Scott Boykin said he’d been thinking for several years about getting a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but recent talk by Congress to implement gun restrictions compelled him to take a class in December.
“My wife and I both took the class,” Boykin said. “It was before the Sandy Hook school shooting, but we felt that with the gun legislation coming in, it could potentially take longer to get our permit and have more classroom work. We felt like it was necessary to go ahead and do it now before any pieces of legislation came through.”
Boykin is just one of many Americans buying more ammunition and guns. Many stores have been unable to keep shelves filled and manufacturers are unable to keep up with demand.
“People ought not to panic yet,” Nash County Sheriff Dick Jenkins said. “Let’s just see what solutions people come up with and what comes out of it. People are afraid they are not going to be able to get what they want, so they are rushing out to get it just like people do when an ice or snow storm comes, they go to the store to get milk and bread.”
On Jan. 16, President Barack Obama announced a plan to reduce gun violence with a four-part approach to close background-check loopholes, ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, make schools safer and increase access to mental health services.
“While no law or set of laws will end gun violence, it is clear that the American people want action,” the 22-page plan states. “If even one child’s life can be saved, then we need to act. Now is the time to do the right thing for our children, our communities and the country we love.”
Jenkins said he has heard from Nash County residents on both sides of the gun legislation.
“One faction says it is part of their constitutional rights, but the other side asks why people need a magazine clip with all these bullets,” he said. “I’ve heard from both sides.”
Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight said he has heard concerns about being able to legally own guns. Rocky Mount Police Sgt. Michael Whitley, who taught the class Boykin took, said his students have expressed similar concerns.
“Everyone is scared they are going to ban weapons altogether, but I don’t think that is going to happen,” Whitley said. “That concern is why a lot of gun companies are back-ordered. People are scared they are not going to be able to get them.”
The demand is especially high for assault weapons.
“If someone had an idea that one day they want to get an assault rifle, then they are buying it now because they are scared they might not be able to buy one,” Whitley said.
The fear has spread into those looking to get a concealed weapon permit as well. Whitley usually teaches one eight-hour concealed weapon class a month, but he has had to add extra classes to meet the demand.
“Since the new gun legislation is up in the air, and no one knows what is happening, my classes are full until the end of March,” he said. “Groups are coming to me, asking to do private classes, so if they get seven to 10 people, I’ll do a class just for them.”
Whitley said he’ll likely train at least 100 people between December and the end of March, and he isn’t the only concealed weapon class teacher in the Twin Counties. To find out more information on Whitley’s class, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I don’t think one thing is going to stop the problem,” Knight said.
Many people who are following possible gun legislation agree with Knight, saying multiple approaches need to be pursued to stop incidents like the Sandy Hook school shooting that left 26 dead.
“The problem is not with the legal gun owners,” Boykin said. “I don’t think there is enough done to keep weapons out of people’s hands – like convicted felons – who should not have guns.”
Boykin said officers also should have the authority to confiscate guns from people like the gunman in Alabama who allegedly kidnapped a kindergartner Tuesday, since the suspect has a history of violence toward neighbors.
“This country ought to look at all the issues people are talking about like mental health, background checks and come up with a good solution to address the problem,” Jenkins said. “They need to analyze everything that is brought to the table and determine what the best way to go is, but I don’t think we just need a quick fix.”
In the meantime, authorities are urging legal gun owners to take steps to become more responsible with their weapons. Jenkins said recording the make, model and serial number of every gun is crucial, especially in case of a theft.
“The more information citizens can give us, the better chance we have of locating that gun,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many people don’t have that. If we find their gun and they don’t have the serial number, we may not know it is theirs.
“A lot of people say my house won’t be broken into, but you can’t say that,” Jenkins said. “Hopefully your house never will be, but if it (is), at least have some of your property documented, so we’ll know what we are looking for.”
Officials also recommend locking guns away and out of reach of children. Knight said education also is important to reduce the number of gun injuries.
Boykin grew up around guns, but he said safety is a big part of the concealed weapon course. He said he emphasizes gun safety around his two daughters the same way he was taught.
“The first thing both my grandfather and my father taught me was always to point a gun in a safe direction,” Boykin said. “Don’t walk around with it loaded and try to prevent accidental discharges. Be cognizant of when it is loaded and when it is unloaded.
“They made sure I understood how to handle the weapon before I was able to use it,” Boykin said. “I was supervised quite a bit before I was able to go off with a rifle to go hunting on my own.”
Jenkins encouraged parents to discuss guns with their children.
“I think it would help in a lot of these cases — like the Atlanta teen who shot a classmate this week — if parents would be a little more inquisitive about what our kids are doing,” he said. “Can we prevent this from happening again? Probably not, but we can reduce these incidents from happening as much as they have been.”