- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2018

People are surging to sign up for training to carry concealed weapons in the wake of the Parkland school shooting, as experts say sustained media coverage and calls for more gun control encourage people to look for ways to protect themselves.

Gun sales also appear to be on the rise, based on federal background checks.

The National Carry Academy in Minnesota says the number of people in its concealed carry courses has increased more than 200 percent since the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The company said it was the biggest jump since the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

“It’s kind of unprecedented, at least in our experience,” said Chris Schutrop, the company’s CEO and co-founder. “We’re seeing just a lot of interest and a lot of people taking the class — more than we’ve really ever seen before — even more than previous mass shootings that have happened or election cycles and stuff like that.”

Tim Schmidt, president and founder of the U.S. Concealed Carry Association, said February was one of the biggest months — if not the biggest — in the group’s history for membership numbers and interest in its classes.

He estimated that new memberships have increased by more than 50 percent year over year amid sustained attention on guns following the massacre at Stoneman Douglas that claimed the lives of 17 people.

“I think that the massive news coverage of events like that gets people to realize, at least admit to maybe their own vulnerabilities,” Mr. Schmidt said. “And therefore, they want to be able to at least have a chance of protecting themselves, and so that’s why a lot of them will start down that path of learning more.”

Interest in carrying concealed weapons has increased steadily over the past decade as lower courts carry out a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Second Amendment right to bear arms protects individuals’ rights to protect themselves.

Courts have pushed states to cut restrictions on who can hold concealed-carry permits, striking down many of the country’s most restrictive regulations.

But the interest has been particularly acute since the Parkland massacre.

Matthew Maruster, the lead firearms instructor at Zenith Defense in Ohio, said he is seeing about four times his typical web traffic and probably twice as much compared with the aftermath of other high-profile shootings.

He said the interest from people who have little to no experience with guns is a ratio of 3-to-1.

“Just personally from what I see — and I speak to a lot of anti-gun people and pro-gun people — I see a lot more people kind of coming to the realization that, ‘Hey, I need to be able to have a firearm because I have to be the person who’s going to protect my family,’” he said.

Mr. Maruster said Parkland may stand out in many Americans’ minds because an armed sheriff’s deputy was at the school but did not enter as shots were fired.

“They see the vulnerability of putting all their trust in the police to protect them,” he said. “They see it as, ‘Oh, I can’t believe this happened and there were police officers there that didn’t act appropriately.’”

Ohio is one of about 30 “shall issue” states, meaning that local authorities generally have to issue a concealed weapon permit to any resident who completes the necessary training and isn’t otherwise prohibited because of criminal behavior or mental health issues.

The requirements to obtain a permit vary by state. Mr. Maruster said people in Ohio must go through eight hours of training, including two hours involving live fire on a range, before they can apply for a concealed weapon permit through local law enforcement offices.

Thirty-eight states generally require permits to carry concealed weapons in public, and 12 allow concealed carry without permits, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

A handful of “may issue” states require each applicant to provide a reason beyond mere self-defense as to why they feel they need to have a permit, such as those who work in particularly high-crime areas.

Gun control groups did not respond to questions about the spike in interest in concealed carry but have warned that gun rights activists are trying to push legislation to expand concealed carry rights amid what had been a slumping firearms market since the November 2016 elections.

They say concealed carry reciprocity legislation recognizing state-issued permits nationwide would effectively nullify the “good cause” requirements for permits that have been passed in blue states such as California and New York.

Courts generally have upheld those state restrictions, though a federal appeals panel last year ruled against a District of Columbia requirement that gun owners provide a “good reason” to be able to carry a concealed handgun.

Mr. Maruster said there is room for legitimate debate on the issue and that gun rights advocates shouldn’t necessarily embrace a sweeping solution from the federal government.

“You’re giving a lot of power to the federal government to say this is what we’re going to accept hopefully across all the states,” he said. “So what if they kind of water it down and say, ‘Well, if we’re going to do that, now we have to get on the same page as far as what’s the training requirement’?”

He said, for example, that a uniform training hour requirement that is too high could make permits time-prohibitive.

“Nobody’s going to be able to take off work to go to a 16-hour class,” he said. “That’s one of the concerns. … There’s a lot of mixed ideas.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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