The right to bear arms is one of the most fundamental rights for U.S. citizens, and it’s one that needs to be constantly protected, according to one local gun safety educator.
“The Second Amendment is important. If we take it for granted, we’ll lose it,” said Stanley Shell, a National Rifle Association-certified handgun permit instructor.
“That’s why we need to elect folks who are pro-gun and we need to support groups that are pro-gun.”
Tennessee began issuing handgun carry permits in October 1996, giving citizens the right to arm themselves when away from home.
The state requires an eight-hour class that introduces participants to handguns and how to handle them safely.
Shell and 16 of his buddies, all members of Unaka Rod and Gun Club, became certified through the NRA to teach the handgun carry permit class.
It was a way for the club to bring in revenue as well as provide citizens the knowledge they needed to carry a handgun safely.
Citizens interested in taking the class come from a variety of backgrounds, he said.
“We have everyone from doctors, radio celebrities, attorneys to preachers, all ages, from 21 to 80 years old and we have a lot of ladies in our classes,” Shell said.
Criteria for obtaining and maintaining handgun permits vary by state.
In Tennessee, the permit does not require the holder to conceal the weapon, while other states do require the gun to be hidden from sight.
Currently, there are 19 states that have reciprocity agreements with Tennessee. That means if a person has a Tennessee handgun carry permit, they can also carry their weapon in those 19 states. But the person must abide by that state’s rules and regulations in regard to how to carry the weapon.
“You need to find out before you go into that state,” Shell said.
Even in Tennessee, there are some restrictions.
Handguns are not allowed in “schools, hospitals, anywhere that’s posted, anyone’s home, anywhere they ask you to not bring it in, any courthouses or government owned buildings or city parks,” Shell said.
“You can’t demand that right.”
Carrying a gun in the open can lead to unwanted attention for a citizen, Shell said.
He isn’t the only person who suggests keeping the gun concealed.
Washington County Sheriff’s Capt. Brian Horton, who teaches the handgun permit class for the sheriff’s office, said it’s a good idea to conceal the weapon.
“We advise them to keep the weapon concealed,” he said. “The reason why is we’ve had some businesses that call us and say they have someone walking around the store with a gun,” and want an officer to intercept that person.
Businesses, Horton said, are not required to allow handguns inside regardless of a carry permit.
“A person is in their right to carry openly, but a business is in their right to ban anyone from their store,” he said.
“We train our officers that if they see someone carrying a firearm to check for that permit but they need to use caution also,” Horton said.
Shell has the same opinion.
“In Tennessee it’s actually an open carry. Do I recommend or encourage my students to do that? I say no,” Shell said.
“If you go into the Walmart and you have somebody who don’t understand your Second Amendment rights,” then all they know is they see somebody with a gun, he said.
“If you show it, you may deter a crime, but I don’t want folks to wear it to say ‘Look what I have the potential to do,’” he said.
The class itself is fairly simple. It’s eight hours on a Saturday with classroom instruction and firing range time.
In the classroom, potential handgun carriers learn about the weapon’s function and operation, safety issues that include cleaning and storage, legal liabilities of carrying a handgun, and a written 30-question test.
The test consists of true and false and multiple choice questions.
And then, of course, is the fun part — going to the shooting range.
The range master, Shell, went over shooting range rules and the instructions he would give prior to each exercise. Students fire a total of 48 rounds at the range from three different distances between the shooter and target.
Participants must pass both components — the written test and range test — with a score of at least 70 on each.
The organization hosting the class will issue a paper certificate, but the citizen still isn’t allowed to carry a weapon.
That certificate must go to the Department of Safety along with an application for the permit, proof of U.S. citizenship and $115.
The applicant must be at least 21 years old and is also subject to a background check and must be fingerprinted.
Some things that will prevent a person from obtaining a handgun permit are
n judicial or involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
n a conviction for a felony punishable for more that one year in prison.
n the subject of an active order of protection.
n having a DUI conviction in any state two or more times within 10 years.
n having a dishonorable discharge from the military.
n having renounced U.S. citizenship.
n be on Social Security disability for alcohol or drug dependence or mental disability.
n a conviction of stalking.
For more information about Tennessee’s handgun carry permit, go to www.tn.gov and select the “handgun permits” link on the left.
The state of Tennessee began issuing handgun permits in October 1996 through the Department of Safety.
Department statistics show that as of Feb. 6, there are 343,761 valid permit holders in the state.
In 2011, the department issued 94,975 permits. Of those, 24,614 were issued to women and 70,361 were issued to men.
“As long as there’s humanity, we’re going to have crime,” Shell said. “Our world is not getting better. It’s nothing but common sense to be able to protect yourself.
“These classes are so important and it’s important we are able to carry our pistols because it’s the law abiding citizens that have the right to protect themselves,” he said.
“I would rather be tried by 12 than carried by six,” Shell said.
For more information about taking the handgun carry permit class, go to www.unakarodandgun.com for a listing of classes offered.