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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Task 97 - Getting my License to Carry (Basic Firearms Safety Course)

Under the 2nd amendment, citizens of the United States are granted the right to bear arms. After several unspeakable tragedies involving individuals not fit to possess gaining access to a firearm many are arguing for stronger gun control. While I understand the need to keep weapons from those who are not fit or of impaired mental capacity from any and all access I am also compelled to argue in favor of the 2nd amendment for those of us who are of sound mind, body and clean criminal record and capable of securing our firearms properly. 

With the argument in full swing I decided that it was as good a time as ever to get my License to Carry (LTC) just in case the rules change or it is made so difficult that getting one is nearly impossible. In the state of Massachusetts getting a LTC is not a simple process. In fact it is a multi-stage process that starts with taking an 8-hour safety course which will educate you on proper gun use if you didn’t already know it. The course ended with an exam and range test. In order to receive your certificate you must pass all portions of the class. The range test is where you get the opportunity to fire a pistol under the supervision of trained, certified, and licensed individuals who will evaluate your skills and competence. Only if they are comfortable with you will they sign your certificate of completion.

Only after completing and passing such a course can you apply for a LTC. The application process also has significant rules and criteria to ensure that they are not given out to anyone unfit to have one. In the state of Massachusetts you must complete and submit an application in the town/city where you live. Often these applications must also include letters of recommendation from people who can and will speak for your competence and mental health. 

The application process also includes an interview with the Firearm’s Licensing official who will review your application. Then you are checked using the Massachusetts Instant Record Check System (MIRCS), are photographed, and fingerprinted. Next they check with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) all before a thorough background check using State and National Systems. Your fingerprints are submitted to the Massachusetts State Police Identification Section (SIS) to check for any state and national fingerprint based criminal records.

Once all this information is gathered it is then up to the Chief of Police or Licensing Officer to do a final review and approve your eligibility for a LTC. If approved the application is then submitted to the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS) where it is again reviewed. Then Licenses are batch printed by DCJIS and returned to the Licensing Officer for Issuance.

As you can see it is not a simple process. Having a LTC doesn’t mean you must carry a firearm. It simply allows you the ability to do so and to use it for any and all legal purposes. Firearm’s are readily accessible and many are sold under the table and in back rooms where proper identification and background checks are not performed. Owning a firearm without the proper license is against the law and punishable by jail time and fines. While not easy to get it is mandatory and those rules should be adhered too. After all these rules are designed to protect.

It is the individuals who possess firearms illegally that are the problem. Taking the course and going through the very difficult and intensive review process demonstrates a persons’ willingness to obey the law and follow proper procedure. Only after receiving your LTC or a Firearm’s Identification Card (FID) are you able to purchase a pistol or other firearm. Additionally if you buy a firearm legally you must also purchase safety apparatus such as a trigger lock or other device designed to keep the firearm away from those who should not have access to it.

Before deciding if I should take the necessary steps to get mine I started by talking to a few of the guys at work who are members of their local sportsman’s clubs. As it turns out two of them are the resident safety officers for their respective clubs and in that capacity offer and teach the Basic Firearm’s Safety courses. Before enrolling in one of their classes I thought I should visit the clubs and see what they are about. I also wanted to visit one of the ranges to see if my interest would translate into a passion for firearms. As you read about in an earlier post I went to the Wrentham Sportsman’s club and took the opportunity to fire a good selection of firearms with good friend and co-worker John Dennis. I had a blast and as it turns out I am a pretty good shot. 

With that experience I decided to move forward with taking a Basic Firearm’s safety course. My other co-worker told me that he had a class at his club coming up very soon if I was interested. I checked the state list of certified courses before signing up and enrolled in the NRA Basic Pistol Course at the Medfield Sportsman’s club. A friend of mine who also had an interest decided to take the class with me. The class was taught over the course of three days with a range day culminating our training and certification. 

The course was led by NRA Certified instructor’s Mark McFadden and John Meincke II. The coursework was a bit dry and most of it for me felt like common sense. Having grown up in a home where guns were present my parents had already instilled upon me an appreciation for their power while always cautioning me of their inherent danger if not properly handled. 

