Local Interest Growing In Firearms Safety Course
By: Christopher Kazarian
On the dining room table of Steven M. Walsh’s home sat an arsenal of handguns that would give any intruder pause before breaking into the Seacoast Shores home—a silver Beretta magnum, black Glock .40 caliber, and two revolvers, a black one straight out of a Hollywood western with a long barrel, and a smaller, more standard silver one.
Inside what could double as a wallet was a small pistol, a Walther PPK, that fictitious spy James Bond was famous for using.
They were scattered in front of Mr. Walsh and 10 other Cape residents, from Falmouth, Mashpee, Sandwich, and Hyannis, who sat around the table on a recent Friday night.
The purpose of this gathering was nothing nefarious, rather it was just the opposite—to learn about gun safety as part of a course residents need to take to obtain a Firearms Identification Card (FID) and License to Carry (LTC).
These days, Mr. Walsh said, the course is more popular than ever, as more people are looking to obtain licenses than in any of the five years he has been teaching the course.
Until the past year, Mr. Walsh, who is certified as a firearms safety instructor through the Massachusetts State Police, held monthly classes with an average of three people in attendance.
Now classes of 10 are common. The largest he had was 16, with people having to sit in the adjacent living room. And he has, in some months, had to hold two classes a month because of the high interest.
He attributes this heightened response to the nation’s top leader, President Barack H. Obama, and to rumored threats of future bans on assault weapons that President George W. Bush did not renew in 2004.
“Everyone is afraid he is going to ban assault weapons, so they are trying to get grandfathered in before that happens,” Mr. Walsh said.
It is one example of how Mr. Walsh, a veteran who works as an air traffic controller, has no qualms about sharing his opinions, especially those that pertain to gun control laws.
Most violent crimes, he argued, occur in states like Massachusetts, California, and places like Washington, DC, that have liberal policies pertaining to gun ownership. He highlighted statistics that these crimes have increased in the commonwealth by 46 percent since tougher laws were passed in 1989.
Meanwhile states like Texas, where there are fewer restrictions, which encourage gun ownership, he said, have much lower violent crime rates. “If you are a perpetrator, would you want to come into a house in Massachusetts, where there is a 30 percent chance of there being a firearm or a house in Texas where there is a 100 percent chance...Texas has a very low violent crime rate because most everyone there is armed with a gun,” he said.
Mr. Walsh gears the course toward increasing one’s safety through the use of a gun, while stressing the laws that pertain to owning and operating one in this state.
The class is roughly three hours long, covering everything from the types of bullets available for guns to giving students the opportunity to handle one, or all, of Mr. Walsh’s unloaded handguns. That is followed by a 20-minute video on gun safety; after that he gives each participant a written test. Although it is not graded, Mr. Walsh said he wants to feel confident that students have understood the basic tenets of the class. “If they perform well enough, I can give them their certification,” he said.
He allows his students—and for first-time gun owners he strongly encourages this—to accompany him to the shooting range at the Monument Beach Sportsman’s Club, where he is a member.
While the option to go to the shooting range is included in the $150 price of his class—he discounts this price to women, combat veterans, and active duty military personnel. Mr. Walsh said Massachusetts does not require its residents to have fired a gun before obtaining a license. “You can actually get a license and never have fired a pistol,” he said. “I don’t know anyone who has ever done it. If you have never fired a gun, it is a good idea to have them go to the range.”
Those who took the class this month were there for different reasons. One local college student wanted to obtain his license for skeet shooting, while another plans on joining a local sportsmen’s club and they suggested he obtain his FID.
While Anthony Horigan of Falmouth, a combat veteran who served in Iraq, wants his gun license for personal protection, he also has other motives. “I was thinking this might help with employment opportunities working in security,” he said.
For David W. and Laurel J. Almquist of Mashpee and their son Matthew, who were accompanied by friend Jason Bernardo of Mashpee, the reasons they are taking the class ranged from personal protection for Ms. Almquist, who is taking a job in Brockton, to removing some of the negative stereotypes about guns. “I want to learn about guns to remove some of the mystery and mystique about them...I want my son to know about gun safety rather than being afraid of them,” she said.
