Training – how much is enough?
How much training should be required to obtain a concealed handgun license (CHL)? Carrying a firearm is a constitutionally-protected right, but carrying concealed has been ruled a privilege. It is in the public’s best interest that people carrying concealed firearms do so safely, so the state can mandate training, but how much training does it take to make someone safe with a gun? When does it cross the line to just being harassment of a right the state does not want people to have?
Let us start with something hopefully everyone can agree with. Good training makes us better able to perform a given task. Practice also improves our ability. The more we train and practice, the better we will be at a given task. So how much is enough? And how much should the government require?
When concealed carry was being debated in the statehouse 10-15 years ago, police agencies and others argued that the state should require a minimum of 40 hours of training to obtain a CHL. That is what cops received in the police academy at the time, and was claimed by those opposed to concealed carry to be the minimum training to be safe with a gun. The real purpose, of course, had nothing to do with safety - it was intended to be a barrier to entry by making training too expensive for most people to obtain. They knew that there was power in numbers and by keeping CHL numbers low, it would be harder to make improvements in other parts of the law. These opponents did succeed in getting the mandatory training requirement raised to 12 hours before the bill was passed.
If training is good, why stop at 40 hours? Navy SEALS have thousands of hours of training. They train continuously and are arguably the best in the world at what they do. Shouldn’t everyone be the best? That may be ideal, but is realistically impossible. We have jobs and other obligations. Training is their job.
What about concealed carry instructors? Most good instructors obtain additional training each year and they are better for it. Should that be required of all instructors to make them better and current on the topic they are teaching? How much training should they be required to take annually to remain an instructor?
Police training assumes (correctly) that most police recruits have little or no experience with firearms when they enter the academy. Whatever level the bar is set at, it will take longer to get someone with no experience than with extensive experience to achieve any specific level of competency. In the government, they must make the rules for the lowest common denominator. In Ohio, the rule is now eight days of firearms training to be a police officer. One day is devoted to shotguns, and one is competition. That leaves six days, or about 48 hours for handgun training. Most of that training is quite basic in nature.
Police are taught to use deadly force and the threat of deadly force to pursue and apprehend criminals. Citizens are prohibited from engaging in these activities, and a CHL-holder is only authorized the carrying of “handguns,” not all the other weapons police have access too. For these and other reasons, the comparison to law enforcement training is as useless as comparisons to special operations training.
How much training do other states require?
A quick look shows that the most states require some sort of approved course (normally an NRA or hunter education course) without any specific hourly requirement. This is the same type of language that was originally proposed in H.B. 203. The bill was eventually amended to require at least four hours before being passed the House last November with a 63-27 vote. It awaits attention in the Senate.
At least eight states have no training requirement at all. Of those states that have specific hourly requirements, Ohio is one of only six states that require more than 8 hours of training.
Alaska requires 12 for a license, but that allows someone to carry a gun almost anywhere. No license or training is required for most carrying of a concealed firearm in that state. One can carry in more places in Alaska with no training than one can carry in Ohio with 12 hours of training. California, Illinois and Maryland require 16 hours. New Mexico requires 15 hours and Texas specifies between 10 and 15. No other state requires more than 8 hours.
The NRA Basic Pistol class is about eight hours. It can be taught in less time, or it can be stretched into 12 hours as many instructors currently do in Ohio. There is also an NRA “First Steps” class that can be taught in about three hours. If we count all the states that simply require an “approved course” as eight hours, then the national average requirement is slightly less than eight hours. But we know they are not requiring eight hours and most do not require any specific course. If we consider the state minimum to be the same as the minimum NRA class, we should consider the requirement in such states to be three hours. This would make the national average about 4.5 hours with a median of only three hours. Recognizing that hunter ed has no actual live fire training will reduce these numbers even further.
Do states with less required training have less accidental deaths?
That question is difficult to answer, in part because there are so few accidental deaths caused by firearms annually in the United States compared to other causes of death. Sure, there are lots of people who commit suicide or murdered with a gun, but taking a safety class is not going to prevent people from intentionally killing themselves or others.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there were 606 accidental firearms deaths in the United States in 2010. Many of those occurred in the home and had nothing to do with concealed carry. There simply are not enough accidental deaths involving concealed carry to do a statistically significant study. There is not a problem for training to solve.
Accidental firearm deaths have steadily fallen for over 100 years. As more states allowed concealed carry, more people took basic NRA classes. More schools teach the NRA’s “Eddie Eagle” or other gun safety classes to young children. Many states offer hunter ed classes in high school. Educational and awareness makes us safer, and that is obtained through training.
Advanced classes fill up at TDI, Mad Duck Firearms Training, Commence Firearms, Sim-Trainer, Tactical Intelligence Group, Blackwing and other locations. Buckeye Firearms Association's one-day classes quickly sell out. The more people who obtain basic training, the more people will take advanced training. The lower the barrier to entry, the more people will participate. It is the first hour of training that is most likely to reduce accidental deaths.
I don’t even know how many hours of firearms training I have. I exceed the 12 hour requirement on an annual basis and have for over a decade. I’ve learned something useful in every class I’ve taken, and I’ve left most classes thinking, “How did I ever think I was prepared before this class?” My training started with a few hour class at a local gun range. Without that first step, the others would not have happened. I have extensive training because there was no large mandated requirement.
If we required everyone to take the same training I have, most police would not be permitted to carry a gun. And society would be less safe as a result. Training is good, and more training is better. I strongly encourage everyone to take all they can. But setting the bar too high may have even worse consequences for society than not have any requirement at all.
Jim Irvine is the Buckeye Firearms Association President, BFA PAC Chairman and recipient of the NRA-ILA's 2011 "Jay M. Littlefield Volunteer of the Year Award" and the CCRKBA's 2012 "Gun Rights Defender of the Year Award."