Handgun permits, classes up

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND --  Frankie Lamb helps Ronette Coleman understand the basics of shooting her guns at  Baker Range Friday. Coleman said she's owned a gun for years and has been around them all her life, but wants to take a conceal and carry class to properly understand safety and the laws. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Frankie Lamb helps Ronette Coleman understand the basics of shooting her guns at Baker Range Friday. Coleman said she's owned a gun for years and has been around them all her life, but wants to take a conceal and carry class to properly understand safety and the laws.

“It’s the fear that the government is going to do something to limit our right to own guns or limit our access to guns, and everybody wants to run out to get the permit before  something is done to limit that ability.” Gordon hutchinson,   firearm instructor

The demand for self-defense and concealed handgun courses is soaring in Louisiana amid fears of new gun control measures proposed in the wake of last month’s Connecticut school shooting, according to interviews and state statistics.

Firearm instructors around the state said they are offering additional courses to meet the demand, and many of their upcoming classes are booked.

The interest in concealed carry courses has reached “unprecedented levels” since the Newtown, Conn., shooting of 20 schoolchildren and President Barack Obama’s recent push for tighter gun restrictions, said Gordon Hutchinson, a veteran firearm instructor in the Baton Rouge area.

“It’s the fear that the government is going to do something to limit our right to own guns or limit our access to guns, and everybody wants to run out to get the permit before something is done to limit that ability,” Hutchinson said. “It’s just a frantic situation, and people talk to each other and get one another worked up. I have never seen a demand for classes like we have right now.”

The State Police Concealed Handgun Permit Unit received an average of about 220 applications a week for concealed handgun permits between January and August 2012, according to State Police. But since the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the average has been about 450 applications a week, said Trooper 1st Class Jared Sandifer, a State Police spokesman.

There are nearly 50,000 concealed handgun permit holders in the state, Sandifer said.

The number of applications has been trending upward since about two months before the presidential election. The state has received an average 1,025 applications a month for concealed handgun permits since September, state statistics show.

“The main thing that’s driving folks is they want protection,” said Alvin Palmer, a concealed carry instructor in the Monroe area. “I can tell you it’s been a significant increase.”

Lee Perkins, manager of the Lake Charles Gun Club, said he has scheduled extra classes this month and next month to meet the rising demand.

“It’s going off the page,” Perkins said. “With everything in the news, people have said we better do it now or we won’t ever be able to do it.”

Dave Arthur, a firearm instructor at Gretna Gun Works, said his class has doubled in size since the November election, prompting him to add a second class. Arthur said the interest has been fueled by “a combination of concerns.”

“The majority want to protect themselves, but there is a smattering in there of, ‘We’re concerned that something’s going to happen, but if at least I have my permit we should be grand-fathered in for any eventuality,’ ” Arthur said.

In the capital city, heavy interest in self-defense classes has prompted the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Parish to provide free gun-training courses, said Woody Jenkins, the group’s chairman.

“We know that people are very concerned about the crime problem in Baton Rouge, and being able to protect yourself involves more than having a firearm — it involves understanding how to use that firearm safely,” said Jenkins, a former state legislator and an outspoken proponent of gun rights. “We expect a high demand, so people who are interested should go ahead and register.”

The courses, which begin Feb. 23 at the Baker Range, are offered to all parish residents but are targeted especially at women, Jenkins said.

“We are particularly concerned that there are a lot of ladies out there who want to have a firearm and aren’t sure how to use it,” he said.

The courses can only accommodate up to 35 participants each, but Jenkins said the chamber will offer the courses for “as long as there’s a lot of interest in it.”

Instruction will be led by Greg Phares, the former Baton Rouge police chief and former East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff. Participants are required to pay a $15 fee for use of the range and must also provide — or purchase — their own ammunition, said Kim Smith, manager of Baker Range. Rental guns are available for $20, she said.

Hutchinson, who will teach the class along with Phares, said the course includes about two hours of classroom training focused on safety. Participants then will fire a half a box of ammunition, or about 25 rounds.

Smith said the range had already seen a steady increase in demand for its state-certified course.

“People are calling every day wanting to get a concealed weapons permit,” she said.

Carol Thomas said she was among the first to register for the chamber’s free training course. She said she has not decided whether she will buy a handgun after completing the class.

“Like so many women, I’ve never even picked up a gun before,” Thomas said. “Number one, it will get rid of all my fears of guns because I want to learn to respect them.”