Gun experts: You still need training

Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com

Steve Zimmermann, a manager and trainer at Guns N Gear, said safety and legal training remain vital for those who carry concealed. Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com

Gun rights advocates fought to get constitutional carry passed for years. In July, they will have it. Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com

Firearms experts say although there won’t be a legal requirement to get training before carrying concealed, proficiency is a skill that has to be honed and regularly maintained. Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com

Starting in July, almost anyone who is allowed to own a handgun will be allowed to carry it concealed within city limits. Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com

Starting July 1, virtually any Idaho resident 21 or older who is allowed to own a handgun will be allowed to carry it concealed within city limits.

Those who want to carry concealed will no longer be legally required to go through the brief training sessions currently needed to get a concealed carry license.

It’s a regulatory regime that backers call “constitutional carry,” and Idaho is one of several states that will operate under those looser regulations. Idaho already operates under similar rules outside of city limits.

While Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter signed the bill into law, he did so with reservations. He said at a news conference last month that he wished the law would have retained some form of mandatory training.

But despite the fact that training will no longer be a legal prerequisite, local firearms experts say everyone who carries should be trained and seek regular retraining. A gun is a tool, they say, but it’s a dangerous one and one that you should know how to use safely before you decide to take it on the streets.

Accidents

“We are all for constitutional carry,” said Andy Giddings, CEO of Guns ‘n’ Gear in Idaho Falls, “but there are risks as far as people starting to carry without formal training.”

You don’t have to look far to find the victims of gun accidents, from an Idaho State University professor who shot himself in the foot during class with a gun he kept in his pocket, to an Idaho National Lab employee whose toddler shot and killed her in Wal-Mart with a gun she kept in her purse, to a 12-year-old Rupert girl who was shot in the stomach by a member of the III% Idaho militia when he was clearing his gun.

“If you shoot a gun, you are responsible for wherever that bullet winds up,” said Steve Zimmermann, a manager and instructor at Guns ‘n’ Gear.

For the untrained, even simple actions can lead to accidents.

“People try to put their gun in their holster, and they shoot themselves,” Zimmermann said.

It usually happens when someone tries to holster a handgun with their finger on the trigger, Zimmerman said, a common beginner’s mistake. Their trigger finger will catch on the holster, and they wind up with a bullet in the leg.

Knowing the law

The good news, Zimmerman said, is that sign-ups for gun safety classes rose following the passage of the constitutional carry bill, despite the fact that it eliminates legal training requirements.

“Our basic and enhanced (concealed carry) classes are filling up quickly,” Zimmerman said.

Overall, sign-ups for those classes are up 17 percent since the law past, he said.

Beyond simple safety, carrying a gun exposes you to a myriad of legal issues that are usually explained in concealed carry classes, he said. You could wind up in trouble, even in prison, if you don’t know the law.

For example, it’s up to a private property owner whether or not to allow a visitor to carry on their property. That includes public locations such as malls and theaters, many of which do not allow guns to be carried on their property.

“They have the right to say no,” Zimmerman said.

And the case law dictating what constitutes brandishing a firearm is complex and difficult to understand, he said. Someone who is untrained can find himself facing criminal charges if he is unfamiliar with such case law, even without bad intentions.

Tough guys

Jon Briggs and Barrett Offerman, co-owners of Eagle Rock Armory in Idaho Falls, both expressed some reservations about the new constitutional carry regime.

“It’s difficult for me,” Briggs said. “There’s good points to it. The Constitution says we have the right to bear arms, but, let’s face it, there are people who have no business carrying a gun.”

Briggs and Offerman worry that some young men who think a gun make will make them look tough will carry for the wrong reasons.

Offerman said he worries about “that guy who shows up at the bar with a gun in his pants.”

And he worries that law enforcement will be less able to get such people off the streets.

“The bad people who want to carry guns … they’re going to carry anyway,” he said. “It’s taking away a potential charge that they could have gotten.”

Self-defense is hard

Zimmerman said if you’re carrying a gun for self-defense, advanced training becomes much more important. Some people think if they wind up in a threatening situation it will be like shooting at the gun range.

But it isn’t. If you aren’t used to shooting in a stressful situation, you’re going to be a terrible shot.

“You’re going to lose your fine motor skills. You’re going to get tunnel vision,” Zimmerman said.

Alyssa Bryton is the president of Idaho Women of Caliber, a women’s shooting and self-defense organization focused on eastern Idaho. Bryton said she, along with most other members of her organization, carry concealed regularly. It makes her feel safer.

“I’m small, and I don’t seem very tough,” she said. “So I feel that I do need a gun to protect myself.”

Bryton said she regularly trains with her gun, and she wouldn’t recommend than anyone carry without such training.

“We need to still take classes so we know what we are doing,” she said.


Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 542-6751.