Earlier this spring, there was a minor controversy in North Carolina when a concealed carry permit class instructor complained to a local television station that people were skirting North Carolina’s course requirement by getting a Virginia non-resident concealed handgun permit instead.
Although several states require their residents to obtain their home state permit even though they honor the Virginia non-resident permit – Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin – North Carolina is not among these.
So, in April 2015, Larry Wegman of FTA-Firearms, contacted a Raleigh area television station about people using the Virginia non-resident option. According to the WRAL story, in 122 North Carolina residents in 2012 received concealed carry permits from Virginia, followed by 373 in 2013, and 139 in 2014. Assuming none of these individuals also has a North Carolina concealed handgun permit, a total of 634 individuals have gotten around North Carolina’s more rigorous and more expensive process. Compared to nearly 600,000 North Carolina residents who have their NC resident permits.
What disturbed Wegman in particular was the ability to satisfy the requirements of the Virginia permit by taking an online class. According to Wegman, “Online is not training. It’s information. They don’t fire a shot, and they don’t learn anything about the law. North Carolina has a fairly high standard for concealed carry permit holders, and this bypasses that standard completely.”
Wegman’s complaint is not new. The Associated Press ran a story in September 2012 about how “Virginia’s online classes make it easy for out-of-state gun owners to get permits.”
Of course there was considerable backlash against Wegman in online forums, challenging his commitment to the Second Amendment and his greed. To be sure, for those in the gun culture who believe “the Constitution is my carry permit,” the very idea of a mandatory concealed carry class is offensive. Although training itself is widely embraced, the idea that any training should be required is anathema to the exercise of the right to keep and bear arms – just as there is no training required to exercise the right to vote.
And the story did quote another North Carolina instructor, John Neblett, who teaches the NC concealed carry course, but also conceded, “I’m not going to stand here and support state-mandated training understanding the right to carry.”
From this perspective, where classes are required, they should be minimally invasive. This spirit animates the Virginia concealed carry permit law – modeled as it is on Florida’s landmark law.
Virginia’s statute specifies that the circuit court “court shall require proof that the applicant has demonstrated competence with a handgun.” But the manner in which the applicant “may demonstrate such competence” is extremely broad. According to Sec. 18.2-308.02 of the Code of Virginia, the following means satisfy the requirement:
- Completing any hunter education or hunter safety course approved by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries or a similar agency of another state;
- Completing any National Rifle Association firearms safety or training course;
- Completing any firearms safety or training course or class available to the general public offered by a law-enforcement agency, junior college, college, or private or public institution or organization or firearms training school utilizing instructors certified by the National Rifle Association or the Department of Criminal Justice Services;
- Completing any law-enforcement firearms safety or training course or class offered for security guards, investigators, special deputies, or any division or subdivision of law enforcement or security enforcement;
- Presenting evidence of equivalent experience with a firearm through participation in organized shooting competition or current military service or proof of an honorable discharge from any branch of the armed services;
- Obtaining or previously having held a license to carry a firearm in the Commonwealth or a locality thereof, unless such license has been revoked for cause;
- Completing any firearms training or safety course or class, including an electronic, video, or online course, conducted by a state-certified or National Rifle Association-certified firearms instructor;
- Completing any governmental police agency firearms training course and qualifying to carry a firearm in the course of normal police duties; or
- Completing any other firearms training which the court deems adequate.
In contrast to states like Alaska, Illinois, and North Carolina, whose required courses must have a hands-on weapon handling component and specifically address when a firearm can be used in self-defense, Virginia allows applicants to demonstrate competence and receive a concealed carry permit without either.
To be sure, some of the demonstration methods included in the statute set a fairly high standard for competence in the safe handling of firearms. Of note is #5, which allows the applicant to submit evidence of “experience with a firearm through participation in organized shooting competition” or military service. Under #2, those who attend a National Rifle Association (NRA) “First Shots” course will certainly a hands-on education in the safe use of a firearm. Even more so, an applicant who takes an NRA Basics of Personal Protection Outside the Home (PPOTH) course – as I have – will learn “safe, effective and responsible use of a concealed pistol for self-defense outside the home,” including live fire on the range and coverage of legal concepts regarding the use of firearms for self-defense.
Of course, the NRA PPOTH course typically involves a 16 hour commitment over two days at a cost of $100 to $350 (depending on the instructor), not including ammunition or range fees. Which makes option #7 attractive: Virginia’s competence requirement can be fulfilled through an on-line course.
