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Smart Bombs: Sharp shooters are safer

Before last week, I had never fired a handgun. However, I did attend military school in seventh grade, where I had to handle an M1 Garand, the semi-automatic rifle that Gen. George Patton called “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” I say “had to,” because I really didn’t want to after they warned of “M1 thumb.” To insert the ammo, your thumb enters the chamber. If you don’t pull the bolt back far enough, it can release and smash into your thumb.

Anyway, I joined some newsroom colleagues at Sharp Shooting Indoor Range and Gun Shop last Wednesday to learn more about guns and blaze away. I practiced with a 9 mm Glock, which is safe to load, but I was still wary. Dave McCann, a local businessman and firearms aficionado, was my trainer. He detected my flinching and instructed me to concentrate on the squeeze of the trigger and the target, not the coming sound.

What is it about that bang? Robin Ball, owner of the range, warned us of this “startle response” and said half of us would succumb. I sure did. The target was only 7 yards away, but my initial shots were surprisingly inaccurate. If the target were a person, my torso shots would’ve hit the knees. If I were to pack heat, I’d want a lot more practice. But I wouldn’t have to.

In liberal Washington, residents 21 years old and above can get a concealed handgun license without any training. Just bring a valid government-issued photo ID to a law enforcement agency and leave behind $52.50 and a fingerprint. If you clear the background check, your license will arrive within a month.

Don’t know a clip from a magazine? Clueless about firearms safety rules? Can’t hit the broadside of a barn? The government doesn’t care. I think it should.

In conservative Texas, you must undergo a minimum of 10 hours of training, which covers gun safety, storage, conflict resolution, the legal use of force and laws regulating concealed handgun license holders. You must also prove your proficiency and pass a 50-question test.

I asked Ball whether our state should mandate the kind of training her business provides before issuing a concealed weapons license, and she said she wouldn’t trust the government to write and implement sensible regulations. Besides, she said, she hasn’t seen the evidence that shows Texas is safer.

I’m in the rather-be-safe-than-sorry camp, and so respectfully disagree. I say “respectfully” because she’s a much better shot.

Um, congrats? A recent New Yorker cartoon depicts the Founding Fathers writing the Constitution, with one them saying: “Oh, and give the executive the right to rain down death from on high.” Made me laugh, but when you think of this all-consuming fear of government and how it impedes sensible policies it really isn’t funny.

One of the roadblocks to expanded background checks for gun purchases is the fear that Uncle Sam will keep a registry, which would provide a road map to privately held weapons if our leaders decided to take our democracy for a totalitarian spin.

The background check bill that was just shot down in the U.S. Senate not only prohibited registries, it included a criminal penalty for any government official who tried to start one or who leaked the names of gun owners. That’s a helluva guarantee, so two strong gun-rights groups, the Independent Firearms Association of America and Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, supported the bill.

But not the National Rifle Association, which chose to spread the falsehood that the bill would have criminalized sales between family members who failed to get government permission. As noted, this is untrue, and the bill says so on page 23. Background checks, which are already required at retail outlets, would’ve been expanded to sales at gun shows and over the Internet. Family transfers were exempted. But the lie won, the bill died and the possibility of registries is still alive.

Some victory.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks