On the night of the Newtown school shooting I went on Ralston Reports to talk about gun violence prevention and a bill proposed by Assemblywoman Michele Fiore that would allow concealed weapon permit holders to carry guns onto college campuses.
Fiore was also on the program and during the show she asked me if I had ever shot a gun (I had not) and if I would be willing to go through a gun-training course with her (I said I would). We exchanged cards after the show and a few weeks later the Assemblywoman actually followed through on the offer and gave me a call asking if I could attend a shooting course in late January. I’ll admit I had not been expecting that to happen, but I kept to my word and we scheduled the class.
Flash forward to January 25 and I’m driving through the desert in the early morning dim heading to Front Sight shooting range. The facility is located in Nye County, but just barely. About half a mile past the “Now entering Nye County” sign is the front gate. Later in the weekend I learned that at one time Front Site wanted to turn their land into a master planned residential community for gun owners (much like the one in Idaho that’s getting attention now). The plans are on hold for now, but Front Site still holds out hope. They’re looking to push a bill in the Legislature this year that would allow counties and cities to provide their own tax incentive packages for private companies. Presumably the idea would be to get Nye County or Pahrump to one day cut them a deal to develop their gun-based community.
I met Assemblywoman Fiore as well as Democratic consultant Ronni Council in the parking lot and we were on our way. The first thing we did even before stepping into the classroom or receiving any kind of safety instruction was pick up our rental gun and ammo and strap them to our waist.
I’ve never held a gun before. Other than police officers, I’ve never been around so many people carrying guns. This reality, paired with the knowledge that many of the people around me had also never fired a gun, instantly induced a feeling of anxiety and unease that would continue at different levels throughout the weekend.
There were over 100 people seated in the large classroom where we started our day, though some were there for the shotgun course or the Uzi course. My handgun safety class had about 40 people. When asked who was there from California about half the room raised their hand. The instructor noted that you’re not able to own or shoot a submachine gun in California and “that’s criminal.”
From the classroom we moved out onto the range and began our hands on training. Instructors would demonstrate and we would replicate how to stand when firing the gun, how to take the gun in and out of the holster, how to make sure the gun was unloaded, how to reload, how to aim, and how to deal with malfunctions. We fired about 200 bullets each during the two-day class, all aimed at human sized paper targets.
Safety procedures were always reinforced, with every drill beginning and ending with a check to make sure the gun was unloaded. A buddy system was also employed in which another trainee would stand over your shoulder and watch to make sure you always unloaded the gun and never accidentally pointed the gun at someone else.
This emphasis on safety during the class was a point of pride with Fiore and I think one of the two main reasons she wanted me to go through it (the other being to fire a gun). But for all of the practice and repetition of safety procedures I cannot say I came away feeling safer around guns or better about our gun laws.
In the final session of the class, after more than 18 hours of learning about our handguns and practicing safety procedures, two separate people forgot their safety training and their gun fired a bullet when it was not supposed to. They were pointing down range at the time so no one was hurt, but that’s not the point. This was supposed to be the time during class when people would have the most practice safely handling a gun and they still fired bullets unintentionally.
What scared me even more was an incident in which I forgot the safety procedures myself. During one of the drills I was having a problem removing the magazine from the gun. Suddenly everyone around me started giving advice, even reaching over and handling my gun themselves, and it became a hectic situation. In the commotion I forgot to unload my gun at the end of the drill. Luckily, one of the instructors saw my mistake, came over, and unloaded my gun.
This slip-up really shook me. Because of my unease with the whole situation of being around guns I had tried to make sure I wouldn’t be the one to make a mistake. I always paid close attention to the instructors and went through the safety procedures at a measured pace to insure I did them correctly. But here I was being the person that forgot to unload their gun after a drill.
Both of these incidents broke my sense of trust in both my fellow trainees and myself. Regardless of how many times we walked through the safety procedures accidents still happened. And if accidents happened in this controlled environment where safety was constantly top-of-mind, it’s easy to see why accidents are common outside the walls of training facilities.
In the end it was my thoughts about guns and trust that evolved most during the class. Overall, I came away feeling more concerned about our gun laws than I had been before I went through the training course. This probably sounds counterintuitive to some, particularly to those who already hold pro-gun views, so let me explain.
The training I went through was great and I’m glad that something like it exists and that some people take advantage of it. However, to buy and keep a gun in Nevada there are no requirements to complete a safety-training course of any kind…ever.
Now compare this to what we require of people who want to operate a car. To drive a car someone must attend a drivers training course in which they go through hours of classroom instruction and actually drive around with a licensed teacher. Then there is a test that must be passed to insure the potential driver knows the laws and safety procedures. A driver must then obtain a license from the state and renew that license at mandated intervals, including passing a vision test at renewal. Finally, the driver must register their vehicle with the state every year and prove that insurance has been purchased to cover the costs of damages that may be caused by the driver while operating the vehicle.
That is what we require of those who wish to drive a car. People seem to generally agree on this procedure as I don’t see anyone outside DMV’s picketing saying it’s unfair.
Additionally, I can’t even say I have lasting trust in the people who completed the training course, not only because of the story above where at the theoretical time of greatest safety bullets were fired accidentally, but because if one does not continue to train then one loses those learned skills, and I have no way of knowing if my fellow classmates will ever train again.
At one point during the training an instructor talked about the “50 percent rule,” which he described as the idea that during an actual gun fight on the street the intense nature of the action and the resulting adrenaline generally causes someone to perform at 50 percent of the performance level they were at during their last training session. Later, another instructor made the analogy of asking what happens to a golfer who doesn’t swing a club for six months – they get rusty.
The 50 percent rule implies that even someone who is shooting at 100 percent of their ability is going to perform at a failing grade level in a real shootout. And with no requirements to ever have to train with a gun at regular intervals there are bound to be a lot of rusty gunslingers out there.
Even though I now feel more concerned about our gun laws (and honestly, a bit less safe overall), I’m glad that I did it and I thank Assemblywoman Fiore for giving me the opportunity for the experience. I learned that there are people out there who genuinely want to be safe with their guns and who take the initiative to increase their skill level.
It’s not as much them that I’m worried about – it’s everyone else.
How many guns are purchased where the owner never goes through any training? How many guns are purchased where the owner does go through a training course at the time, but then thinks they’re set for life and never return?
After the training I spoke with one of the directors of Front Sight and told him my concerns. He actually agreed and responded “You know how there is drivers ed? We think there should be gun ed.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Finally, let me address why I attended this class while the week prior I had asked legislators to not attend an NRA lobbyist event.
I encourage lawmakers to gather information about topics they’re going to be legislating on. At no time did I ever say that I was asking legislators to not attend the NRA lobbyist event because I didn’t want them to get information about guns. At issue was the closed-door nature of the event and the organization that was hosting it.
NRA lobbyists were asking all 63 of our legislators to attend a three-hour closed-door (no media, no public) meeting with them less than three weeks from the start of the legislative session. That alone was cause for concern. Hell, if they had gotten enough of them to attend it could have been a violation of open meeting laws.
Furthermore, I don’t believe anyone was/is unclear about what the NRA’s leadership was/is proposing as their solution to the Newtown massacre: more guns, including high powered rifles, everywhere, at all times. NRA leadership solidified this position in their numerous national media appearances since Newtown.
If Assemblywoman Fiore had invited legislators to go through a training course with herself I would not have objected. But when NRA lobbyists ask for three-hours of closed-door time with every single one of our legislators less than three weeks before the legislative session, yes, I’m going to speak up.
Brian Fadie is the Executive Director at ProgressNow Nevada. Connect with him on Twitter @bfades.