Guns in the City

I decided to take the one-day course that is required before getting a carry permit. When we arrived at the classroom at Bill’s Gun Range on a cold Sunday in January, the instructor, Teresa Reiter, warmed us up immediately by offering Krispy Kreme doughnuts and homemade cookies. The course, Teresa assured us, was “strictly defense. There’s no offense in this class.”

Reiter, except for her uniform, looked like someone’s favorite aunt: medium height, medium hair, winning smile. She wasn’t carrying a gun, although there were a few sitting on the table in front of her, next to the doughnuts. She explained that she wasn’t carrying because she wanted to keep the tenor of the class more “low-key.”

There was a young African-American man next to me, who had just moved to Minneapolis from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He said he wasn’t going back. The young man next to him, also African-American, had more than a passing interest in the course. He’d been shot last year by someone who was living with him, and, it turned out, was also robbing him. He showed us the scars on his belly and leg, where they had taken skin for a graft. Another guy and his brother were lawyers. The last guy was one I might have then described as a “gun nut.” He told us in some detail about all the guns he owned.

The curriculum assumed a basic familiarity with handguns, and so we spent no time on those basics. The class covered the law—what constitutes a legal use of deadly force—but what stuck in the mind was the emphasis on staying out of situations when use of a gun might be necessary. “When you are carrying a gun, you have to back down from any confrontation,” Reiter said. The best way to do this was to have a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings. “I always am playing the ‘What If?’ game when I’m out in public,” she explained. “What will I do if this guy moves toward me? What will I do if this or that happens?”

“I carry a gun all the time,” she said, “because it raises my alert level sky high. That’s why I carry—for the alert level, not for self-defense.” Reiter gave us some elementary pointers on non-lethal self-defense, such as using pepper spray, or a blinding “tactical” flashlight, but also emphasized that you should never “give in” to someone holding a gun on you. “If you say, ‘Don’t kill me’ to the bad guy, it gives him the control. Your mindset has to be, ‘I will survive this.’”

The class concluded with several recommendations to increase safety in the house, which, of course, included good locks and an alarm system, also the obvious one of keeping escape routes in mind and escape ladders handy if you sleep on an upper floor. Also, she recommended you charge your cell phone on your bedside table, so it’s handy if your phone lines are somehow cut.

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