The Gun Next To You

There is a meme or post going around on Facebook that starts, “I stand behind you in line at the store with a smile on my face… and a gun under my shirt and you are none the wiser, yet you are safer for having me next to you. I won’t shoot you.” Later in the meme it says, “However, rest assured that if a lunatic walks into the store and pulls a rifle , I will draw my pistol and protect myself and my family…”

Thanks to our Tennessee lawmakers via House Bill 1264 there will probably be more people next to you carrying guns. These people will have been able to get a Handgun Carry permit with little to no training. This bill will allow Tennessee residents to simply watch (or play) an online video as their training to get a handgun carry permit. There is no provision for any live fire (as required in the current handgun permit training). Does this scare me? Well there is a story that years ago a NASCAR driver was asked if he was “scared” during a pretty bad crash during a race. His response was “I was a little concerned”. I am far more than concerned.

First off; full disclosure. I am a lifetime NRA member. I fully support the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. I endorse the responsible carry and use of firearms. I have taught the Tennessee Handgun Safety course (Handgun permit class) for over twenty years, so I endorse civilians carrying firearms for self-protection. I was a police officer for over thirty years and will be the first one to tell you that you are your and your family’s first line of defense. No matter how fast the “average response time” of the law enforcement entity over your area it most likely will be too long. Americans should be able to protect themselves. Self-protection is a recognized basic human right and has been upheld by United States courts for hundreds of years. I have no problem whatsoever with people carrying a firearm for self-defense. AS LONG AS they have had some basic training in the legalities of using a firearm in self-defense and have shown a basic ability to physically operate the handgun. This new bill would allow people to get a handgun carry permit by simply watching a video. There is no requirement to be in a monitored classroom. There is no requirement to show a very basic proficiency with a handgun. I think this should concern us all.

Now let me address the “constitutionalists” as I call them, who I can hear screaming at this point, “There’s no need for a permit to carry a gun; the Constitution says so”. The Tennessee Handgun Carry permit system has been in its current form since 1996. If anyone has challenged its “constitutionality” in that time they have not been successful. This system has worked well. The number of Tennessee permit holders who have gotten into legal trouble is very low. Permit applicants are taught as to what criminal and civil legal trouble they can get into if they misuse force. They very infrequently misuse their weapons or commit infractions with their handguns.

So the state of Tennessee regulates who can publicly carry a handgun. They simply ask you to attend an eight-hour course as a requirement to apply. Several states require more training than eight hours. Eight hours is VERY minimal training time to cover safety, legal issues, the fundamentals of shooting and have a basic shooting proficiency test. Yet some politician, Andy Holt, thought eight hours was too much to provide safety for you and your family, Holt was quoted as saying, “you know, if we’re talking about having to take a class that requires eight hours of classroom instruction, then that means I’m going to have to be away from my family, away for an entire day,” Really? Number one: eight hours is not an entire day. Number two: eight hours is not a lot of time to get safety, legal, and marksmanship training and show basic proficiency with a handgun. Yet if this teaches a person not to shoot someone over trespassing, shoplifting simple assault or other crimes that are not defensible by deadly force what is that worth? If this teaches someone to keep their finger off the trigger until they are ready to fire so they don’t shoot the wrong person when startled, is that worth being in class eight hours? I guess Mr. Holt thinks that can be taught via online video. I disagree. When a student is reminded by a human not to commit a safety violation like pointing a weapon at someone who is not a threat or having their finger on the trigger when it shouldn’t be, this carries far more ‘weight” than a reminder on a video.

Another question I have is why is the state fixing something that is not broken? The current permit system has been working since 1996. As I mentioned before with few occurrences of issues with permit holders. It appears to me that one legislator felt inconvenienced and decided to change things. Other legislators jumped on the “it’s a pro gun thing backed by the NRA “ bandwagon and supported the bill also. As I said before, I am a lifetime NRA member, however, I do not agree with everything they do. I think this is a DANGEROUS to let people carry firearms in public who have little or no training.

I know I may draw the ire of some hardcore gun rights people but I feel the need to give my opinion. I see so many people who know almost nothing about firearms and who have never fired a gun applying for a permit. However, they are getting some training in the permit class. How many people applying under the new lesser permit system will actually watch this training video? I know of one big organization that tried video training on the honor system. Many people “cheated” and did not watch the video. They just let it run on their computer while they did other things. Many will likely play on their phone while they should be watching the video. So what parts will they watch and what will they miss? Will someone end up being shot due to the lack of training because someone did not watch the video? Or because they didn’t have to sit in a classroom, listen to a human being and so be inconvenienced? I hope not.

This bill allows Tennessee permit holders who have not received the “old school” training to carry their handgun concealed. This is at odds with most other states that may allow open carry with less or no training. Usually more training is required to carry the weapon concealed. “Open carry” is when the weapon is carried out in the open, visible to casual observation. This brings up the question as to how police officers will know if a person has an “enhanced” permit where they can carry open or concealed. Or the lesser permit that only allows concealed carry.

Another issue with this bill is the issue of reciprocity. As of now Tennessee has mutual agreements with several other states where that state recognizes Tennessee’s permits and Tennessee recognizes theirs. Will these states still recognize Tennessee handgun permits since the new permit is not for carrying the weapon outside of Tennessee? If a law enforcement officer in one of these reciprocal agreement states has an encounter with a Tennessee permit holder with a non-enhanced permit how are they to know the status of that permit? Will they be able to check it via computer? Will that state feel it is too confusing for their officers and just stop recognizing Tennessee’s permit? There is already a precedent for this. Two states stopped recognizing Tennessee’s handgun permit when Tennessee changed its law to allow 18,19 and 20-year-old people who are currently in the armed forces or who have been honorably discharged to get a handgun permit.

As a handgun permit instructor I am very worried about the effects of this bill on public safety. I think it would be a good idea for people to be required to take a safety class just to buy a gun. Now because someone doesn’t want to be inconvenienced people with little or no training may be carrying a gun in a restaurant, movie theater, church, sporting event, grocery store etc. near you, your loved ones and friends. What if they overreact to a situation? What if they start spraying bullets or miss their target hitting an innocent person? Or the bullet goes through the bad guy hitting an innocent person because they weren’t careful about their backstop – any or all due to a lack of training?

Question: Are people allowed to get a driver’s license without driving? Can they learn to drive just by watching a video? Am I afraid of the damage that may be caused by this bill?

Yes I am.

Good Luck,
Mark Haskins