July 25, 2013

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One man’s journey through getting a handgun permit

Before I could line up the sights of a .22 caliber revolver on the orange, human-shaped target at Shooter’s Depot; before I could sit through lectures in handgun safety and the use of deadly force; before I could watch the Highway Patrol video on how to handle traffic stops while armed, and pass the written and shooting test, and walk away with a certificate that would allow me to apply for a Tennessee handgun permit, I had to find ammunition.

And that’s where this story begins—not with the drive to Shooter’s Depot on a rainy Sunday to investigate the Tennessee Handgun permit class and the folks who go armed among us, but with the ammunition shortage that has swept the country since the Sandy Hook shooting and the re-election of President Obama. 

At the Walmart on Signal Mountain Boulevard, the ammunition shelves were stripped bare, and an elderly customer in an Army veteran cap complained that the Department of Homeland Security was buying up all the ammo so citizens couldn’t have any. The tall shelves at Sportsman’s Warehouse, which once held box after box of handgun and rifle cartridges, were empty. When I finally found a few boxes of .22 shells online, they cost four times what they sold for a year ago.

The ammunition shortage is part of a larger trend, which includes rising gun sales and a spike in the number of handgun permits issued in Tennessee. What is behind this rise in carry permits? Who are the people who carry guns among us? Is the South about to rise again, and will it shoot itself in the foot in the process? 

In early July, I drove to Shooter’s Depot in Brainerd to take the handgun permit class with Sergeant Mark Haskins of the Chattanooga Police Department. The eight-hour class sets Tennessee apart from neighboring Georgia and Alabama, where all that is required to go armed legally is an application, a background check, and a processing fee. In addition to these requirements, Tennessee residents have to pass a written test and qualify on the shooting range.

Sixteen adults sat at folding tables under fluorescent lights in the back room of the gun store: a senior citizen with a thick drawl in a camouflage T-shirt and hunting cap, a couple sporting bass fishing T-shirts, a National Guard recruiter with an M-16 rifle printed on his shirt. Fourteen of the students were white. Five women attended, each with a husband or male friend. (One woman would be scolded later by Haskins for playing with her smart phone while he gave safety instructions before we walked onto the range and loaded our guns.) 

One man said four attackers had broken his arm with a crowbar, and he wanted to learn how to defend himself. A 22-year old man explained why he had waited a year after he turned 21, the minimum age get a carry permit, before taking the class.

“You can’t drink and carry a gun,” he deadpanned, saying that he wanted to give himself a year of partying before he settled down.

Haskins lectured us on the parts of a handgun, safety and storage, and the legal use of deadly force. You should not consider this summary a legal opinion by this writer or The Pulse, but here are some highlights. Open carry—wearing a handgun where others can see it, instead of holstered under a shirt or in a pocket—is legal but discouraged. Carrying in a state or national park is OK, but going armed in a Chattanooga or Hamilton County park could earn you jail time or a stiff fine. You can’t shoot someone who is running away from you, or finish off an injured attacker who surrenders; the only legally justified use of deadly force is when you or another person are in imminent fear of death or serious bodily injury.


July 25, 2013

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