At the same time, Ms. Almquist said she realizes the inherent dangers in using and handling a gun. Her uncle, a former Marine who is an Upper Cape resident, was showing a nephew one of his guns when he was accidentally shot with it.
Beyond those other reasons, Mr. Almquist said, owning a gun is “my right as an American.”
The couple enjoyed handling the Walther PPK, with Mr. Almquist noting it is so small, “you could put this in my boot.”
“This is a lovely family outing,” Ms. Almquist laughed. “We ride Harleys, too. Our Harley gang is cool. We go down to Woods Hole for cocoa.”
In-between these occasional moments of levity from those in attendance, the class was grounded in the seriousness of the topic as Mr. Walsh stressed throughout the importance of personal protection and how guns can be used toward that end.
He recommended students apply for a Class A License to Carry, which can be used for hunting or target practice, for sport, for employment only, or with no restrictions at all. A Class A license allows the holder to carry large capacity firearms.
It typically takes up to two months for one to obtain a license after going through the vetting process, Mr. Walsh said.
It is also wise, he said, to become a member of the National Rifle Association of America as well as the Gun Owners Action League (GOAL) of Massachusetts, as they often offer a variety of benefits from legal assistance to education to insurance for those affiliated with them.
Once a person decides that gun ownership is for them, he stressed that they determine which type of gun best suits their needs and continuously practice handling and firing it at a local gun range and cleaning it on a regular basis.
While holding a gun license is one step in the process, Mr. Walsh stressed that being aware of one’s surroundings is also a necessity when it comes to personal safety.
“You have to be aware of your surroundings,” Mr. Walsh said. “Refuse to be the victim.”
He recommended residents study their homes, planning escape routes, potential areas for cover, and where it best makes sense to keep a gun. Proper storage requires they be kept in a cool, dry place with ammunition in a separate location, Mr. Walsh said.
While there are many locks available for guns, he suggested fingerprint safes, which allow for the easy and quick access of a gun in case of an emergency.
State law requires that there can only be 10 rounds in a handgun at any one time.
Although the course focuses on gun safety, Mr. Walsh delves into other options for residents, including a red laser flashlight that an intruder could mistake for a gun laser. “Part of it is trying to get the intruder out of the house,” he said, noting that lawsuits have arisen when homeowners have shot perpetrators breaking and entering into their homes.
Residents may have the right to defend themselves, but if an intruder were to come after him in his own home with a baseball bat and he shoots them, he said, “I’m in a lot of trouble. You have to be a law-abiding citizen.”
Among the other non-lethal weapons he passed around was what appeared to be a mechanical pencil that, when clicked, reveals a six-inch stainless steel skewer.
Residents can also put out signs that inform visitors they have a dog or an alarm system even if they do not have one. Another option for protection is a dagger, which by law, can only be three inches wide, with a cutting edge on one side.
He did not recommend pepper spray because it can easily blow onto the user and is not only difficult to get off, but is quite painful.
Instead, he said, pepper gel, which can be purchased in places like Kittery, Maine, for roughly $75, is much more effective. “This is like 100 times more powerful than mace,” he said, holding up an unopened canister. “This is some serious stuff.”
There is also a dual-functioning unbreakable umbrella, which not only can be used to protect one from raindrops, but from a would-be assailant. “I’ve had guys at work stand on it [trying to break it] between two chairs or hang from an I-beam on it for 20 minutes,” Mr. Walsh laughed. “This is a serious weapon. It really is and it will keep the rain off of you.”
All of these are alternatives one could use before reaching for a gun. That option, Mr. Walsh said, has serious implications people should consider, especially if owning one for protection.
“Can you operate a gun while excited?” he asked. “Can you pull the trigger and kill another human being. You have to think about these things. It is like some people get buck fever when hunting. They see a deer and say, ‘I can’t do this.’ You really have to ask yourself these questions.”
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