One such course is offered by The Carry Academy. A $49.99 fee gives you access to a 30 minute handgun safety video followed by “a quick and easy 20 question test.” Upon passing the test with a score of 75% or better, you can print out a certificate which satisfies the competence requirement for a Virginia concealed carry permit. If you are one of the 1% of test-takers who does not pass on your first attempt, you can repeat the test.
Another on-line option is Virginia Concealed. Unlike the Carry Academy, Virginia Concealed allows individuals to watch their 40 minute safety course and take their 11 question test without charge. Once the test is passed (8 of 11, or 73% correct), the customer has the opportunity to pay $79 to order the certificate necessary to apply for the Virginia concealed carry permit.
Among on-line options, the Concealed Carry Institute offers the least expensive course I have seen that satisfies Virginia’s requirement. $19.99 gives you access to a 65 minute video, a 20 question test, and a certificate of completion necessary to receive the Virginia concealed carry permit.
Unlike The Carry Academy’s and Virginia Carry’s videos, which can be skipped entirely, I was not able to take the Concealed Carry Institute’s test prior to playing the entire video in my web browser. This is not to say that one needs to watch the entire video, but it must be played through to the end.
In the 2012 AP story mentioned earlier, Andrew Goddard, president of the Virginia Center for Public Safety (a gun control lobby), said of the online training he took: “I swear it’s third-grade level, and I could have answered every one of the questions right without ever watching the video.”
The story does not say which online training Goddard took, but I can say definitively that his comment does not accurately describe the Concealed Carry Institute’s test. The test itself is not difficult for someone familiar with firearms, but it is not something that any reasonably intelligent person with no firearms experience – much less a third-grader – can pass without watching the course video.
On the first test I was given, 10 of the 20 questions were specifically about Virginia’s laws governing concealed carry. Some of these seemed trivial, like which court issues concealed handgun permits (answer: Circuit Court) and how many days the court has to issue a permit once an application is submitted (answer: 45). Others were significant, like whether other states recognize Virginia’s concealed handgun permit (answer: true) and whether on school property a permit holder may possess a handgun as long as the gun remains concealed in a vehicle (answer: true).
Six of the 20 questions covered gun safety issues. Again, some of these seemed less important, like what function a “firing pin block” performs on a handgun (answer: prevents the cartridge from being fired until the trigger is pulled). Others were extremely important, such as the proper sequence for determining whether a semi-automatic handgun is unloaded (answer: remove the magazine then lock the slide back). Using an incorrect sequence to unload a firearm is one of the most common causes of negligent discharges. If a person reverses the order of events and locks the slide back first then removes the magazine, a round can be inadvertently chambered, which can then be discharged to disastrous effect.
Four of the 20 questions covered principles of marksmanship, including one tricky question that asked whether a handgun shooter should let the gun surprise him when it fires (answer: true).
In fact, I did my first run-through of the Concealed Carry Institute’s exam with my 15-year-old son and he got each of the 7 questions just noted wrong — a failing score of 13/20 on the test.
A rising high school sophomore honor student, my son knows nothing about how guns function, principles of marksmanship, or Virginia’s particular gun laws. He has shot a Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic and a CZ bolt-action .22 rifles one time. He does, however, know how to take multiple choice exams by eliminating obviously incorrect answers and then making educated guesses. That he would have been unable to pass the Concealed Carry Institute’s test without taking the course first (i.e., watching the video), suggests that the test is not “quick and easy” as The Carry Academy advertises its test. And there were no throw-away questions like this one, which was one of the 11 questions on the Virginia Concealed certification class test:
How to avoid the two main causes of handgun related accidents; ignorance and carelessness:
A. Stay away from handguns.
B. Learn and use safe practices and techniques.
C. Make laws banning handguns.
Correct answer is “B,” by the way.
Even though the Concealed Carry Institute exam was more rigorous than these other two, not having watched the video I was still able to score 19/20 on the test. I missed only a question about the law in Virginia governing carrying concealed weapons at a place of worship while there is a gathering. I was able to print my Certificate of Completion on-line moments later.
If I have no other disqualifying conditions (e.g., not eligible to possess a firearm, subject to a protection order, illegal drug user) and send the Virginia State Police this certificate, a notarized application, $100, two passport style photos, a photo ID, and two completed FBI fingerprint cards with impressions obtained by a law enforcement agency, they shall issue me a Virginia non-resident concealed handgun permit.
This permit not only allows me to carry a concealed handgun in Virginia, but also in 28 other states that have honor Virginia’s non-resident permit. Including North Carolina, about whose course/training requirement I will write in my next post.