The gun club
The state of Nevada makes it very easy to carry a concealed weapon. But is that a good or a bad thing?
Let me tell you a secret about myself that neither my closest friends nor relatives know about me. Some who know me more by my family, gardening and journalistic interests may find it shocking.
I am licensed to carry a concealed handgun in 31 states, including Nevada.
I’ve got a little Glock 23, a .40 caliber semi-automatic. For home defense—not target practice—I use a special-order brand of hollow points (RBCD Performance Plus) that are reputed to leave a 10-inch-diameter exit wound. I can hit a matchbook from seven yards—most of the time. Wrap your head about those two facts—a target the size of a matchbook and a 10-inch exit wound—any body part I hit will never function again.
Random thought No. 1: There has been a push in this country to disarm citizens. Politicians, generally liberal types, who came up with concepts of “gun control,” appeared very effective in getting other liberals to get rid of their handguns. Criminals, civil libertarians and conservatives didn’t buy in. Since when did liberals decide the Bill of Rights wasn’t for them?
Let me add one more detail to the mix: I do not consider myself a gun nut.
I don’t like guns. I’ve never read one of those fancy gun magazines. I’m not a member of the National Rifle Association (Although I have an NRA sticker right next to my ACLU bumper sticker—"Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself"—on my car.) In fact, the vast weight of my experience with firearms came before I was 18, while growing up in Nebraska, shooting quail and pheasant. Like Harry Whittington, I was once shot by an authority figure while hunting quail (no pellets broke the skin). No, that’s neither here nor there; I just think it’s funny that my dad and Dick Cheney have something in common.
“So, who gives a damn?” you ask. “Burghart’s a gun nut. Shouldn’t be surprised.”
Well, it’s like this. I’m only one of more than 5,000 people who can legally carry concealed guns in Washoe County. That’s a big club, and I thought people might find the topic interesting. For myself, I had to answer this question: It’s an uncertain world; if the shit did hit the fan, would I rather be armed or unarmed?
Random thought No. 2: The Brady Law went into effect on Feb. 28, 1994, requiring federally-licensed firearm dealers to check with law enforcement before selling a firearm. Many NRA types saw this as the beginning of the end of the Second Amendment. Since 1994, the Brady Law has stopped more than 600,000 criminals and other prohibited people from purchasing firearms from federally-licensed firearm dealers. I’m not so gullible as to believe that the statistic means they didn’t get guns.
There are only a few steps for those who want a license to carry a concealed weapon in Nevada. You buy or borrow a gun. You take a class and pass a written and a shooting test. You apply at the Washoe County Sheriff’s office.
Since Nevada turned to a shall-issue state in 1996, it’s difficult to get turned down for a CCW permit. “Shall-issue” simply means the government is obligated to issue you a concealed-weapon permit as long you don’t fit certain criteria. Here’s the extremely condensed rundown of deal-breakers: You can’t be younger than 21, and you can’t, in the last few years, have any felonies, drug or alcohol convictions, be certified crazy, be suspected of or have committed domestic violence or lie on your applications.
Happiness is a warm gun
I have this friend, an ex-cop, who’s far more knowledgeable about guns than I. When I decided to get a piece (with the intention of getting a concealed-weapon permit to go along with it), I called him.
“If I want to get a CCW, what kind of gun should I buy?”
He didn’t hesitate. “No doubt. You want a Glock 23.”
“Thirty-seven parts including the magazine. You can hide it anywhere. I’m a Glock armorer. Plus, I think the FBI has started using them as standard issue sidearms, and that should tell you something.”
Random thought No. 3: Prior to 1994, when the Brady Law went into effect, there were 16 right-to-carry states. Since 1994, 24 states have liberalized their concealed-weapon laws. One state, Florida, issued 51,136 new concealed-weapon permits from July 1, 2005-May 31, 2006. Florida has 519,293 licensees. While gun nuts were screaming that America was being disarmed, in reality, Americans just quit leaving their guns at home.
That was all the endorsement I required, and after I discussed the idea with my honey (who at one time was very much against the idea of having a gun in the house), I called the gun shops around town and asked for prices. Several said their supplier was out of the 23. Several quoted prices of more than $550. I finally found a place, Bizarre Guns, 2677 Oddie Blvd., that would sell me one for $495 and had them in stock. I later discovered that Sportsman’s Warehouse, 3306 Kietzke Lane, carried them for the same price.
Guys never do anything by themselves—go to the doctor, maybe. Dave Foto and I headed over to Bizarre Guns to do some gun shopping on our lunch hour.