The first two days were classroom learning where we went over all the chapters in the NRA Guide to the Basics of Pistol Shooting. At the end of the second day we had a final review of the information before taking the exam. The exam was 6 pages and 50 questions. Questions 1-20 were multiple choice and 21-50 either true or false. I scored a 98 on the exam having only gotten one wrong. It wasn’t that my selection was incorrect it was that another was the best answer. Everyone in our class passed although a few by the skin of their teeth.

It certainly was a wide spectrum of people from all walks of life. All the other students were very nice and the other members we meet couldn’t have been more inviting, friendly and open about firearm ownership. You could tell that the culture of this club was safety first and fun second. Knowing that they all took safety importantly helped getting everyone more comfortable. They were all willing to show you their guns and couch you on proper handling while talking about their passion.

Our final day was the range day. It was here that our instructors kept a very close eye on us to ensure that we were following range safety rules and operating and handling the firearms properly. To satisfy our range requirements we had to demonstrate proficiency and proper handling with two different firearms. First was a semi-automatic Ruger, Mark 3, 22LR, Target model, 6” barrel. It is less about the gun then our proficiency with a semi-automatic.

The second firearm we had to demonstrate proficiency and proper handling was a revolver. Specifically this one was a Ruger, Security Six, 357 Mag revolver, 4” barrel. After firing a both types of firearms provided our instructor was satisfied that we were both competent and of sound mental health.

The night before he had asked if we had any requests for firearms to try out at the range. I requested to try was my instructors Sig Sauer p226 .40 S&W. One of the tricks he taught us was to always load a semi-automatic with one less round then it was capable of handling. The reason is that it can be difficult to load the magazine when filled fully. After firing I decided that it was my favorite of the three. I really enjoyed this gun’s power and control. I also asked him to demonstrate taking the gun apart and proper cleaning of the firearm since I will need to be proficient in order to keep whatever I purchase clean and in good working order. 

We received our certificates of completion. Signed and dated by our instructor. It was a great experience and definitely educated us on general safety and proper handling of firearms. I feel far more prepared today to become a pistol owner then I did before.

The next step is completing the application. I downloaded the application right form the Police Department website of the Worcester. Immediately I had to pick which type of license I would like to apply for. There were really only two different licenses to pick from; Class A & Class B. I opted to request a Class A License to Cary – Large Capacity for a few reasons. First a Class A license would allow me to carry anything capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Most semi-automatic firearms have the potential to hold more than 10 rounds in many clips. Secondly, a Class A license would also allow me to carry “concealed and loaded on a public way” where a Class B would forbid such action. The last big difference is that a Class B would mandate that the firearm be locked and unloaded in the trunk at all times while being transported.

These significant differences in my opinion severely inhibit my 2nd amendment rights to bear arms. While I do not plan to carry a firearm having the legal right to do so is something that was preferable to me.

The next section was simple personal information. These items are most definitely the criteria they use to run background checks. The third section pertains to citizenship and criminal activity. As a citizen who has never been arrested or even in the slightest amount of trouble nothing here concerned me. The fourth and last section is the most important section. It requires two people to be references. I opted to select my friend and safety course instructor another co-worker who had first taken me to the range.

My instructor has been a member of the Medfield Sportsman’s club for the past 33 years. He was both president and a member of the clubs board for many of those years. He is one of three NRA Certified instructors and one of 3 NRA Range Safety officers of the club. He has also has also been the past chairman of the Rifle Range and is the current chairman of the contest committee. He is also the club champion for half of the years he has been a

The second letter comes from a retired US Marine Corp and current member of the USCG Auxiliary. He is also the range safety officer for the Wrentham Sportsman’s club and had held numerous other position during his tenure at the club.

Both individuals I feel know me well and are well positioned to judge my abilities and competency with a firearm. I also feel that they are the most suitable to decide if I am fit to own a firearm. With the approval of my family and others who I respect and admire all believing that they are comfortable with me owning a gun I am ready to submit my application. Wish me luck.


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