Going Great Guns

A few weekends ago, I took a Concealed Handgun License course.  In Texas, passing this course and filing the resulting paperwork allows citizens to legally carry concealed.  It was one of the things I’d been meaning to do for years, but I’d just never made the time.  Fortunately, current events and opportunity combined to make it a priority.

I don’t own a handgun.  Yet.  In fact, I haven’t been around guns at all.  It’s not that I have been afraid of them; it’s that I never thought much about them.  I knew my father had one or two for protection (and for scaring my sister’s boyfriends) but I rarely saw them.  I grew up in a pretty safe area, where often the worst that happened in the neighborhood was the occasional vandalized car, or finding one’s trees festooned with toilet paper.  The only time prior to the class that I’d handled a gun was when a friend took me to the gun range at the nearby park.  She loaded the guns and showed me how to hold and fire them (I wasn’t a terrible shot).  It was fun, but I didn’t feel compelled to run out and get one for myself.

But I live near the big city, and haven’t always been the most vigilant as I’ve traveled around unaccompanied to meetings and dinners and events.  Also, I’m short – just shy of 5’ tall – and not any kind of imposing figure.  I’m older now, too; no longer fortified with the invincibility of youth.  Most importantly, I recognize one of the things all the gun-grabbers seem to forget: guns are equalizers for women like me.  I wasn’t going to count on the gross-out-the-rapist model of self-defense.  It was time to take care of this outstanding item on the to-do list.

So on a Saturday morning, I drove across town to a church where my friend Dan Blackford was holding the class.  Just over a dozen people joined me as Dan introduced himself and gave his credentials.  Then we headed to a private range, where Dan proceeded to set the targets and score them for the class.  I watched as the other people shot.  I listened to Dan as he helped them, and I held back so that I was in the last group to shoot.  Dan had agreed to let me use his Bersa .380 to shoot with, but I was pretty worried I’d embarrass myself; so I waited until everyone else had gone so their attention wouldn’t be on my epic failery.

I couldn’t load the bullets at first.  My grip had to be corrected several times.  When Dan yelled “Fire!” I was sure I missed the target.  But I didn’t.  And I kept hitting it, shot after shot, in the 5 point zone, regardless of distance.  I’m sure now that with regular practice at a range, I could improve both my skill and my comfort handling a firearm.  But I’m just putting bad guys on notice here: I’m a pretty good shot.

Dan’s all-day course was entertaining as well as informative.  I talked to Dan after I’d had a week or so to absorb the information in the course, and it was amazing the amount of material I’d retained.  That is all Dan’s doing – he’s an excellent teacher.  I learned that Texas has no gun registration at all – once you get your background check and walk out of the store with your gun, that gun is off the radar.  I also learned that you don’t need a concealed carry permit to have a gun in your house or car in Texas.  And this was interesting – something like 33 states have reciprocal agreements with Texas regarding concealed carry permits.

Here are some of the questions I asked Dan:

So how well did I shoot?

I’ll say this: you can be on my zombie defense team.

What is the worst misconception people have about guns?

The liberals have this argument that something like 30,000 people a year are killed by guns.  While that may be true, what they don’t tell you is that around 2/3 of those deaths are from people committing suicide.  We’ve experienced tragedy in our family, too.  But I never once blamed the gun.

There’s a lot of talk about guns and gun regulation, most recently since Sandy Hook.  What have you taken away from the discussion?

To me, the real tragedy is that twenty white kids in Connecticut get killed and it’s a national policy discussion, but over 260 black kids were shot and killed in Chicago last year and no one in politics seems to care.

Why do people say they take your course?  Political reasons?  Safety reasons?

The most common reason is that a person has experienced a crime close to home, either personally or to someone close to them.  I haven’t heard people cite political reasons very often, though those comments have occasionally come up in discussion during the course.

I noticed there were several ladies who were teachers in class with me.  Is that new?

Not exactly new, though I see a trend that more women are taking my class lately.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to buy a gun or learn to shoot?

1)      Find a professional instructor.  Look for someone with certifications, like an NRA instructor at minimum.  You may like your cousin a lot, your uncle may be a great shot, but you should learn from someone who has licenses and experience in teaching others to shoot.

2)      Find someone you’re comfortable with.  You shouldn’t feel belittled or dumb when taking a firearms course, or made to feel you’re asking stupid questions.  A good instructor wants to answer your questions.

3)      Get a gun that fits you.  If you can’t load, grip, handle, and operate it properly, it’s useless to you.

4)      Practice regularly.  You should be familiar with your gun; you don’t want to be fumbling with it at the moment you really need it.

You can’t find many instructors with a more impressive resume than Dan.  You can find Dan Blackford onTwitter and at Guns and Shadows.  Also check out the Armed Citizen Project, with whom he works.  If you’re in Texas and want to take the course to get your concealed carry permit, Dan’s class is worth the trip.  And he’s available at if you have questions.