a stray bullet going through the sheet rock to a neighbor’s home and injuring them.
It turns out that the room had already arrived converted, and the preaching was more of a reinforcement than a surprise to most. What I wasn’t ready for was the insurance. As Michael says, once you pull the trigger everything changes, and we learned that even the Grand Jury process that ensues from legally discharging your licensed firearm in your own home would cost around $10-25k in legal fees. That is, without insurance.
It was at this time I learned something quite harrowing. I was still angry after watching a young woman be brutally beaten. And then I found out that you don’t even need to have a concealed handgun license to buy a handgun, drive around with it in your car, or to keep one in your home (where you are allowed to walk around the yard with it exposed, like the father of the young girl on her first date polishing his shotgun as the suitor shows up, only he could be holding his six shooter)
You don’t even need to be sane to buy one. There’s an FBI background check if you buy one from a store, but you can buy one on craigslist legally in Texas – there’s no requirement to register it. And there’s no requirement to lock it up at home. There are charges if a minor finds your loaded gun lying around, but you aren’t legally required to have a gun safe. And if you grow up on a farm, as a minor you can have access to handguns for the usual day to day business of dispatching varmints.
I might have been missing something, but it seems that the advantages of the CHL are that you might be able to take a handgun with you into the grocery store, a liquor store, the State Capitol, where you work, and the majority of states in the US when you travel.
After all this, the communication and conflict resolution part of the course was dispatched with aplomb. The “parent, adult, child” framing and “non-violent communication” advice held more of my attention – these were tools and techniques I would be well served to practice, without the need to be armed and ready to defend myself with warm, living fingers.
So who is excluded from having a CHL? I was pleased to hear that the insane and recently felonious were legally precluded from gunning up. As were people who didn’t play state taxes and were delinquent in child support. Or had restraining orders against their spouses. I was unclear whether homosexuals could have CHLs, and from an equality perspective, ashamed that you had to be legally married to someone to warrant your application being denied in the case of the restraining order. Perhaps killing with a pistol your gay lovers and boy/girlfriends against whom you have a restraining order is deemed an acceptable risk.
Our former marine sniper instructor arrived to teach his part of the course and advised us that hollow points are less likely to go through walls and cause lawsuits and injury than regular full metal jackets and also that they are more likely to stop someone by creating a larger hole inside them. He also talked about which guns to use and shoot from within a purse.
During the break I went outside to eat my vegan migas without being spotted or suspected of being a pinko liberal homo sympathizer. My words, not anyone else’s. And it’s true, I went in there with preconceived notions feeling that I was part of a world I was not familiar with. For one there were several people in the room who had been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I felt that I had to be careful about the side of myself I showed. So as to fit in. With the people who were armed. And not to admit to the room that I really wished that my children could grow up in a place where going to walmart and buying a gun wasn’t quite so easy due to my own long-harbored fear (and excitement) about guns.
As a teenager at a private school, I had been coerced by the school bill payer into joining the Royal Air Force cadets which afforded me the opportunity to fire rifles and fly planes, in a rather more civilized environment than the Army cadets. More moustaches and “Tally Hos!” than covering your face in dirt and crawling about in mud-slaked undergrowth.
Pizza came around to the class and not wanting to appear to much of a Democrat, I had a few slices while our tame ex-marine talked about basic marksmanship. The heady mix of cheese and bullets seemed alien to me, but not as alien as the later outing to the pit.
Deadly force means drawing a gun and firing it – even in the air or at the ground. So I imagine the situation where someone is about to sleep walk over a cliff and you discharge your Glock to wake them up. That’s the best I could come up with. If we were tooled up at Burger King and a bunch of schoolkids came in on a field trip – a school sponsored activity – we would have to leave and deposit our gun in our vehicle – boat, motorbike or car.
We watched the testimony of Suzanna Hupp who lost her parents in an infamous Luby’s cafe shooting. It was all very emotive stuff – to hear about a mad man executing your father in front of you and then your mother as she went to hold his body after they had just celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary. And the immediate reaction is emotional, and it is only now that I am processing the non-violent communication part of the course which was so briefly discussed. The better course of reaction is to respond, not to react. A response might be to objectively discuss the facts, express my feelings about it and then my needs before making a request. But just like I forgot to squeeze the trigger in the pit as I’d been briefly taught in the marksmanship section, so my unfamiliarity with the subject made me vulnerable to emotional decisions. I’m a pretty good student, and can pass tests. I’m not sure that puts me in a good position to be gun toting.
