By Hannah Heishman
A number of questions and concerns have resulted in the changes to the West Virginia statute requiring citizens to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. During the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers repealed the need for a permit as well as the requirement for operational and safety training.
More than a dozen people, including four youth, gathered on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at the Hardy County Rod & Gun Club for discussion and information about carrying a gun. Of the attendees, nearly all the adults were licensed to carry concealed weapons under the old law. Hardy County Sheriff Bryan Ward introduced the class by explaining the reason for its inception. “Proficiency was our concern,” he said.
[private] When the law went into effect in June, allowing West Virginians to carry guns, open or concealed, without permits, Ward and his deputies started thinking about the people who could become routine carriers, who had never carried before, who may not know how to select a gun or ammunition, or how to train to properly handle both.
“The objective of the Hardy County Sheriff’s Office pairing with the Hardy County Rod & Gun Club is safety,” Ward said.
“I encourage everyone to carry, but there are do’s and don’ts.”
Hardy County Sheriff’s Deputy Dave Warren welcomed attendees to the new law, which he called “permitless carry.”
Under the old law, in order to carry a concealed gun, citizens had to attend and pass approved firearms training, apply at the Sheriff’s office, pay $95, and be in good legal standing to acquire a 5-year permit.
This is still the case for anyone 18-21 years old, who wishes to carry a gun. It’s also still true for anyone who wants to be able to carry a concealed gun outside West Virginia. State laws vary on open carry.
Warren covered a lot of territory in just under two hours, but all of it was important to those carrying guns or considering doing so.
Carriers should not change between carrying openly — the gun is visible from three sides — to concealed, because it, “creates an alarm,” Warren said. Also, never consume alcohol while carrying a gun. Other than being common sense, it’s outlawed in many states, including Virginia.
Warren outlined three major rules for carrying a gun. Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Keep the gun unloaded until you are ready to shoot.
He talked about places where guns are strictly off-limits for citizens to carry, including any Board of Education-controlled area. This includes school parking lots, ball fields, and school buses. Post offices, airports, and most military installations are off-limits, because they are federal properties or reservations. Guns are not permitted in courthouses, as well as any area a municipality identifies. And finally, privately owned locations can be off-limits.
Convicted felons still cannot carry guns; neither can those with a domestic violence conviction or petition against them.
Warren warned that anyone who chooses to carry, must also know the laws, especially when crossing state lines. Even with a concealed carry permit, West Virginia does not have agreements with all other states.
There were also recommendations for selecting a gun, ammunition, and style of carrying.
He recommended side carry, upright position, the way most uniformed law enforcement officers carry.
Find a gun that fits your hand; if when closed around the gun’s grip, your fingers are more than a finger’s width from your palm, the gun is too big. If your fingers touch your palm, it’s too small.
Don’t buy a gun from someone you meet in a parking lot. Be prepared to spend between $400 and $700, because this is a tool you plan to use to save lives. Make sure there’s a clear, unaltered serial number. Before you pay, call the police and ask them to run the serial number. Ensure you receive and keep the bill of sale.
If you’re buying from someone online, ask for the gun’s serial number and the seller’s name before you meet, agree, or spend money. If the seller hesitates to supply either, don’t close the deal.
Practice drawing the gun from the holster at least 100 times, before adding ammunition. Get used to that action, particularly if your holster has safeties built in, such as a release over the hammer.
Many people want lasers mounted on their handguns, but tactical lights are better, because they temporarily blind your target and force them to turn their heads. When you’re nervous, a laser will be hard to keep steady, and will serve to show your location without any real benefit to you.
Get ammunition that matches your gun, is full metal jacket (FMJ) and hollow point (HP), and preferably .45 or .357 caliber — what Warren called ‘showstoppers.’ This also emphasized the seriousness of carrying a gun. The point is not to look cool, or to carry just because you can. The point is to be able to stop a dangerous situation.
If possible, find someone to train you to draw and fire your pistol. The better trained you are, the more likely you are to be able to respond in a true emergency.
Warren also talked about the importance of mentally working through and visualizing your actions and reactions as a form of training, in addition to getting on a range and practicing.
“Don’t make the first time you see it, when you have to do it,” Warren said. “Visualize.”
Warren compared people’s reactions under violent confrontational circumstances to buck fever, which got a laugh but also clearly communicated his point. When something happens, your body gets an adrenaline dump. You lose fine motor skills, you start shaking, your heart rate sky rockets, and you might even stop breathing. You might lose the ability to hear clearly, or have tunnel vision. All of these make responding difficult.
Take deep, controlled breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth.
Warren also emphasized that shooting should be a last resort. Depending on the situation, it may well be smarter to evacuate and call 911. In the event a citizen does shoot, a civil suit is almost certain, and criminal legal action is possible, depending on what actually occurs and the outcome. Warning shots, for example, are wanton endangerment.
Finally, ensure you know how to safely unload your gun, and make it safe. If there is a safety switch, ensure it’s in the ‘safe’ position. Release the magazine. Ensure the chamber is also empty by drawing back the slide, locking it in place, and checking the barrel, or by rotating the cylinder out of the way in a revolver and checking.
Clean and check your gun regularly, to ensure it’s ready if you ever need it.
The general distance of a violent confrontation is about two to three yards. About two to three shots are fired, and it’s over in about two to three seconds.
Have a plan. Just as we should all have plans on getting out of our homes in case of a fire, we should also have plans on how to respond to violence in public places. Situational awareness — literally being aware of what’s going on around you, and how the people around you are behaving — is key.
Warren finished by talking about how few law enforcement officers actually ever have to fire their guns, and how in this area, even pulling a gun from a holster is relatively infrequent. Hollywood would have us believe otherwise, but it’s very possible to carry a gun, and never need to use it.
Warren closed with a warning: “It’s a solemn responsibility, to take a life.”
For additional information or to explore additional training opportunities, contact the Hardy County Sheriff’s Office at 304-530-0222. [/private]