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More Guns, More Problems?

Anti-gun violence advocates want loopholes closed, criminals stopped.

After a couple of trips to the National Rifle Association for classroom and shooting instruction, the choice to apply for a concealed-carry permit turned into a decision of intrigue and uncertainty.

One anti-gun advocate remembers when a man driving on I-66 committed suicide while on the phone with his girlfriend. The man had a concealed-carry permit, and reached for his gun in a rash decision that ended his life.

That man might still be alive today if he didn’t have a concealed-carry permit and gun, said Jim Sollo, executive director of Virginians Against Handgun Violence. Instead, he had the opportunity to act on an impulse that might have later faded. The same impulse is what Sollo said makes concealed-carry permits so dangerous.

“People sometimes make snap decisions,” said Sollo. “The gun there can make that confrontation deadly.”

In a country that values its Second Amendment guarantee to keep and bear arms, nearly every state has passed some variation of a concealed-carry firearm permit, excluding only Illinois and Wisconsin. Some states “may issue,” meaning the applicants usually have to demonstrate some kind of specific need for the permit. Other states, 39 of them to be exact, “shall issue,” excluding only those applicants with criminal backgrounds or other red flags. Either way, Americans throughout the country are walking around freely with guns on their hips.

As a new resident to Virginia, I discovered that I now live in a state that “shall issue” a concealed-carry permit to applicants who meet the required criteria.

After I completed a gun safety instruction course at the NRA’s range, I began thinking about the concealed-carry application I now had in my hands. I completed the course, one of many that qualify people to apply for the permit, but am I actually going to fill it out and send it in?

It’s not like the permit requires me to carry the gun, but it would allow me to do so if I desired. This seems like more gun responsibility than I’m prepared to handle, but nothing is stopping me or anyone else with the same doubt from applying for the permit. Once the piece of paper is in my hands, the temptation to utilize this privilege might overcome my fear of it, and before I know it I might find myself in a store picking out which holster looks best with which pair of shoes.

THE RIGHT to carry a concealed handgun is something the National Rifle Association strongly supports. Autumn Fogg, a spokeswoman for the NRA, said in many of the right-to-carry states, crime has decreased because the amount of legal carriers has deterred criminals from aggression. It becomes too risky, said Fogg, for people to commit crimes because they run the risk of choosing a victim who is also carrying a weapon.

This idea is just wrong, said Joshua Horwitz, the executive director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Horwitz was quick to point out that Naveed Afzal Haq, the man who shot up a Jewish community center in Seattle last month, had a concealed carry permit.

“I think the idea that these people [legal concealed carriers] don’t do any damage is wrong,” said Horwitz. “More guns equal less crime is just false.”

On one side, the anti-gunners say the permits only add more guns to the community, thus making acts of gun violence more commonplace. The pro-gunners say without these guns, people are left defenseless in a dangerous society.

The NRA’s class got me thinking seriously about the permit, which was its intent.

"A lot of people come in [to the class] afraid," said Vince Cavaleri, an NRA shooting instructor. "They find out that it's not the evil they thought it was going to be. We teach them respect, and they just go away with a different attitude."

The instructors illustrated different scenarios in which carrying a gun could protect a person, and they also demonstrated situations where a gun could get a person into a lot of trouble. Since the laws are specific on acceptable uses of deadly force, having that decision waiting on my hip is a big one. If a jury finds that I shouldn’t have used deadly force and my judgment was wrong, I’m left facing possible criminal charges.

These type of issues are all things the NRA wants potential carriers to consider after taking its basic pistol course. While the NRA does support concealed carry, I was surprised at how much the course seemed to deter me rather than encourage me.

Another man in my class agreed. After listening to the NRA instructors describe the responsibility associated with concealed-carry, he concluded he was not ready for that level of responsibility.

This left me wondering how many people complete the class feeling exactly as I did, but still follow through with getting their permits. If the permits are granted, many of these same doubtful individuals may be walking around taking advantage of their privilege to carry a gun. The NRA instructors told the students that the class was merely an introduction into gun laws and safety, and said it does not prepare people for carrying a handgun “by any means.”

“We don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Sollo. “If you go to the NRA’s Web site and look under armed response, you can see by state how many people have used a gun to defend themselves against criminals. You’ll find there are about two a year in Virginia.”

HORWITZ SAID he has no problem with people going to a range and shooting targets, or hunting for that matter, but he doesn't think the NRA's push for concealed-carry in the workplace is a necessary move. While the main goal of Horwitz's coalition is to stop the flow of firearms from the legal to illegal market, mainly by closing a loophole at gun shows that doesn't require non-licensed federal firearm dealers to require background checks, he did say concealed carry "doesn't do any good." But the NRA says concealed carry is an American right.

"We're a member-based group who believe in the right to keep and bear arms," said Fogg. "We don't believe that law-abiding citizens should have their rights restricted because of criminal actions."

The NRA position on concealed carry has no basis, according to Sollo and Horwitz. Criminals slip through the cracks, and crime statistics show they end up with plenty of guns. Sollo said legally concealed gun carriers have committed murder, suicide and robbery. Allowing people to carry guns as an excuse to protect themselves from other people with guns, only instigates a fire-fight, they say.

"We think guns, unfortunately, do a lot more harm than good," said Sollo. "I've lived in the Washington area for 35 years. If you bump into somebody you say excuse me, you smile and go your separate ways."

After learning from both the anti and pro-gunners about the consequences of carrying a firearm in public, the decision seems obvious. I might apply for a permit just to be safe when traveling to and from the shooting range with my gun in the car, but other than that, I see no reason to conceal a pistol while I'm out in public. It just seems unnecessary to bring a gun into work, a mall, a restaurant or any other public place. I have fists, a mean kick and a pretty loud screaming voice if I ever need to defend myself, so that's what I'm sticking with.

"To start infringing on other people's rights [by allowing concealed carriers in the workplace and elsewhere] I think is completely wrong," said Horwitz. "I have rights not to be threatened by your stupid handgun."