Random thought No. 4: Nevada law says guns may be fired a mile outside of congested areas. There are no indoor shooting ranges in Reno or Sparks, so most people practice in the foothills around town. Two things I noticed: Most people don’t pick up after themselves, and the “congested area” signs don’t appear to keep up with sprawl.
The place is small, dimly lit, and deeper than it is wide. We walked in the door. The owner, a broad, rural-looking guy with a neatly trimmed white beard, flannel over T-shirt and piercing blue eyes under a ball cap, was at his perch at the far end of the room, behind the cash register and in front of a large gun safe. I began asking questions because I was looking for a different perspective. A couple other weapons had come up as good concealed carry weapons—1911s, Walthers and various 9mms.
“You guys are from Nevada, aren’t you? Because if you want to buy a gun, you have to be from Nevada. You can’t buy for someone else.”
“I’m from here,” I said.
“You from Nevada?” he asks Dave.
“I’m not buying a gun.” Not like Foto to answer a simple question.
I continued to talk to the guy, and Dave called a friend with his cell phone, a guy who knows guns, to ask him his advice for what gun I should buy. That was the last straw for the good proprietor. He’d been getting more irritated by the second.
“You guys get out of here. I’m not going to sell you any guns. … Won’t say where you’re from, calling somebody, talking about what guns they want. I’d have to be crazy.”
I was steaming and embarrassed as we walked to my car.
“But, but, I was just calling …”
“Who asked you to? Damn, you probably cost me $50.”
After lunch, I called the shop owner back and explained to him that I wasn’t some fly-by-night character.
“Oh, I’ll sell you a gun. It was that other guy. He was too sketchy.”
When I returned to Bizarre Guns, there were two guys shopping. One was 17, as he disclosed when he asked if he could buy one of the brutal-looking knives in one of the glass cases. His partner was trying to figure out why he got turned down for a gun, but he wasn’t telling the owner enough information to assess why he really was turned down.
“Oh, I’ve got court coming up in a couple of weeks.”
The background check, the Brady Law “death of the Second Amendment,” took all of 15 seconds once the proprietor had the correct state official on the phone.
I bought a few boxes of bullets, a fancy black molded-plastic holster and some targets, and with the gun in its handy storage box on the passenger seat, I was firing on all cylinders—not to mix metaphors or anything.
Have Gun—Will Travel
As I left Bizarre Guns, I picked up a flier for a concealed-weapon class offered by Robert L. Fugate USN Ret., 972-3828, an NRA-certified instructor. It was going to cost $70 for an eight-hour class for the permit, which is good for five years (in-state).
Random thought No. 5: Seems logical that counties would pass along statistical data related to CCWs to the state, which would in turn, pass it to the federal government, so that we would know how many people are carrying concealed weapons. Guess what? They don’t.
There’s an informational one-stop shop at the Washoe County Sheriff Web site, www.washoesheriff.com/records-CCW-concealed-weapons.htm, where pdf documents may be downloaded, including a list of licensed firearm instructors and the CCW application. The site also lists the fees ($105 initial application, $70 renewal, $15 duplicate permit). If memory serves, the additional fingerprint cards for filing in other states are $10. I also filed in Florida, which is why I’m able to carry in 31 states, instead of just the 14 that accept a Nevada permit.
Random thought No. 6: The Glock 23 has a 4.02-inch barrel. I’m not compensating.
Fugate hosts the class in his home on Sundays. I convinced my friend the ex-cop to take the class with me. We showed up at Fugate’s Stead home promptly at 8 a.m. There were two other guys also taking the class. One was a cowboy-looking type, the other, an apparent security guard who was getting a CCW renewal. Fugate, 61, sat us on some folding chairs, passed around three-ring notebooks and lectured from behind a table covered in visual aids—everything from concealed knife setups (a belt-clip that automatically opens on draw) to fanny-pack concealed carry holsters to various sizes and types of weapons. He recommended Militec-1, www.militec-1.com, for cleaning and lubrication.
He’s an ex-military man with glasses, a dry sense of humor and quick smile who’s a bit reminiscent of Hank Hill on King of the Hill. While Fugate was basically teaching to the test, which is available (not the answers) at www.gmj.com/nevada.php, he also had a lot of “wisdom” to offer. For example, most defensive shootings occur within 7 feet with the gun just clearing the holster, so the correct practice shooting should be done in this fashion; the law-enforcement double-handed grip does not provide the smallest target to an attacker; and the bad guys use children for target practice in New York City (I wasn’t quite sure if he was kidding about this last one). “Lock the phone box on the outside of your house,” he says. “Lock your fuse box. A criminal goes to the fuse box, turns off the power, and he knows if no one comes out to check, there’s nobody home.”
