It's all about feeling safe and protecting yourself

Reporter pursues concealed weapons permit

Toya GrahamMarch 29, 2008 

Editor's Note: Herald reporter Toya Graham practiced at a York County firing range before attempting to qualify for a concealed weapons permit -- a document that allows individuals to carry concealed weapons. Getting into the concealed weapons class was a feat, since most were booked. Still, for a first-time shooter, that wasn't half the battle.

I slid five bullets into the chamber of a .38-caliber revolver, wrapped my right hand around the grip and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened -- I'd held the gun wrong.

Oops.

I planted my feet on the ground and readjusted my grip, holding my arm and the revolver as straight as possible. Then I squeezed the trigger again.

This time, a bullet whizzed out of the gun, flew about 10 feet and ripped a hole in a red and white paper target.

The sound of the shot echoed in my ears. The smell of gun powder assaulted my nose.

Then I saw the impact of this virgin gun shooter. The bullet had torn the paper on the right side of what would have been the target's neck. I mean, no one told me to aim for the X.

Still, firing that bullet set the stage for what I hoped would be the successful completion of a concealed weapons permit class -- a prerequisite to qualify for a concealed weapons permit. The document, which expires after four years, resembles a South Carolina driver's license.

To pass the class, I must complete a 50-question test and fire 50 bullets at a firing range. At least 35 of the shots, or 70 percent, must hit the target.

"It's hit or miss," said my instructor, Billy Mumaw. "You either hit the target or you don't."

During class, the shooter stands three yards from the target and fires 10 bullets. Another 10 bullets are fired at a distance of five yards. The shooter fires 10 more bullets at seven and 10 yards, Mumaw said. Five additional shots are fired at 12 and 15 yards.

That mid-March morning, my paper target in the shape of a person's head and upper body was 10 feet away. Hitting a target at that distance could be life or death, a stand-in instructor said.

"Most of your self-defenses occur within 10 feet," he said.

Properly coached, I popped on clear plastic safety glasses -- just in case a bullet or bullet fragments went astray and hit my eyes -- and neon yellow ear phones to buffer the overwhelming sound of the gun firing.

I turned the gun chamber with my left thumb and slid in five more bullets, trying to remember the steps my coach had taught. I settled the gun's grip in my right hand and cradled it with my left palm.

Just before my focus shifted to the X in the middle of the target, I stretched my arm and willed it to stay straight as I leveled the gun.

Then my index finger found the trigger and squeezed. I must have pulled the gun a little to the left because the bullet missed its mark and hit a white surface too far above the target to mention.

I felt my face redden in embarrassment. A sense of failure set in. I mean, what was I thinking? Me, fire a gun?

My coach was kind enough not to mention my debacle. Instead, he offered more instruction. Ever grateful, I listened.

Moments later, I relaxed my grip, readjusted my right hand and fired. The bullet hit the target. I straightened my arm again, lowered the gun and peered at the X. That bullet and a second tore another hole through the target near the X.

Progress.

My coach congratulated me as I lowered the gun to empty the shell casings.

"You still have one," he said.

I counted five shots, but I gripped the gun, pointed and fired.

Nothing happened. I swallowed hard. This wasn't good. Why didn't the bullet come out?

"Got you," he quipped.

The first session ended moments later. I left the range with about 15 bullets, all that remained from 50 that I purchased for target practice, and the promise to return four days later.

While I knew I could hit the target and pass the concealed weapons permit class, I worried. Firing a gun could mean hurting someone, even taking a life.

But wasn't this about self-preservation and protecting my family? That was the question I asked myself as I walked out to my car. I surveyed the back seat before I slid behind the wheel and popped a knob to lock the doors.

Wasn't the class about having peace of mind when I work late and have to enter my home oblivious to who might be waiting inside?

I've had a couple of occasions where I didn't feel safe -- and the hairs stood at attention at the nape of my neck. Not a pleasant feeling, just knowing something seems wrong and I have nothing more than a set of keys or a shoe heel to protect myself.

Then there are the times when I come home late at night. What if I pull into the garage and forget to pay attention to the closing door and someone gets inside?

Don't get me wrong. I have no hope of becoming some gun-toting vigilante on a mission to right every wrong. It's not about that. Instead, it's about protecting my daughter and two sons. And it's about protecting their interest in me.

I peered over my shoulder and pulled out of the parking lot.

Four days later, I was back at the firing range. Clutching another case of 50 bullets, I requested the same revolver I'd used before. The clerk passed me a paper target as the owner gathered the gun, earphones and safety glasses.

Then it was time to hit the firing range. With my earlier success behind me, I was soooooooooo sure about what I was doing.

Until I fired the first bullet.

