A row of men and one woman stood with guns raised to face paper silhouettes of a torso while their trainer counts off for them to shoot. The Arkansas Armory in Sherwood was holding one of its first shooting exams for the state's new enhanced concealed carry permit this month.
Applicants were aiming to hit an unmoving target 70 percent of the time, but they were also preparing for potentially more chaotic live scenarios as part of Arkansas’s new enhanced concealed carry license. It's for places like college campuses, the state capitol, restaurants, and churches. The license requires a shooting test and eight hours of training that includes, among other topics, what to do and not do in the event of an active shooter.
State Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) pushed for Act 562 of 2017, now a law that opens college campuses and other previously unsanctioned areas to gun carriers who obtain enhanced concealed carry permits. He says having more armed civilians in sensitive spaces will deter would-be mass shooters from trying.
“You have the potential for one of these enhanced concealed carry holders to literally be on scene and to be able to draw a weapon and shoot back, which, best case, would kill and end the shooting but, worst case, might enable the concealed carry to protect some people in a classroom in a particular building or a particular location,” said Collins.
But concealed carry trainers like Nathan House at the Arkansas Armory in Sherwood teach aspiring licensees to flee, to look for windows and help others escape as a first step, barricade themselves second, and defend themselves third.
In front of a Sunday class at the armory, he asks, “What are the courses of action that we can do? We can avoid the situation, you know, we can avoid the shooter. Get other people in your area and get out of the structure.”
He says if they can’t get away, to barricade a door, and then to defend.
House: “So when are you justified in using physical force?”
Student: “To defend yourself.”
House: “From what?”
Student: “Bodily harm or death.”
While the state police say the license doesn’t prepare someone to take on an active shooter, its mandatory class teaches students to use whatever means available as a last resort. It also coaches them on how to avoid being mistaken by the police as the assailant.
Many students agree that if they were in a mass shooting, they would run away. Clint Murchison is a 45 year old who carries for self-defense. He says he would fire his gun as a last resort.
“I’m not going to go running down the hall, I guess to engage, when I could get away from it.”
Katrina Allen says she trains on the shooting range regularly. She, too, would flee, but she’s prepared herself for another possibility.
“When I decided to start carrying, I understand that I have a responsibility. More than just protecting myself, if I ever do find myself in an active shooter situation, I do realize that I will take on the responsibility of protecting whoever is around me,” she said.
Seth Mikkelsen is a 26 year old who says he would defend first.
“The point of carrying and having a weapon available is, you know, to use it.”
But, to some experts, eight hours of training may not be enough for that to be a good idea.
Cassandra Crifasi is a professor at the Center for Gun and Policy Research at Johns Hopkins University. She says, physiologically, everything changes in a live situation, and there’s a big risk of hitting the wrong person.
“The range or outdoors, you’re usually in very controlled settings versus being in a situation where there’s lots of noise,” she said. "There are innocent bystanders standing around.”
She says repeated trainings with live targets and real-life obstacles are needed to learn to take on an active shooter. And she says guns on campus are more likely to be used in suicides or interpersonal conflicts than stopping a mass shooting.
For Collins, eight hours of training is an affordable and realistic solution.
“The debate can go on and on and on and on and on about what does it take to be right enough, trained enough, competent enough, et cetera...”
As the debate goes on, House tells his students that the best thing they can do is keep practicing their aim.
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