Shooting prompts the old 'Constitutional carry' vs 'get trained' arguments

A recent post by another writer on this publication referred to a Charleston, West Virginia news article in which the author speculates that free-for-all/no-training-required carry may have contributed to the death of a 15-year old male at the hand of a 62-year old male.

I hate to say “I told you so,” but as a person who’s been packing with various levels of skill for well over a decade, and as a certified instructor for the past few years, I believe that may have been the case.  What follows are but a couple reasons why. There are many more; but these may be relevant to the incident as reported.

In no way does this article attempt to pass judgment on the shooter’s guilt or innocence. That’s the job of the judicial system and no one else.

Untrained people aren’t likely to be prepared for post-shooting mental processes

A rush of emotion in the wake of the successful defense is to be expected. Depending on the individual and circumstance, this may show itself as remorse, a sudden and utter lack of self-confidence, guilt, or as it appears happened in this incident, it can manifest as celebration of sorts, a joyful response to having just saved a life. The 62-year old who’s now charged with murder appears to have purchased his ticket to those charges by saying, “The way I look at it, that’s another piece of trash off the street.”

Humans have a tendency to do this thing called excited utterances in the wake of a traumatic or far-from-ordinary event. Had the shooter had a decent concealed carry class, he might have recognized the urge to say things that could easily be misconstrued. He might also be aware that there are a few items that, if present in the situation, are important to tell arriving law enforcement, and that all other topics should be saved for discussion with legal counsel.

This is where civilians are subject to a higher standard than police, who have the advantage of regular training and experience! Police are generally exempt from having excited utterances entered into evidence, and also get the protection of administrative leave while their department sorts things out. Media respect this, and go through proper channels, i.e. the department’s public information officer, to get facts on the investigation. Civilians have no such protection from prying reporters.

The shooter said he “felt threatened,” but we’re not told what that means

Most new students of mine who read self-defense blogs parrot the words, “I have to be in fear for my life or someone else’s life,” or some variation thereof, as justification for use of deadly force. And that is true, but only scratches the surface. When asked how they evaluate whether a person is a threat or not, less than half of them can identify signs of a likely threat. It’ a topic I raised here a year ago, after a Tennessee woman drew her gun on a homeless man who asked if she had matches.

Concealed carriers must be able to articulate that an assailant, or likely assailant, had the means, intent, and opportunity to carry out grievous bodily harm. Of course, those factors aren’t going to be easily sorted out in an incident that’s likely to take less than five seconds from start to finish. But learning to identify threat behaviors can lead to better judgment and, possibly, less unnecessary displaying and firing of guns in public.

On their part, people who carry guns must be able to describe why their choice to shoot was reasonable and necessary.  Could Mr. Shooter have turned around and walked away instead of shooting? We don’t know. But if a person is schooled to evaluate their environment and practice avoidance of problems, it’s more likely they’ll not be blind to escape options when things go south.  Untrained people tend to vest too much faith in the gun and not enough in their feet and brain.

Ignorance of the law is not an excuse in court

Let’s be real. The vast majority of people who don’t have to digest information about their state’s and nation’s laws—where it is and isn’t legal to carry, what the parameters are for defense  of home and property, and so on—aren’t going to pick up their state’s statute manual and find the relevant codes. Most times, that information is really, really hard to find anyway. Here’s a tip: is a fine place to start, especially if you’re traveling out of state.

If you are like me, studying law is not the most enjoyable way to spend a Saturday morning.  But it might also keep you out of prison if you’re going to carry a gun for self-protection. Don’t get me wrong, I feel strongly that people have the right to be as stupid as they choose. But, when gun owners don’t know what they don’t know, the consequences can be grave for them, as well as for the gun-owning public who suffer attacks on our rights virtually every time a gun owner screws up.

None of us were born with gun skills, particularly where public use is concerned.

Yes, we are the greatest country on earth inasmuch as we have a right and obligation to make sure the government is by the people and for the people—with the cartridge box as a last and ugly resort.  But a successful republic also requires self-governance. The need for safe gun handling and shooting skills is universal and has no age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or other barriers.  I have spoken with many military personnel who received no handgun training, and several who stated that, due to ammunition shortages, their training was limited to less than 100 rounds per year.  Unfortunately, some in the latter group believed they were well-trained and entirely competent, until their range performance proved otherwise. Likewise, many lifetime hunters seem unable to keep their finger off their trigger or understand that the muzzle of their handgun sweeps an area much quicker than that of their deer rifle.

Pride comes before a fall. Acknowledging that shooting is a perishable skill, no one is exempt from the safety rules, and every single one of us, no matter how proficient, can improve in some way, are all components of safe and responsible carry.

Rant over, for now.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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