Don't ask me where it went, and don't laugh.

I fired again and squinted, but I couldn't see where the bullet had hit the paper. I fired again. Still, no hole.

This was unbelievable. I put the gun down, scratched my head and tried to figure out what I was doing wrong. I'd leveled my gun and held it just right, hadn't I?

Maybe I didn't focus enough. Another stand-in coach offered some tips. Then I picked up the gun, sucked in my breath, leveled the gun and fired twice more.

Both bullets hit the target. So did the other 45 bullets, and five were kissing the X. I held out hope that the effort would be enough for me to nail the concealed weapons permit class the next day.

I had purchased 50 more bullets and a gun holster. I even had a silver-colored .38-caliber lightweight handgun waiting for me to pick up. Now, all I had to do was pass both the written and firing tests.

Nearly 24 hours later, my test paper came back with a 96 percent.

Half the battle was over.

As the class of 11 students traveled to the county firing range, I wondered about the borrowed gun that I had never fired. I wasn't familiar with it. What was I thinking?

But I hit the range, loaded the gun and fired on Mumaw's command. None of the bullets hit the target. Panicking wasn't an option: I hadn't come this far to quit.

But when the last bullet had been fired, Mumaw tallied up the shots. Thirty-five out of the 50 bullets had hit the target -- not bad for a virgin shooter.

See y'all at the firing range.

Editor's Note: Herald reporter Toya Graham practiced at a York County firing range before attempting to qualify for a concealed weapons permit -- a document that allows individuals to carry concealed weapons. Getting into the concealed weapons class was a feat, since most were booked. Still, for a first-time shooter, that wasn't half the battle.

I slid five bullets into the chamber of a .38-caliber revolver, wrapped my right hand around the grip and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened -- I'd held the gun wrong.

Oops.

I planted my feet on the ground and readjusted my grip, holding my arm and the revolver as straight as possible. Then I squeezed the trigger again.

This time, a bullet whizzed out of the gun, flew about 10 feet and ripped a hole in a red and white paper target.

The sound of the shot echoed in my ears. The smell of gun powder assaulted my nose.

Then I saw the impact of this virgin gun shooter. The bullet had torn the paper on the right side of what would have been the target's neck. I mean, no one told me to aim for the X.

Still, firing that bullet set the stage for what I hoped would be the successful completion of a concealed weapons permit class -- a prerequisite to qualify for a concealed weapons permit. The document, which expires after four years, resembles a South Carolina driver's license.

To pass the class, I must complete a 50-question test and fire 50 bullets at a firing range. At least 35 of the shots, or 70 percent, must hit the target.

"It's hit or miss," said my instructor, Billy Mumaw. "You either hit the target or you don't."

During class, the shooter stands three yards from the target and fires 10 bullets. Another 10 bullets are fired at a distance of five yards. The shooter fires 10 more bullets at seven and 10 yards, Mumaw said. Five additional shots are fired at 12 and 15 yards.

That mid-March morning, my paper target in the shape of a person's head and upper body was 10 feet away. Hitting a target at that distance could be life or death, a stand-in instructor said.

"Most of your self-defenses occur within 10 feet," he said.

Properly coached, I popped on clear plastic safety glasses -- just in case a bullet or bullet fragments went astray and hit my eyes -- and neon yellow ear phones to buffer the overwhelming sound of the gun firing.

I turned the gun chamber with my left thumb and slid in five more bullets, trying to remember the steps my coach had taught. I settled the gun's grip in my right hand and cradled it with my left palm.

Just before my focus shifted to the X in the middle of the target, I stretched my arm and willed it to stay straight as I leveled the gun.

Then my index finger found the trigger and squeezed. I must have pulled the gun a little to the left because the bullet missed its mark and hit a white surface too far above the target to mention.

I felt my face redden in embarrassment. A sense of failure set in. I mean, what was I thinking? Me, fire a gun?

My coach was kind enough not to mention my debacle. Instead, he offered more instruction. Ever grateful, I listened.

Moments later, I relaxed my grip, readjusted my right hand and fired. The bullet hit the target. I straightened my arm again, lowered the gun and peered at the X. That bullet and a second tore another hole through the target near the X.

Progress.

My coach congratulated me as I lowered the gun to empty the shell casings.

"You still have one," he said.

I counted five shots, but I gripped the gun, pointed and fired.

Nothing happened. I swallowed hard. This wasn't good. Why didn't the bullet come out?

"Got you," he quipped.

The first session ended moments later. I left the range with about 15 bullets, all that remained from 50 that I purchased for target practice, and the promise to return four days later.

While I knew I could hit the target and pass the concealed weapons permit class, I worried. Firing a gun could mean hurting someone, even taking a life.

