Business is booming — often literally — for Fletcher businessman Dan Meadows.
In response to increased demand for instruction on carrying concealed handguns, Meadows’ TAP3X Group of Companies bumped up the number of concealed carry classes it offers as well as individual firearms instruction. “About three years ago I was teaching only one class a month,” Meadows stated in an email to Xpress. “Two years ago, I doubled my classes to twice a month. Now I not only teach classes almost every weekend but offer several classes on weekdays and weeknights.”
And if anything, the trend seems to be accelerating. Between 2006 and 2016, Buncombe County saw a more than 400 percent jump in the number of concealed handgun permits issued annually, from 495 to 2,543. As of November, the county had already issued 3,509 permits in 2017.
Not everyone is thrilled about the prospect of more concealed handguns in our midst. “The uptick in concealed carry permits should worry everyone,” says former Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell. “When more people are toting weapons, concealed or not, all of us are less safe.”
Wild West(ern North Carolina)
Meadows is TAP3X’s primary instructor, but he’s had to hire more teachers to keep up with demand. “The number of students has continued to rise for the past 12 years,” he reports.
Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan believes the media have helped fuel the increase in concealed carry permits. “Even though violent crime rates have not risen dramatically, people are so inundated with news about violent crime they feel the need to be proactive about their own safety,” he says.
Concealed carry permits are issued by counties, so the rise has put pressure on the county staffers who process permit applications and conduct background checks. “Handling the sheer volume and numbers has been a challenge,” notes Duncan.
To accommodate the increase, the county bought another fingerprinting machine and hired additional staff at the Bureau of Identification. Permits must be renewed every five years, and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office must confirm or deny applications within 45 days of receiving them. To help keep up, the county recently implemented an online process to initiate applications for concealed handguns.
Those applying for a concealed carry permit in Buncombe County must have a state-recognized firearm safety training certificate and a valid driver’s license or ID card. Naturalized citizens must also bring a naturalization certificate or a valid U.S. passport, and individuals discharged from the military must bring a form DD214. All applicants must have lived in Buncombe County for at least 30 days before applying. They must be at least 21 years old and not have any physical or mental disability that would prevent them from handling a gun safely. Permit fees are $90 for new applications and $75 for renewals.
Once a concealed carry permit is issued, it rarely gets revoked. Between 2006 and 2017, revocations in Buncombe County ranged from a low of two (in 2007) to a high of 33 (in 2010). Under state law, permits can be revoked for a number of reasons, including misrepresenting oneself during the application process, lending the permit to another person, altering the permit or using it with intent to unlawfully harm another person.
In addition, a tiny percentage of applications are rejected every year. In 2007, nine out of 564 applications in Buncombe County failed to gain approval. And as of November 2017, 54 out of 3,563 had been turned down for the year, the largest number for any year between 2006 and 2017.
The state provides a long list of places where concealed weapons are not allowed even with a permit, such as public education facilities, state and federal courthouses, state-occupied property and assemblies or demonstrations. In Asheville, a city ordinance prohibits concealed handguns in specified parks and other recreational facilities, but individuals with concealed carry permits are exempt from the ban.
According to the Asheville Police Department, there were 21 concealed handgun permit violations within city limits between 2008 and 2017: 12 felonies and nine misdemeanors. In the same time period, 306 people were charged with carrying a concealed weapon (including knives as well as firearms) without a permit. Because it was a first offense, these were misdemeanors; an additional five people received felony charges for subsequent offenses.
Duncan says the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office has had very few issues with permit holders violating the law. “I think they value their ability to do that, so most of them know the law as well as I do, as far as what they can do and what they should do.”
Armed but not dangerous?
“Why are you taking a concealed carry course?” Meadows asks his students at the beginning of every class. One common answer, he says, is personal protection against incidents like hate crimes, robberies, carjackings and mass shootings.
Proponents of gun control often argue that more guns on the streets, even legally, can lead to more gun violence. However, Christina Hallingse, the Asheville Police Department’s public information officer, says the department has “not established a correlation between the increase in CCW permits issued and gun-related crime.”
At the national level, a new report by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research cites research showing that, “Since May 2007, more than 1,000 people have died at the hands of persons who held concealed carry permits. These incidents include 31 mass shootings and the killings of 19 police officers.”
