As I searched for a seat in the crowded hotel meeting room, I looked around at the other students enrolled in the mandatory course. I passed a businessman muttering into his Bluetooth, a stooped Native American man walking with a beautifully carved cane, a mother fiddling with a keychain made by one of her children, a high school-aged couple whispering to each other and settled into a seat next to a woman with stickers of birds on her phone case. The assortment of people gathered was similar to the hodgepodge of strangers found on commuter trains and, despite what I thought were disqualifying political buttons on my backpack, I blended into the class. This should not have been surprising. With over 700,000 Utah concealed carry permits currently valid, it is reasonable students attending the required course to apply for a permit would range in age, gender, race and even political beliefs. Four hours later, after listening to stories of missing testicles and a few snide comments about California, I was fingerprinted, photographed and told to expect my concealed carry permit in the next 45 to 60 days. My concealed carry permit, officially issued on the one-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting, allows me to conceal carry almost anywhere in the state of Utah and in 36 other states around the nation. One minor detail — I have never held a gun before.
Utah has the best or worst concealed carry laws in the nation depending on who you ask. Many gun rights advocates will laud the accessibility and universality of the Utah permit, deeming it the “gold standard” for permits. In fact, the Utah permit is so desirable that more than half of all permits currently valid were issued to non-residents who live in a state where their state-specific concealed carry permit is difficult to obtain, but the Utah permit is honored. The availability of Utah concealed carry permits can put potential holders and those around them at risk. However, anyone who has not received any firearms training will likely be unsuccessful defending themselves or others against an attacker.
Accuracy with a firearm is dependent on training and practice, and in chaotic self-defense conditions, accuracy decreases exponentially. Even those with extensive training have limited accuracy off of the shooting range. A study showed officers from the New York Police Department, the nation’s largest, and one of the best-trained, police force, had an average hit rate of 18 percent during gunfights from 1998 to 2006. When people without any firearms experience are placed in a simulated active shooter environment, they perform poorly, often forgetting to take cover, accidentally shooting innocent bystanders and not shooting armed assailants until they are already under fire. While concealed carry permit holders are less likely to commit a crime than almost any other population, allowing untrained citizens to carry is still dangerous to a community.
“Why are you here?” The question just slipped out as I spoke to the woman next to me. My tone was not judgmental or curious. Instead, the words were urgent, I needed to know. She paused and then quietly told me that, as an ornithologist, she is often alone in remote places, studying birds making her vulnerable to physical attack — something many of her female colleagues have sadly experienced. While shooting with her brother, she realized she could confidently continue her research if she started carrying. Unlike me, this woman was familiar with guns, having even trained with a self-defense instructor. In her training, she has gained some experience shooting under pressure and where she planned on carrying, she would likely put no one except a potential attacker in harm’s way if she ever had to utilize her gun. As she spoke, I understood her need and respected the additional steps she took to truly be prepared to defend herself.
Self-defense is the most common reason for an American to own a gun. Yet, only 61 percent of gun owners have received any formal firearm training. Such a statistic which would be unheard of for car owners as we demand training and testing prior to issuing a driving license. While guns and vehicles are fundamentally different, there is a common argument that both guns and cars are tools which can be dangerous if mishandled. Therefore, it is logical to require similar training for concealed carry permit holders as drivers. Utah must redefine what a gold standard for concealed carry permits means — better protecting potential concealed carry holders and other Americans by requiring permit applicants to attend formal self-defense training and demonstrate their ability to utilize their firearm defensively.