As some of my readers may know, California is nominally where I live; however, I’ve been in Pensacola since October. California, of course, has the distinction of having extremely restrictive gun laws. Needless to say, these laws have done little or nothing to reduce gun-related crime. They do, however, make it difficult or impossible for law-abiding citizens to exercise the same rights and freedoms that citizens of other states take for granted. (But at least it’s not as bad in California as it is in DC; check out Emily Miller’s Washington Times series on DC gun ownership to see what I mean.)
(nb. This would be a good time to mention that I’m not interested in debating any aspect of firearms law. I believe that as a law-abiding citizen I have the constituionally-protected right to keep and bear arms, and that that right properly includes the ability to carry a weapon on my person for self-defense, whether or not I face an imminent threat like a crazed ex-spouse. I don’t think that criminals or the mentally ill should have guns.. but criminals get them anyway, even in places like California and DC. Feel free to disagree with me, but do it someplace else.)
Anyway, one side effect of California’s laws is that it is difficult, or impossible, to get a permit to legally carry a concealed weapon in California. Each individual county makes its own rules, and larger counties, like Santa Clara County, just flat-out won’t issue permits. (Unless you donate thousands of dollars to the sheriff’s re-election campaign. But I digress.)
However, Florida and Utah offer permits to non-residents. If you meet the legal requirements to obtain a Florida or Utah permit, you can then use that permit to legally carry a concealed weapon in the 38 or so states that have reciprocity agreements with Florida and/or Utah. That means that a Florida non-resident permit will allow the holder to legally carry in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington– all places I travel. Of course, in each state the permit holder still has to obey the laws of that state, which vary from place to place.
Florida and Utah both require a class that covers the legal and safety aspects of concealed carry. The interesting thing is that one can become certified as an instructor qualified to teach this class, then offer it out of state. I’d been trying (though not very hard) to find a convenient class in the Bay Area, but hadn’t managed to do so before I came out to Pensacola. After Christmas, I decided to resume my search and called around to a couple of local gun shops. I quickly got the word that I needed to talk to “Captain Ron.”
“Captain Ron” is actually Ron Beermünder, who runs the Blackwater River Tactical Range. His web site contains a wealth of information on Florida’s CCW law, as well as information about the classes he teaches. I opted for the 4-hour course; for $180, you get the legal instruction that Florida requires plus the chance to shoot 300 rounds of various-caliber pistol ammunition while being coached by an expert instructor. What’s not to like? I signed up, and this past week drove out to Ron’s range to take the class.
The class itself was excellent. Ron is an engaging and funny man, with a sharp sense of humor and a large chest of war stories. We spent about 90 minutes on the legal overview; simply put, in Florida the law is that a CCW permit holder is essentially held to the same standard as a police officer when it comes to use of force. If a police officer would be justified in using deadly force to prevent or stop a crime, so too would a CCW holder, but neither a citizen nor a cop is allowed to use unreasonable or excessive force. That strikes me as a reasonable standard, and it’s easy to keep in mind. Other details we covered include what Florida law says about where you may and may not carry, under what conditions you may use deadly force, and the fact that just because the law says you can stand your ground in the face of a threat doesn’t mean you should.
The range portion was equally good. Ron had a wide variety of pistols; I shot Smith and Wesson revolvers in .22 and .22 Magnum and Glock pistols in 9mm (including the Glock 26, which is what I’d normally be carrying.) We did timed-fire drills, and I learned a great deal about trigger manipulation and indexing. My accuracy and speed both improved quite a bit during our time on the range, and I’m looking forward to getting some more practice when my schedule allows. If nothing else, I learned that the Glock has a reset trigger and how to properly use it; that tip alone made a huge difference in my second-shot accuracy.
The actual mechanics of getting the permit are straightforward if you qualify: once you’ve completed the class, you need to provide the state proof that you completed it, a registration fee, and fingerprints. You can do this via mail, but it takes up to 3 months to get your permit back. Ron suggested driving to the nearest regional office of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and applying in person. (Yes, I did say “Agriculture.”) Thus I found myself driving to Fort Walton Beach in search of the nearest office; there are only 8 throughout the entire state. I had previously made an appointment, and when the appointment time arrived I filled out an on-screen form, gave the clerk a copy of my certificate from Ron’s school, had my fingerprints scanned, wrote a check for $117, and had my application notarized. 20 minutes later, I was done; now all I have to do is wait for my permit to arrive in the mail! (I should note that I have never dealt with state government employees as pleasant, efficient, or helpful as the folks at the FWB licensing office. I wish they could export their attitude to the California DMV!) Once my permit arrives, it will be valid for seven years from the date of issuance.
This is all of course rendered moot by the fact that a) I work on a military base where no one is allowed to have personal weapons and b) all my pistols are in California, not to mention that c) I can’t legally carry in California anyway. If nothing else, I’m glad to have contributed to the numbers of law-abiding CCW permit holders. There are more of us out there than you think.