WBUR

Demand Rises For Mass. Firearms Courses

Gun Owners' Action League instructor Jon Green sets up a shooting range for his class at the Worcester Pistol Rifle Club. (Kathleen McNerney/WBUR)

Gun Owners’ Action League instructor Jon Green sets up a shooting range for his class at the Worcester Pistol Rifle Club. (Kathleen McNerney/WBUR)

BOSTON — More Massachusetts residents are getting gun licenses and, as a result, more people are turning out for firearms training — one of the requirements for getting licensed.

There are 21 state-approved gun training courses in Massachusetts, including the one we visited at the Northborough headquarters of the Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL).

A Post-Sandy Hook Uptick

The instructor, Jon Green, stood in front of six students — the maximum GOAL allows in a class at one time — and walked them through Massachusetts gun laws, including the types of licenses available and how to legally store guns.

“The goal of this class is to provide for you the skills, knowledge and attitude to safely own and maintain a handgun in the commonwealth for recreational purposes,” Green explained.

Green estimates GOAL trains about 1,000 people each year and said the organization has not been able to keep up with demand.

“We see a big number of classes fill right after a natural disaster,” Green said. “After the ice storms of central Massachusetts a number of years ago and the number of power outages, people say, ‘You know, I want a gun for protection.’ ”

During his course, Green helps a female student make some adjustments in order to increase shooting accuracy. (Kathleen McNerney/WBUR)

During his course, Green helps a female student make some adjustments in order to increase shooting accuracy. (Kathleen McNerney/WBUR)

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Green said they saw a similar uptick.

“Like so many venues that offer gun safety training and industry in general,” he said. “Try to find a gun, try to find a box of ammunition. Our courses are booking months out. We’ve just added 12 additional basic pistol courses just to meet the demand.”

In this class there were two men and four women. They agreed to speak with us as long as we did not use their full names. Almost all said they were taking the class for the same reason: personal protection.

“My husband’s family was held up at gunpoint. We live where anything can happen and it just would be something to know,” said one student, Jen.

“There are a lot of bad people in the world and you hear nothing but bad news on television and it makes you think a different way, so you just want to be able to protect your family and what you own. God forbid something happens, you’re able to defend yourself,” said Cindy, who was attending the class with her husband, who works overnight.

“I’m married to someone in law enforcement,” explained Bridget. “I want to know if someone does break into my house that I can shoot a weapon that my husband owns and that I know how to shoot it if I had to. [It] doesn’t mean I’m going to carry one with me, doesn’t mean it’s a goal of mine, but it’s just being informed.”

Female Gun Buyers Rising

According to several gun industry organizations, like the National Shooting Sports Foundation, women are the largest growing sector of gun buyers. But there is not any hard data on gun sales, particularly by gender. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is not allowed to keep that kind of information. State public safety officials say records are not kept in a way to track gun sales by gender.

But anyone applying for a firearms license or who wants to buy a gun in Massachusetts must go through a background check, and FBI data show the number of federal background checks for firearms in Massachusetts is skyrocketing. The number steadily increased throughout 2012 and in January 2013, it more than doubled compared to January 2012.

Throughout the class, Green worked with each student on handling the weapons safely. Each student practiced loading and unloading neon-colored training cartridges while keeping the pistols pointed away, at a wall.

Back On The Range

About halfway through the all-day course, Green took the students to an outdoor firing range in Worcester. It was cold and windy, with spent shell casings littering the ground.

“If somebody yells ‘Stop’ or ‘Cease fire,’ just stop. Wait for further commands,” Green said as he went over basic rules of the range.

He laid out several revolvers and pistols, and then in groups of three the students stepped forward, loaded the guns, and took aim at two cardboard squares about five yards away.

“Gently, gently, gently press those triggers,” Green said, as the students fired away.

Only two of the six students said they had fired a weapon before and it seemed the students got more accurate with each shot.

Jen, who had never fired before, hit the target almost every time she pulled the trigger.

“She’s on my team,” Green said after Jen hit near the target’s center. “Well done, well done.”

After two hours of shooting practice, Jen and classmate Cindy were exhilarated.

