In this WAAY 31 I-Team investigation, we take a close look at what it takes to get a concealed carry gun permit. We examine not only the right to get a permit, but the responsibilities that go along with it.
Last month in our viewing area, a 10-year-old boy found a gun in his father’s vehicle and accidentally killed his twin sister. That was just outside the Shoals in St. Joseph, Tennessee.
Back here in Alabama, a student took a gun to Blossomwood Elementary and accidentally shot another student in the hand. The student who brought the gun took it without his father's knowledge. That man is a felon who clearly never should have had the gun in the first place.
We had already been talking with a former FBI agent about what he considers gun owners’ responsibilities that go above what Alabama law requires.
We also talked with a woman who started carrying a gun for her own protection.
“I literally realized how much goes on in this city that I didn’t know went on,” Susan Sims told WAAY 31.
We caught up with Sims at Larry’s Pistol and Pawn. Her eyes were wide-open to the crime happening around her in Huntsville when she started working as a gun seller and pawn broker.
She wasted no time getting a concealed carry permit “to follow the law because I do like to carry a gun in my vehicle when I travel.”
Sims insists getting a concealed carry permit is only the first step. “I think you have to be a responsible firearm owner,” she told us. “Just going out with your friend or significant other to shoot, they may not teach you the safety you need to know.”
A recent Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study shows seven states -- West Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee -- have a disproportionate share of unintentional firearm deaths.
“I’m a retired FBI agent. I spent 32 years in the FBI,” Ed Marshman told WAAY 31.
Marshman puts his FBI experience to use training people at his shooting MTC Training Range. It's just off I-65 near the Alabama Tennessee state line.
“Obviously, I believe in firearms," Marshman said. "I like firearms. I don’t want to have a lot of gun control regulations.” Still, Marshman sees a serious need for education and training even if Alabama law doesn’t make it mandatory.
"You need to school yourself and to learn," he told WAAY 31. "You've got a responsibility to yourself, to your family, to your neighbors and to the community."
The most recent information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows in 2016 in Alabama, there were 18 accidental deadly shootings. In Tennessee, there were 17.
Compare that to the fifty state average of nearly ten.
"Alabama requires a permit to carry a weapon concealed," Marshman explained. "However, there is no training requirement. There is no classroom training requirement. And there is no minimum qualification course you have to shoot."
Alabama issues more concealed carry permits than any other state. About 20 percent of adults have permits. The basic requirements: you must be a resident, be 18 and agree to background checks. Like the vast majority of other states, there's no real obstacle standing in the way of your 2nd amendment right to bear arms.
“Everybody has the right to carry and have it," Marshman said. "But, along with that right comes responsibility.”
Across the state line, Tennessee does require a concealed carry permit course. Part of that training includes learning about the use of deadly force under Tennessee law.
"The law tells you what you can do," Marshman told us. "More importantly, you need to know what you should do."
Knowledge could save your life or keep you out of legal trouble. Marshman’s mantra: avoid, escape, defend.
He gave us this example: "You're in the back of your house in the kitchen. Two guys bust through your front door. Yes, legally you can stay there. But, you shouldn't. You should, if you can go out the back door and go to your neighbor's house, you should leave." Marshman underscored that advice. "The only gunfight that I can guarantee you won't lose is the one you don't get into."
Training helps you avoid shooting an innocent bystander and figure out who’s the real bad guy. Muscle memory may be your best weapon. "Can you shoot on the move?," Marshman asked. "Can you shoot quickly? Can you shoot one-handed? Can you shoot in low-level light conditions?"
Back in Huntsville, Susan Sims backed up what Marshman said. “Training and practice," she said, tops her list of shooting priorities. "Don’t come and take a class and think that’s all the training that you need and you’re protected. You’re not.”
Gun safety is so important to Sims, she now teaches it. Sims says a concealed carry permit comes with a powerful responsibility. “If you have a firearm, you have to keep other people safe.”
Sims also told us gun safes are critically important, especially with children in homes. But, she adds having access to your gun is also critical. She recommends a biometric safe you can activate with your fingerprint.