COLUMBIA — The smell of gunpowder was pervasive. Sporadic gunshots resonated, and paper targets quivered from the impact. Shell casings hit the floor with a ping. The students patched the bullet holes with scraps of tape and sent the targets back into the fray, seven yards away.
A man walked through the gun range's door, pulling off his fluorescent-yellow headphones and safety glasses. "I think I scared him to death," he joked, referring to the paper figure he'd shot 140 times.
The controversy over whether concealed carry personal information can be shared erupted last week in the Misouri General Assembly. Several Republican lawmakers asserted that the state had turned over data on permits to the federal government.
Was concealed carried permit holders' information shared?
The Missouri State Highway Patrol sent lists of concealed carried permit holders' names to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Social Security Administration, but both federal agencies deny requesting it.
Who can obtain information about concealed carry permit holders in Missouri?
Records of permits are closed to the public under the Missouri concealed carry law. According to the Missouri Department of Revenue's website, specific information regarding concealed carry permits is entrusted only to law enforcement personnel.
Boone County Sheriff's Department Major Tom Reddin said the department would provide another law enforcement agency information about an individual if there was a request, but that the department would seek legal counsel before submitting a list of concealed carry files to another criminal justice agency.
How does a person get a concealed carry permit?
- The applicant fills out a registration form with the organization that offers the class and pays course costs.
- The applicant takes the paper signed by the instructor to a sheriff's department for a background check. This costs $92.50 at the Boone County Sheriff's Department. Renewal is $50 every three years. The Hallsville and Ashland police departments also process concealed carry applications.
- The applicant must get fingerprinted and wait for the results of the background check. State law requires that an answer must be given to the applicant within 45 days of applying.
Does a concealed carry permit holder have to reveal that information on his or her driver's license?
No. Permit holders can choose whether to print their endorsement on their driver's license or on a nondriver's photo ID.
The students were taking a shooting class required for those seeking to carry a concealed gun. They are part of a trend in which more Boone County residents are getting concealed carry permits.
Between January and March of 2013, the number of new concealed carry permits issued through the Boone County Sheriff's Department more than doubled from this time last year. The number has risen each year since 2007, when Missouri's concealed carry law went into effect.
Target Masters in Columbia offers three courses a month, each lasting eight hours. The Sunday class sign-up sheets are booked until June, concealed carry instructor Jim Hill said. Twenty people showed up for class on April 14, each paying at least $100 — more if they had to rent guns or buy ammunition.
Many of the students expressed a distrust of the federal government, which they expected to pass stricter gun legislation. The clash between the federal government pushing firearm restrictions and state lawmakers asserting residents' gun rights left many uncertain of where gun laws will end up.
“That’s why there’s this mass onslaught of hoarding ammo and guns because (people are) afraid that in the political mindset, (the government is) going to ban something,” Hill said.
But for the moment, guns have gained a reprieve. The U.S. Senate defeated a measure calling for stricter background checks for gun buyers and an assault weapons ban on Wednesday, while the Missouri House approved legislation Thursday that would bar the enforcement of federal gun laws in Missouri.
Hill has taught concealed carry classes since 2007. He said about 75 percent of the applicants for concealed carry at Target Masters are Boone County residents. Since the Randolph County homicide and shootings earlier this year, several residents have come to talk to employees about their fears of crime close to home, he said.
“It’s public safety,” firearms instructor John Waldschlager said. “It’s their gun rights, and they’re taking personal responsibility for their safety and the safety of their loved ones. You can’t carry a cop about with you.”
Crime in Columbia has gone down in the past few years, according to data provided by the Columbia Police Department for the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reports. A project by the Annenberg Public Policy Center reported that while gun murders and aggravated assaults are down in the U.S., gun suicides and nonfatal gun injuries are up.
Ownership and manufacturing of firearms have also increased, according to the Annenberg project.
It isn't clear whether more people owning guns and carrying concealed guns decreases gun-related crimes.
Many applicants were willing to talk about their personal and political reasons for taking the course but most declined to give their names, either because they were uncomfortable with others knowing they were carrying or because they feared what their employers would think.
A 24-year-old MU student in the class, who declined to give his name, said he decided in December to get the permit after his mother was murdered a month earlier. He lives in Boone County, but the crime occurred out of the county.
“The system has failed my mom quite a bit,” he said. “I enjoy the rights I have. I have the means to protect myself.”
The student said he’s been around guns all of his life. He grew up hunting and shot his first gun at age 6. Residents are encouraged to get certified on their own guns, so he brought his .357 caliber Magnum Smith & Wesson 686 .
The student has two older brothers, one of whom already has his permit to carry a concealed weapon, and the other brother is planning to get his.
Not everyone who takes the course and passes decides to go through with getting the permit. A school teacher from Cooper County says she isn't sure whether she’ll get a permit after the class. She took the course with her sister and a friend.
She and her husband lived on a farm for several years, and, though she’s used to being around guns, she’s not as familiar with handguns. She brought her own .22-caliber Ruger and a revolver.
She said the course was a good experience. “I wanted to learn more about (guns),” she said. “I think too many people are fearful of things they don’t understand. It causes you to stop learning.”
Shooting and working with firearms has always been a passion for Nathan Rippeto. He just received his Federal Firearms License so he can make his living as a gunsmith. It's the main reason he’s applying for a permit.
“I need to be able to protect myself, my family and other people’s investments and be seen as a responsible shooter,” he said.
He said his new business justifies the expense of concealed carry. He brought along his .45-caliber Rock Island 1911 and a .38-caliber Special.
The demographics of people who take the course may be more diverse in terms of age and occupation than people think, Hill said.
There's no typical age when people decide to apply for concealed carry. Some people under age 21 come in to Target Masters to register and take the course so they can register for a permit at the sheriff’s office on their birthday. Hill has taught people as old as 89 and many people between ages 50 and 70.
Realtors and attorneys tend to be among those seeking the permit. Hill said many health care providers, including drug representatives, nurses and doctors, take the course because their facilities hold drugs that may lure someone to commit a crime. Many soldiers and their families apply, too.
“The people that come to take the class are probably of a little bit better quality than you would imagine,” Hill said. “They’re from all walks of life, but they’re very proper, very well-educated.”
The class measures shooting and gun-handling skills and the attitude people have in the class to make sure applicants are suitable to carry on the street.
Hill said he expects the number of applications to stay high for a while.
"As long as Washington keeps hounding, that's going to be a driver in itself," he said. "People are going to be trying to get that card in their wallet, and the more numbers there are out there that have them, the harder it's going to be for them to legislate it."
The number of people who applied for conceal and carry permits through law enforcement agencies in Boone County, Hallsville and Ashland increased from 2011 to 2012. Graphic by Ninh Pham
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.