Training, Yes – Mandatory, No

By Jeff Knox

At the recent Gun Rights Policy Conference in Saint Louis, Missouri I had the privilege of introducing a couple of resolutions that were adopted by the assembly. The first dealt with the recent attempt by Customs and Border Protection to classify certain "easy open" pocket knives as "switchblades," and subsequent efforts to amend the Federal Switchblade Act. My resolution suggested that since the problem of switchblades and switchblade crime was primarily a figment of Hollywood and Broadway, and since regulating tools is never a reasonable response to bad behavior, that the rights community should support the outright repeal of the Federal Switchblade Act and any other such laws which are intended to modify behavior by restricting tools. This resolution passed resoundingly with no real discussion.

My second resolution was a bit more controversial. In it I suggested that, while training in the safe, legal, and appropriate use of firearms is strongly supported and should continue to be encouraged, government mandated training is anathema to liberty. I pointed out that there is no statistical evidence that firearms accidents, mistakes, or abuses are any more likely in states requiring little or no training than they are in states with extensive training requirements. The resolution put on the record the GRPC delegates' opposition to government-mandated firearms training and their support for rolling back existing requirements where feasible.

I was careful and specific with the language of the resolution because there is much more to the training controversy than might be immediately evident.

First there is the issue of encouraging training. There can be no doubt that the better trained a person is with their firearm and its safe and effective use, the better off we all are. Likewise, the more a person knows about the laws relating to carrying arms and use of deadly force, the safer they are going to be carrying on the street. We, the "gun culture" understand that training and education are good things and are absolutely necessary.

The reality is that responsible, thoughtful people are going to get the training they need and pursue a level of comfort with their chosen firearm before trying to take it into public. On the other hand, irresponsible people and criminals are not going to learn responsibility or become law-abiding just because they sit through a course. Those few who flunk a mandatory course are the same few who either lack the confidence to carry anyway or who don't care and will carry regardless.

The political reality of mandatory training and concealed carry law is that the majority of the states now have "shall issue" laws and most reciprocate with each other. Some states have no training requirements, while others have extensive training requirements. Some states offer licenses only to persons over the age of 21, or even 23, and some offer licenses to anyone over 18. Some require that licenses be renewed every year while others go five or ten years and a couple offer lifetime permits. All of these differences can impact reciprocity agreements with other states and can also impact whether concealed carry licenses can exempt the holder from the NICS background checks when they purchase a gun.

Obviously an important consideration when working to enact or improve a carry bill is what will pass. Demanding Vermont or Alaska style carry and refusing to settle for anything less is a recipe for failure. On the other hand, endorsing a bill that concedes key principles may amount to a net loss for gun owners. That too is a bad strategy.

The key to victory in the gun rights war is that we, as a movement, establish our goals and objectives and continuously work toward them. The objective of the rights movement regarding concealed carry should be national recognition that the Second Amendment is our license to bear arms, concealed or otherwise.

Unlike our opposition, we do not have the luxury of claiming that "this little change is all we want," while planning to come back next year looking to take another bite. As a movement based on a principle, we must keep our ultimate goal on the table and only make minimal concessions reluctantly and with an eye toward replacing those legislators who make such compromises necessary or who shoot down our good bills. Then when we come back next year, again pushing toward our original goal, we don't have to reclaim a lost principle. We just work to pick up what we left on the table.

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