In a recent editorial, I ranted at KETV Omaha’s biased report on a Nebraska armed robbery case. An armed citizen, Harry J. McCullough III, shot and killed an armed robber and subdued another with a concealed handgun. Turns out there are a few details we didn’t get in the original story. For example, the fact that the perp’s shotgun was unloaded. Not that this would make one iota of difference in a court of law. Armed robbery is armed robbery – loaded weapon or no. More importantly, the man who shot him, Harry J. McCullough III, did not have a concealed carry permit for the .40 caliber handgun used to stop the robbery. Nor could he have had one. Under Nebraska law, McCullough was inelegible for a concealed carry permit; he had a previous misdemeanor conviction for . . . wait for it . . . carrying a concealed weapon.
We now learn that Mr. McCullough is a former security guard with a taste for carrying guns illegally. Is that a problem? Armed robbers are bad. Shooting them is good. So if McCullough is a good guy who did a good thing. He couldn’t get a concealed carry permit so . . . the law that prevented him from doing so must be wrong. Right?
State Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial said Wednesday that he would favor Nebraska’s joining Arizona, Vermont and Alaska in waiving all requirements except the criminal background check to carry concealed weapons.
That way, more people would carry concealed guns, the rural lawmaker said.
“Why give criminals the edge?” Christensen said. “Police do a great job, but we can’t afford enough to have them everywhere.”
Nebraska is a “shall issue” state: the authorities must prove that a citizen shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun. By the same token, any responsible citizen without a criminal past or diagnosed mental illness can go through the qualifying process to obtain a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
But, unlike the law regarding purchasing a firearm (prohibited for those with a felony conviction), Nebraska draws the line at a lower lever. If you’re a Cornhusker with a misdemeanor conviction for firearms, crimes of violence, unlawful use of a weapon or possession of controlled substances within the past 10 years, you’re SOL.
When Harry J. McCullough III was convicted of a knife-related misdemeanor, his chances of qualifying for a concealed carry permit disappeared.
Of course, any time you enshrine any restrictions on a licensing process, it removes the possibility of a “judgement call” as to who might be qualified and who isn’t. Drop the bar low enough, and very few people are going to get under it. Which is, one can presume, the point of disqualifying McCollough (and others Nebraskans) from a concealed carry permit.
With 20-20 hindsight, I’m sure a lot of people are wondering why the law stopped McCullough from doing what society wants/wanted him to do. But who knows? It’s entirely possible the ex-security guard threatened someone with a concealed carry gun, and then pleaded the charge down to a misdemeanor.
Given McCullough’s marksmanship, we can at least assume that he had some kind of firearms training. IF he had obtained a concealed carry permit, it would have been a requirement. (Download the entire statue here and/or peruse the CCW application).
Some states don’t require “hands-on” firearms training for a concealed carry permit. Others do. Some legislators take the position that allowing any citizen in good standing to carry is better than requiring a lot of training, as a training program might discourage taxpayers from getting a concealed carry permit. Or delay the process unncessarily.
Others insist that, without training, you’d have the second coming of the Wild, Wild West. A firearm is deadly weapon. Requiring someone who wants to carry a gun to prove their ability to use their weapon responsibly (e.g. knowing when and when not to shoot, and shooting an attacker rather than innocent bystanders) is a simple yet vital matter of marrying rights and responsibilities.
They’re BOTH right. And they’re BOTH wrong.
I’m all for the government keeping their noses out of our business. But just as “forcing” people to take a driving test to get a driver’s license makes perfect sense, so does a concealed carry license that requires practical experience with a firearm. I don’t think applicants should have to hit 1″ groups. But I’d like to know that they could hit (i.e. not miss) a human-sized target at somewhere between seven and 20 feet. It would also useful if they could shoot a semi auto without limpwristing it and stovepiping a spent cartridge.
On the other hand, as TTAG has pointed out several times, there are times when a non-firearm proficient person REALLY needs a gun. And when they really need it, they need it without delay. It’s also true that firing a revolver at an attacker at point blank range—the most likely distance to target for most gun owners facing assault (including rape)—is a no-brainer.
Training also creates a barrier to ownership for people at the lower end of the economic spectrum. Nebraska CCW training costs $125—a not inconsiderable fee in a state where a 2001 survey by the Bureau of Economic Analysis revealed a per capita personal income of $28,861. Uneducated and lower-income people also tend to balk at anything remotely resembling a test, especially when it comes from the government. My experience with firearms instructors indicates that it’s an unwarranted fear, but it IS there.
There is an answer: split the difference.
The State shall restrict gun permits to citizens that have no Felony convictions and no diagnosed history of mental illnesses. The State shall issue immediately upon request, a provisional carry permit, good for 90 days, upon the completion of a background check and one hour of supervised range time, plus the satisfactory completion of a gun safety quiz and a shooting proficiency test.
Within the 90-day period covered by the provisional permit, the holder must attend classes, pass a written exam and qualify at a gun range for the full carry permit. Should the provisional permit holder fail to quality for the full permit within 90 days, the provisional permit will be revoked.
Should the State require more time to process the application than is covered by the provisional permit, an automatic extension for the provisional permit will be granted. The only grounds upon which either permit may be denied are if the subject fails the background check for criminal history or mental defect.
Under this plan, if you need a gun immediately, you could have one inside a couple of hours, and carry it for up to 90 days. If the threat is no longer there, and you don’t want a carry permit, you’d just let it lapse. If you need a carry permit, you’d take the course, pass the tests and carry on carrying.
Under this plan, there’s no significant delay in getting a gun, you still submit to background checks, but you also have at least enough training to avoid a tragic accident. Think of it in the same way as you can fly to Cancun and qualify for a PADI card to SCUBA dive inside a couple of hours. Yet, if you want to make things permanent, you have a process to qualify for a more robust permit.
We still don’t know all the circumstances surrounding Harry J. McCullough III’s background. But this much is true: you don’t have to be a perfect angel to save someone’s life with a firearm. Or end it.