Say you live in San Francisco, and you want to carry a gun around. First you have to have a gun, which isn't the easiest thing in the world, since the city's only firearm store closed last November; one way to go about it, if you don't want to travel far, is to wait for the next gun show to roll around at the Cow Palace, an old livestock pavilion and sports arena just over the San Mateo County line.
It's here that the Crossroads of the West events periodically appear; one draw is the carrying a concealed weapon (CCW) class taught by W. Clark Aposhian, a concealed firearms instructor certified by Utah's Bureau of Criminal Identification. Aposhian's company, FairWarning Training, specializes in teaching firearms safety and tactical skills. Earlier this month, I attended one of these courses, which cost $149 for a two-hour session that certifies you for CCW permits in both Utah and Arizona. (The permits themselves cost $51 and $60, respectively.)
Utah's permit is recognized in 34 states, and Arizona's gives you two more, meaning that with the exception of Wisconsin, Illinois, and a few states on either coast, your two new permits will let you carry a loaded gun concealed on your person nearly everywhere you go—but not in California.
Despite an ongoing federal lawsuit claiming that the CCW rules imposed by many urban areas in California are too restrictive, San Francisco has remained resolutely anti-concealed carry—in 2014, fewer than ten people had permits, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
California doesn't recognize CCW permits from other states, including Utah. So, wait, what's the point of this class for Californians again? Well, if you live in San Francisco, and you want to carry a gun, you might have to leave the state.
Aposhian told me that a fair number of his students are "collectors, by which I mean collectors of permits. They feel a little safer having it in their wallet in case they get that call to go to a wedding or a funeral or something out of state, and these permits—Arizona and Utah—offer them the greatest likelihood they'll be OK to carry," because so many states honor those permits.
My fellow student Jonathan*, a 61-year-old engineer with the air of a college professor, told me that "a friend of mine inspired me to pursue learning how to use a gun" and that he'd "put in a huge effort over the last ninety days, going to the gun range twice a week," practicing until he felt safe and proficient handling firearms.
"If you're going to own a gun, you need to know how to use it; it gives you a feeling of safety to have it around, but that's an illusion unless you know what you're doing," he said. "I've spent sixty-one years not having to use a gun, and I assume that's not going to change now that I have one in the house." Jonathan was taking the class because each credential he picked up made him feel more prepared, albeit "for some imagined scenario I'll probably never encounter."
The first hour of the class—which is all one needed for Arizona's permit, the one that unlocked access to concealed carry in Nevada—covered basic gun safety. All the people in the room had been tested on this material for their Firearms Safety Certificate, which California requires for purchasing most guns. No one took notes, since this was routine stuff; at one point, Aposhian emphasized that you shouldn't "ever, ever point a gun at something you don't want to put a hole in, and that includes your toes or your own hand."
Richard*, a tall, bulky, former law enforcement officer in his 50s, said he was taking the course because his work in executive protection services required him to cross into neighboring states, and he wouldn't be able to take more lucrative jobs until he could carry concealed weapons, particularly in Nevada. "Movie stars, production people, directors: When they're scouting locations or just walking around between shoots, they want a little protection, especially in colorful areas."
Richard was also planning on getting a California CCW permit, "which might cost upward of $400 and requires range qualification for each weapon you want to carry, up to four." Requirements vary by county and are determined by either the sheriff or the chief of police. "Luckily, I'm in Woodside, under the direct purview of the sheriff's office." Most police chiefs, he said, weren't in the business of issuing permits at all.
Michele Lockwood, 68, of San Mateo, was straightforward about her reasons to obtain the permit. "I'm doing it mostly for street cred," she said. "My husband and I are on a shooting team out in Dublin at an indoor range," across the Bay in Alameda County, at a rod and gun club called Guns, Fishing, and Other Stuff. They also have business in Nevada: The Lockwoods own a gun safe company.
During the second hour, which qualified you for the mother of all CCW permits, the Utah one, and covered self-defense laws and use of force, the class livened up with questions about scenarios when it was safe or legal to pull or point your gun. Aposhian told me that six people in a class was a low number. He expects attendance to pick up with election season. "The more they see it looming that there might be a change in gun [laws], people buy guns," he said. They buy ammunition, and concealed carry classes start to heat up again."
I took home my fingerprint cards and Arizona application in case I want to send away for that, but I paid the $49 up front for Utah's permit along with the fee for the class. In a week or so, a concealed carry permit good for the next five years in 34 states will arrive in my PO box, bearing my name and photo. I can keep it in my wallet as a fairly menacing form of photo ID. I can rent a car and buy a holster and drive across country wearing my gun under my clothes, as long as I lock it in my trunk before I cross back into California. I probably won't be doing that. My own "imagined scenarios" involve me trying to get the gun out of its holster and being clocked by a crowbar in the meantime, and until I'm willing to put in the time to be a gunslinger, you and I are safer if I leave my gun locked up.
*Most of my classmates agreed to talk to me only on the condition that I not share their full names.
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