“Think about it,” the firearms instructor boomed, addressing 58 newly minted gunslingers at a suburban firing range on Sunday evening.
The day before, according to police, an off-duty officer out to dinner at one of D.C.’s sparkliest new entertainment districts saw someone pointing a gun and pulled out his concealed weapon, killing the gunman in the middle of a crowd at the Wharf.
Boom. That was it. That was the moment that all 58 students who got their concealed-carry licenses at Maryland Small Arms Range on Sunday night were preparing for. Yes, they too want to be the good Samaritan.
The instructor, Kareem Lamb, doesn’t think all of them are ready.
I met Lamb, whose company is called Kaution Arms, on Sunday night while reporting a story at the range on another instructor. His tirade was hard to ignore. He’s a 50-year-old Army veteran who specialized in combat arms training. A necklace with an assault weapon charm rests on his substantial chest. He’s a safety and protocol freak, using fear to scare students into getting more training. And he was helping out another company on Sunday (a company that told me they will no longer ask for his help after some students complained about his aggressive style).
They’ve all been flooded with students anxious to get concealed-carry permits in Maryland after the Supreme Court lowered the bar in June on what it takes to qualify: Just 16 hours of training. Conference room slide-show presentations. Paper tests. 25 rounds fired. That’s it.
It’s not enough. Lamb waved toward the paper silhouette of a human torso, some pocked with holes at center mass — through the heart and lungs — as they were instructed. Others had those little holes all over the place: past the head, three inches from the right shoulder, in the white space around the suspect.
“I look at what you’re missing. That’s an innocent person y’all just killed,” he said, staring down some of the students. “That’s an innocent person y’all just killed, shooting blindly. Scared.”
He was tough on them at the range, barking into a megaphone just a few feet from their heads: “What are you doing?” “Reload!” “Fire!” “It shouldn’t take all day to load a magazine!”
He wasn’t celebrating when they got the right to carry the weapons to the grocery store, to the mall, to church. Just like him — after thousands of hours of military training.
“Just ’cause they say you can do it, you wanna do it,” he said, just as some of them began high-fiving and hugging because they passed. “But you ain’t preparing yourself to do it.”
On June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling 6-3 in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, made preparing for it pretty easy.
The ruling eliminated the New York provision requiring a gun owner to give a compelling reason for needing to carry a concealed weapon. That used to mean, for example, business owners transporting lots of cash or other special circumstances. Now, it’s anyone who can pass the course. And other states are following the court’s ruling.
Meanwhile, the firearms trainers — the kind who obsess over gun safes and locks and protocols and safety checks, mostly folks with a military background — aren’t thrilled.
“So what I was yelling at you,” Lamb told the students. “Guess what? If you can’t handle it, reevaluate why you’re getting a gun.”
The truth is, Lamb told them and repeated to me, untrained people die when they try to use firearms.
A recent study at Stanford University also found that people living with handgun owners are twice as likely to die by gunfire in homicides as nearby neighbors living in gun-free homes.
“Despite widespread perceptions that a gun in the home confers security benefits, nearly every credible study to date suggest that people who live in homes with guns are at higher — not lower — risk of dying by homicide,” said the study’s lead author, David Studdert, a professor of health policy in the medical school’s Department of Health Policy and professor of law at Stanford Law.
Lamb knows that training is what drops that statistic. But he doesn’t agree with me that gun permits should be like driver’s licenses. My son had to log 40 hours in the car with one of us, then 10 more hours at night before he got his provisional license.
If driving laws were like gun laws, he’d be able to do some work in a classroom, drive across a parking lot and walk away with a license. Lamb was silent when I asked him about that comparison.
This is one of the biggest problems in the gun debate. The folks who understand how much training it would take to be the unflappable hero who can draw a weapon and safely take down a bad guy in the middle of chaos are often the same people who fight every inch of legislation and regulation that ensures gun owners have to reach that level of training. Right now, they’re hoping people simply want to.
Gun instructors are busy, trying to pack in as much as possible in the 16 hours the state of Maryland requires, including laser simulators, tests and stances. But watching Lamb’s students learn to reload, it’s clear that the smoothness of muscle memory — the kind you see in the movies — comes with practice.
“It takes a lot of time,” Lamb said a day after that class and his emotional tirade. Some students were rattled by the boom of gunfire. The muzzle flash was intense. The recoil shook their bodies. “And I just don’t see people putting in the time it takes.”