Fugate’s also a great one for anecdotes, recalling a graffiti sprayer who pulled a gun on someone who had the temerity to complain.
“There’s some wackos out there,” he says in his soft Southern cadence, chopping some syllables and elongating vowels. “People are getting mad about graffiti these days, but if you say something, you never know when the little thug is going to have a gun.”
The 28-year military man, who was in hostage rescue in the Navy, says there are two primary reasons for getting a concealed weapon permit: self-defense and education. He’s been teaching the class for more than 10 years.
Random thought No. 7: You’ll find almost any information you need regarding CCWs on www.packing.org.
“People have got to be able to depend on themselves,” he says, noting that police are very busy these days. “There was that guy who shot those guys who were stealing gas. But they were leaving. If he’d taken a class, he’d have known better than that. You don’t do that. Some people buy a gun and don’t get any education, and they’re more dangerous than the criminals.”
After the lecture was over, we took the written test. I missed one poorly worded question. Later, at home, my girlfriend, who’s never owned a gun in her life and didn’t take the class, missed two. My 8-year-old son, who’s never even held a gun, only missed one before he got bored and wandered off.
The shooting test was also pretty easy. We shot at one of those man-torso targets from 3, 5 and 7 yards. I was nervous and had my steadying hand too high over my holding hand. Anyone who’s shot a Glock can guess what happened: two bloody grooves on my knuckle. After that, I took Fugate’s advice and learned to shoot one-handed.
My pattern was good, though, all within 4 inches or so. That cowboy, who shot a .44 mag hogleg, made one hole with the first shot and then put the rest through the same hole. My buddy squeezed them off as fast as he could, and while he passed easily, he almost wound up with a concealed weapon permit for a shotgun.
The concealed weapon permit application can be completed in the records division at 911 Parr Boulevard. I’ve got two pieces of advice: Be there at 8 a.m. because it’s first-come, first-served, and bring a book because it’s usually about a two-hour wait. Assuming you haven’t been busted drunk or violent in the last couple of years, you’re going to get your permit.
I was sitting in those god-awful chairs when the apparent conflict occurred to me: Why in the world would police want to issue permits to a bunch of gun nuts like myself and those sitting around me to carry deadly-force weapons on their bodies for use at a moment’s notice? I mean, not to be droll, but the last time I saw the words “concealed weapon permit” in the news, they were near the words “revoked” and “Darren Mack.”
Washoe County Deputy Sheriff Michelle Youngs was kind enough to explain it to me.
“Our view is that that’s what the law says, so we follow that,” the long-time spokesperson for the Sheriff’s office said. “We’re the agency that issues for Washoe County, and unless the law changes from a ‘shall-issue’ to a ‘may issue’ or puts any kind of other provisions in there, we’re going to follow the law the way it is.”
Youngs said she believes that most people who live in Washoe County know about the liberal concealed weapons laws, and the main people who express surprise are new imports from California. She also said it’s impossible to gauge whether having more people on the street who could potentially be carrying guns decreases crime in general.
“That would be hard to measure. The answer is, we don’t know.”
Youngs said the biggest increase in CCW permits came around the time of Sept. 11, but the data she provided suggested a new spike: 2005 was an increase of 34 percent over 2004, and if 2006 continues on its trend, the number of CCWs issued could potentially double over 2004 (see chart, this page).
Random thought No. 8: David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and author of Private Guns Public Health, found no decrease in crime because of shall-issue gun laws—indeed, some studies cited showed an increase in firearm homicides. “Unfortunately, changes in many state laws have been based on so-called scientific claims that shall-issue laws would reduce crime and violence,” he wrote.
But Mack, accused of shooting a district judge and killing his estranged wife, was an exception to the rule, she said, and CCW holders are, by and large, a law-abiding group. “The majority of the time we take a weapon off somebody, they don’t have a permit for it. They are someone who’s arrested for a crime, and if they have a weapon, they don’t have one legally.”
I told Youngs my secret—that I’d received a permit to carry a concealed weapon. She was hardly shocked, although she was a little curious as to whether I actually carry a concealed weapon. I guess to disclose whether I do here would be the literary equivalent of brandishing.
Random thought No. 9: In an interview with his publisher, John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws, said, “States with the largest increases in gun ownership also have the largest drops in violent crimes.”
I’m not the first person to ask questions about bearing arms, and like many laws in this nation, gun laws are likely to heave and yaw between philosophies until the country is no more.
“It’s an issue that’s been debated across the country for many, many years,” Youngs said. “It’ll continue to be. We have our concerns on both sides. It’s a Constitutional right, but on the other hand, it’s a very dangerous weapon. It’s a balance between the two.”