With the pizza and the coursework behind us, we saw a few more videos about the hazards of gun use. A DEA officer at a school shooting himself in a demonstration. A man shooting through his leg while practicing his quick draw. Both of these were experienced gun users with much much more training and experience than I had, and they both suffered serious injuries. The DEA agent discharged a Glock 40 in a room full of school children including his son. These people were trained.
Our paperwork exam followed, and was simply dispatched – I doubt anyone fails, though of the 25 questions I imagine that being incorrect about even 1 could result in something wholly inappropriate occurring with a gun. It’s not hard to imagine. The passing score is 70%. So you might not have to be correct in your answer about taking a gun into a school, being largely prohibited from using deadly force if someone is messing with your bicycle in broad daylight and five other points.
On that note, we went to the range. We didn’t go to Austin’s only urban shooting range. We went outside of the city limits to a piece of land on a small farm road near the Circuit of the Americas – to a pit that had been dug in the ground. This was a typical range to the veterans. To me, it was the most Texas thing I could imagine. 95 degrees F (35C) – a pop up tent for shade, and a pit of dirt with some wooden supports on which to mount your targets and litter the floor with spent casings.
The aim of the game – score about 70% of shots in the middle of a life sized man’s torso at 3, 7, and 15 yards. (about 3, 6.5 and 14 meters for you metric types). It was surprisingly easy to hit the middle. The first few shots were accompanied by the tingling sensation of deadliness with which I associate firearms. Trying to get off some shots without being distracted by the explosions all around, or intimidated by the marksmen on either side of me. The sheer excitement of being permitted to make explosions happen a few feet in front of my face
To be clear, I’d only attended pistol club once, and only fired a hand gun a handful of times, but I immediately found myself wanting to get better, and not to appear too English to my American peers. And I did. I remembered I had a dominant eye and that it wasn’t the one I was using. I got closer to the center with each shot, correcting a right offset in the first few rounds. The sun was beating down and I couldn’t really see the target at 15 yards with any clarity, but I still scored 232 out of a possible 250 points.
What do points mean? Not prizes. In this case, the marksman next to me scored 248 which meant that one of his 50 shots was more than about 2 inches away from the central area of about 60 square inches. My score meant that about three of my bullets had missed my well lit, stationary target who for the most part was an extremely close, cooperative, and patient target who didn’t flinch when I was getting my eye in, and adjusting my aim through clear feedback of where I was shooting him.
Three of my bullets would probably have hit innocent bystanders. With all prevailing conditions in my favor. And I passed the test. If I sent off my application and got my fingerprints done and passed the background test, with just $140 I would be allowed to walk around with a six shooter in my underpants, looking for a perp to give me an excuse to hire a lawyer.
But really, who is the test supposed to appease? Was it to prove that I could discharge 50 rounds in a controlled environment without shooting my leg? Or was it to just generally boost my self confidence? Or to convince the State of Texas that me having a gun in my swimming trunks when it’s 112 degrees outside is a reasonably good idea? (I mean really, where am I going to conceal anything in this weather?)
Going back to the 3am burglar scenario, I don’t think that me having a weapon securely locked out of the way of my children is really going to help me. In the case of the madmen shooting indiscriminately, maybe having a hand cannon is a last resort. But am I armed with enough information to make informed life and death decisions when faced with a crisis? I very much doubt it. The instructors were clear, concise, knowledgeable and very passionate about their trade. The materials and training was great. But in the kidnapping scenario video that was showed to us – the instructor asked us what to do, and the reaction (if not the carefully considered response) of two of the six people asked was to pull out a gun. This was the wrong decision. And these were people who had completed the course, already had handguns and who were soon to have concealed handguns.
The course for me illustrated just why I don’t want people carrying concealed handguns without not just four or ten hours of training, but forty or eighty hours of training. I’m not going to bandy about any analogies with cars being lethal weapons, but I wouldn’t want to be on the same road as someone who had just proved they could steer and brake and then been handed the keys to a 350 horsepower two tonne metal box.
Mental note to self, never be an innocent bystander in America.