Meadows, however, maintains that “it is not the trained, armed, prepared citizens and lawfully possessing gun owners and permit holders that our society should be worried about. It is the thuglians, criminals, societal haters and mentally challenged individuals who have guns, lawfully or otherwise, that should concern us most.” A former police officer and detective, Meadows believes that having more people trained to carry a concealed firearm will make everyone safer.
“Our police cannot be everywhere at every given moment,” Meadows points out. “And when seconds count and our law enforcement officers are minutes away, a trained, armed and prepared citizen might just make the difference between stopping the threat or allowing the threat to continue their carnage of death and destruction of innocent lives.”
Bothwell disagrees; he’d like to see stricter controls on guns as well as an improved system of background checks. “I really think we’d be better off following Australia’s lead in suppressing gun ownership,” he explains. In the wake of a 1996 mass shooting in which 35 people were killed, Australia banned the sale of automatic and semiautomatic weapons.
The Johns Hopkins report also disputes the idea that an armed citizenry enhances public safety. “In zero of the 111 mass shooting incidents analyzed by researcher Louis Klarevas in his book Rampage Nation: Securing America From Mass Shootings did an armed civilian effectively intervene and terminate a mass shooting in progress,” the report notes. “An FBI analysis of active shooter situations further revealed that unarmed civilians are more than 20 times as likely to successfully end an active shooting than are armed civilians (excluding armed security guards).”
Training to use deadly force
The state of North Carolina itself doesn’t offer concealed carry classes, though it does set standards for them. Concealed carry instructors must be legally able to possess a firearm and be certified by one of three organizations: the state’s Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission, the N.C. Private Protective Services Board or the National Rifle Association.
Instructors must also complete a five-hour course given by the N.C. Justice Academy called, “Laws Governing Concealed Handguns and the Use of Deadly Force.” Meadows gives the program high marks. “It’s a one-day training, but it’s very detailed, very regimented,” he says.
Once people have been certified, however, the quality of instruction they provide varies widely, Meadows says. “Some are more detailed and methodical and matter-of-fact, and some could honestly care less,” he says. “Some want to do the minimum standards as required by the state of North Carolina and give out nothing further.”
Duncan, meanwhile, says the overall quality of instruction on offer is “adequate as far as going over and covering the law; I wouldn’t say it’s rigorous. It’s like a lot of different training courses: It gives you the basics, but for folks that really carry, most of those folks continue to be self-educated and stay up with the laws, which are ever-changing.”
Meadows says when he moved back to North Carolina in 2005, there were only about four or five concealed carry trainers in the western part of the state; now the area is “thick with them,” he says.
Numbers from the last two years suggest that the growth in instructors may be slowing. In 2016, the Justice Academy course was offered 12 times and attended by 508 people. Last year, the course was offered 11 times, and was taken by 221 people.
Meadows says his company’s instructors go above and beyond what the state requires. “The laws are the most important, with a minimum of two hours devoted to nothing but the laws,” he says. “I do, however, balance this with safe gun-handling practices, marksmanship skills and on to what gun holster and ammo is right for the student.”
Changing landscape of gun ownership
Buncombe County’s increase in concealed carry permits is twice as high as the rate at which concealed carry permits are increasing nationally, says John Lott, founder and president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. The nonprofit’s website says its goal is “to provide an objective and accurate scientific evaluation of both the costs and benefits of gun ownership as well as policing activities.”
In 2016, a record 1.83 million permits were issued nationwide. According to a study by Lott titled, “Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States: 2017,” there are about 16 million permit holders in the United States.
Lott, an influential and prolific but controversial advocate against gun control, has written numerous books and studies on gun-related issues. A Fox News columnist with a Ph.D. in economics, he’s held research positions at several prestigious universities and is regularly cited by the National Rifle Association.
“In recent years, much of the increase has occurred because of the changing demographics of permit holders,” Lott wrote in an email to Xpress. “Permits for women have grown much faster than for men, and for blacks and other minority groups much faster than for whites. You also see increases in people getting permits after most mass public shootings or other terror attacks.” Increased gun ownership and concealed carry permits, he maintains, actually make everyone safer.
The Johns Hopkins report, however, says, “Lott’s research to support these claims … has been found to be flawed in many important ways. When those errors are corrected, no crime-reducing effects of [right-to-carry] laws are evident.” The report goes on to cite studies by economists from Stanford University, Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley linking right-to-carry laws with significant increases in violent crime rates, murder rates and homicides committed with handguns.
Additional reporting by Dan Hesse