“I guess hitting those targets, that’ll hook ya,” Jen joked.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Cindy said. “I thought I’d be afraid and I wasn’t. And I really liked it.”

Several of the students already had guns in their homes, owned by family members. All of them were considering ownership, including the four who have children. They said they were not worried about safety.

“If it’s safely stored there’s not a problem. You’re not going to leave it out on the kitchen table or give the kids the code to the safe,” Cindy said. “There’s restrictions with everything. That’s a no-brainer.”

“Probably I’d be more afraid of a pool in my home than a locked gun that I know I’m going to be diligent and safe having it in my home,” Jen said.

The students returned to the classroom in Northborough at the end of the day. They learned how to clean the handguns and then took an open-book test.

Everyone passed and received two certificates. One was from the NRA, which designed the course, and one recognized by the state that will allow the students to apply for a firearms license and possibly join the 329,000 residents who have active firearms licenses in the state.

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  • Gene

    Jon does a very good job with his students.More women should take that course.

  • Goz

    Great job, Jon Green. Keep up the good work.

  • Rob

    Frankly, I am amazed to see an unbiased article about guns from NPR, particularly in Massachusetts. Journalistic integrity just scored a point. Great job.

  • John Franks

    WBUR just got itself a first-time donation from a law abiding gun owner in MA. Finally, a positive look at responsible ownership! Good job by Jon Green @ GOAL.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      that had to balance out that piece about “gun guys” the other day

  • ednastvincent

    It’s truly unfortunate that WBUR chose GOAL for this story. GOAL opposes the MA safe storage law — one of the few things that differentiates MA from CT. If CT had a safe storage law, we would have 20 more first graders alive today.

    Safe storage regulations prevent guns from being stolen and used by criminals, prevent depressed teenagers from using them to kill their classmates and prevent young children from unintentionally harming themselves and others. They serve everyone and should be supported by every gun owner and every citizen. Opposing a well-crafted safe storage law — one that also allows for armed self-defense within the home — is criminally irresponsible.

    Teaching people how to defend themselves and use firearms safely is a noble goal. Trying to drag MA regulations down into the dirt so that our gun death rate can someday equal Texas or Florida (3-4 times as many deaths) is not.

    GOAL opposes the MA chiefs of police, the International Brotherhood of Police, the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence and others who fight for public safety. Those who support safe and responsible gun ownership should look elsewhere for their training.

    We have the lowest rate of gun death in the United States. Despite that, any law-abiding citizen of Massachusetts can still get a gun for hunting, shooting or personal protection. Let’s work together to keep it that way.

    • John Franks

      Have you spoken to (or researched) Jim Wallace or Jon Green about GOAL’s stance on the storage laws as written? Of course you haven’t. GOAL does not object to safely storing firearms. The way you phrased your comment was sneaky. You did it in a way that implies, “Oh these guys don’t think firearms should be stored safely!”.

      WRONG.

      The current laws on the books concerning storage have more grey than black and white. If you read them you’ll see they don’t clearly define what is or is not allowable in a lot of instances. Much of what’s on the books is “up for interpretation” depending on the cop, prosecutor, judge, etc. As for your comments concerning “what GOAL opposes”, again, no context. Typical.

      Then you end it with “let’s work together”? Please. GOAL has been trying to work with our state legislatures for years now, but when you have people like David Linsky drafting insane bills it’s pretty difficult to reach across the aisle.

    • Rob

      To say, “if CT had a safe storage law, we would have 20 more first
      graders alive today” is disingenuous. There is no way to know if that’s
      true. If this woman was as irresponsible/careless/delusional/stupid as
      she was to leave her guns unsecured, laws or no laws, in the same house
      as her mentally ill child who has had violent episodes, then who is to
      say she’d have followed those laws if they existed?

      We need to
      stop pretending that having laws on the books are a magic spell that
      forces people to abide; in particular, laws that try to mandate common
      sense or personal responsibility. I present to you as evidence laws
      concerning drunk driving, drug use, texting while driving (or reading a
      newspaper, applying makeup, etc.), seat belt laws, traffic laws in
      general, leaving children in parked cars, the list goes on.