But wasn't this about self-preservation and protecting my family? That was the question I asked myself as I walked out to my car. I surveyed the back seat before I slid behind the wheel and popped a knob to lock the doors.

Wasn't the class about having peace of mind when I work late and have to enter my home oblivious to who might be waiting inside?

I've had a couple of occasions where I didn't feel safe -- and the hairs stood at attention at the nape of my neck. Not a pleasant feeling, just knowing something seems wrong and I have nothing more than a set of keys or a shoe heel to protect myself.

Then there are the times when I come home late at night. What if I pull into the garage and forget to pay attention to the closing door and someone gets inside?

Don't get me wrong. I have no hope of becoming some gun-toting vigilante on a mission to right every wrong. It's not about that. Instead, it's about protecting my daughter and two sons. And it's about protecting their interest in me.

I peered over my shoulder and pulled out of the parking lot.

Four days later, I was back at the firing range. Clutching another case of 50 bullets, I requested the same revolver I'd used before. The clerk passed me a paper target as the owner gathered the gun, earphones and safety glasses.

Then it was time to hit the firing range. With my earlier success behind me, I was soooooooooo sure about what I was doing.

Until I fired the first bullet.

Don't ask me where it went, and don't laugh.

I fired again and squinted, but I couldn't see where the bullet had hit the paper. I fired again. Still, no hole.

This was unbelievable. I put the gun down, scratched my head and tried to figure out what I was doing wrong. I'd leveled my gun and held it just right, hadn't I?

Maybe I didn't focus enough. Another stand-in coach offered some tips. Then I picked up the gun, sucked in my breath, leveled the gun and fired twice more.

Both bullets hit the target. So did the other 45 bullets, and five were kissing the X. I held out hope that the effort would be enough for me to nail the concealed weapons permit class the next day.

I had purchased 50 more bullets and a gun holster. I even had a silver-colored .38-caliber lightweight handgun waiting for me to pick up. Now, all I had to do was pass both the written and firing tests.

Nearly 24 hours later, my test paper came back with a 96 percent.

Half the battle was over.

As the class of 11 students traveled to the county firing range, I wondered about the borrowed gun that I had never fired. I wasn't familiar with it. What was I thinking?

But I hit the range, loaded the gun and fired on Mumaw's command. None of the bullets hit the target. Panicking wasn't an option: I hadn't come this far to quit.

But when the last bullet had been fired, Mumaw tallied up the shots. Thirty-five out of the 50 bullets had hit the target -- not bad for a virgin shooter.

See y'all at the firing range.

Obtaining a concealed weapons permit requires the applicant to complete an eight-hour class, where a knowledge test will be administered. Applicants also complete a firing test, shooting 50 bullets at a target. Thirty-five bullets must hit the target.

After successfully completing the class and tests, applicants must submit the following information to the State Law Enforcement Division:

• A state concealed weapons permit application, including written test and firing range scores.

• A fee of $50 via a cashier's check, certified check, money order or personal check payable to SLED.

• A notarized photograph of a driver's license or identification card; addresses on the application and driver's license must match.

• A 1-by-1 face photograph.

• Two complete fingerprint sets.

• A detailed explanation for any situation in which the applicant pleaded guilty, was found guilty, paid fines, forfeited bond or was jailed or on probation. Traffic offenses also must be reported.

Applicants for a concealed weapons permit must meet the following eligibility requirements:

• Be at least 21 years old and live in South Carolina.

• Be a lawful resident of the United States and not a nonimmigrant alien.

• Must not be prohibited by federal, state or local law from possessing firearms.

• Must have a favorable background.

Interested in taking a concealed weapons permit class? Here's a list of some classes, their dates and locations.

• From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 12 at Ted's Hunting & Fishing, 203 N. Main St., Clover. Cost is $100. For details, call (803) 222-4647.

• From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 12 at The Outdoor Shop at 65 N. Congress St., York. Cost is $125. For details, call Jane Turney at (803) 684-7405.

• From 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 19 at the York Police Department, 12 N. Roosevelt St., York. Cost is $75. For details, call Billy Mumaw at (803) 684-4141.

• From 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 20 at Pappys Gun Shop, 4955 Tinker Creek Road, Edgemoor. Cost is $75. For details, call Clyde Baker at (803) 789-3028 or 1-888-857-5071.

• 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 26 at Sportsman Gun & Pawn, 1351 J.A. Cochran Bypass, Chester. Cost is $75. For details call Todd Wyatt at (803) 377-3474.

• From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 28 and July 26 at Sportsman Inc., 247 Hands Mill Road, Rock Hill. Cost is $75. For details, call 366-3466.

Toya Graham • 329-4062

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