      It is
      the same fundamentally flawed mindset that suggests that enacting more
      gun laws will reduce gun-related crime. Criminals, by their very
      definition, do not follow laws.

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        actually we do know exactly what “would have happened if CT had a safe storage law” because they do. its tough to debate when people just make things up

    • PaulD

      If you truly understood what all those laws entail, you’d understand why GOAL opposes them (not that they necessarily oppose all of what you’ve stated). Did you know that the commonwealth, through a recent court case, requires guns to be stored in a locked container which is inside of another locked container? I doubt it. It’s also quite a stretch to believe the MA storage laws would have prevented Newtown. Nobody has yet built a storage container that a determined individual, with the right tools, can’t break into.

      Did you that in MA, a chief of police can deny a person’s 2A rights with no due process whatsoever? Further, I’ve spoken to a large number of individual officers in MA who say our current laws, and the new gun control bills currently in the state house do little or nothing to prevent crime. By contrast, the MA Chiefs of Police support every new onerous gun control bill that comes along, like liability insurance for gun owners to the tune of $2k/year that will do nothing, or a magazine limit of 7 rounds that is, in reality, a ban on the most commonly used guns. But of course, they’d never want officers to be subjected to that same limit. And of course opposing the Brady Center is quite rationale when, for the longest time, their platform included banning handguns. They changed that when the Heller decision was handed down.

      We really should work together. As part of that, people asking for more gun control laws should be providing real scientifically valid data that the gun control laws will work. Further, they should be willing to compromise (something they always ask of gun owners when they are pushing for more restrictions) and rescind existing gun control laws that don’t work.

      See the recent Boston Globe article on the 1998 Gun Control act and it’s effectiveness. Further, see the Freakanomics web site for an analysis on the data behind gun the effectiveness of gun control laws.

    • LeftShooter

      Ednastvincent,

      The NRA basic firearms course described in the article discusses safe gun storage and states that guns should remain unloaded until the user is ready to shoot. I’d certainly bet that GOAL covered that in their course delivery. Mrs. Lanza (or anyone) shouldn’t have needed a law to decide to safely store her firearms. Unfortunately, she and many others paid dearly for that mistake in judgment.

      You seem to want to make things better, which is laudable. May I respectfully suggest that you investigate the fact that MA is one of the states that does not comply with the information requirements of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (known as NICS) by withholding all information relating to those individuals with known mental health issues. Please, if you’re willing, help us in MA close that loophole.

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.heafey David Heafey

      I have in my hands, Chief Ron Glidden’s most excellent “Law Enforcement Guide to Firearms Law”. It’s an interpretation of existing Massachusetts firearms laws and it’s 423 PAGES THICK!!

      MA laws are fractured and difficult to understand for even Law Enforcement professionals. How do you expect the average citizen to comprehend them and, even more importantly, stay compliant? Horror stories abound of citizens “victimized” by an incorrect interpretation of Firearms Law; basically, the LEO leaving it up to the court system. They endure hours of mental anguish and thousands in lawyers fees only to have a judge dismiss the case.

      When GOAL opposes “common sense legislation”, it’s usually because it’s anything but common sense and only serves to obfuscate an already confusing system.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      CT had a safe storage law so nice try. you are wrong about goal and wrong about citizens being able to aquire guns in the commonwelth the law is not evenly applied or followed in good faith by the police

  • sjw81

    great story. this also explains why we support second ammendment. does anyone really trust the govt is looking out for you? they are looking out for only the top 1 percent-goldman sachs, wall st, big agriculture, big oil, big pharma, et al. we need our guns…

  • rickrabin

    People who shoot or work at firing ranges should have regular blood lead tests. Better yet, use non-leaded ammunition.

    • PaulD

      This is actually true of indoor ranges that are poorly ventilated. At outdoor ranges, there’s essentially no risk.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      they have a lot of requirements for ventalation. there is some evidence suggesting that annie oakley may have suffered from lead poisoning late in life. steel ammo can be more acutely dangerous in an indoor range because of the potential for ricochet

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