Reduced Training for Gun Permits is Bad for Public Safety

Testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on February 27, 2019 regarding HB1264:

My name is Beth Joslin Roth. I’m the policy director for The Safe Tennessee Project, a gun violence prevention nonprofit made up of physicians, academics, public health researchers and concerned citizens.

We view gun violence as a public health issue as it is a leading cause of premature death in the US and here in Tennessee.

I’m here today because like all of you, I care about the the public health and public safety of our state.

I’m here today because as a researcher, I am concerned about reducing the training requirement to carry loaded guns in public.

This legislation seems to be moving Tennessee closer to becoming one of the handful of states that do not require gun permits, and therefore, allow the carry of guns without any required firearm safety or range training.

According to the most recent data from the Center for Disease Control, Tennessee has the 11th highest firearm mortality rate in the country.

In 2017, 1,246 Tennesseans were killed with a firearm – the largest single year increase in at least two decades. A review of state firearm laws and firearm mortality rates shows that states with weak gun laws, including weak or non-existent permitting systems, experience higher rates of gun death.

There are currently fourteen states that have eliminated gun permits, including eliminating firearm training requirements. Of the ten states with higher firearm mortality rates than Tennessee, six of them are permitless carry states.

Analysis of CDC data reveals that states that passed permitless carry before 2017 experienced an average annual increase in gun deaths of 7.1 percent, and a 9.3 percent increase in gun homicides, significantly higher than the average annual increases of 3.2 percent for gun deaths and 2.0 percent for gun homicides for the country as a whole.

Furthermore, the significant majority of national level academic research since 2005 finds that crime actually increases in states that weaken their laws governing concealed carry.

While correlation is not causation, the numbers are clear. States with stronger permitting systems, including gun safety and range training, see lower firearm mortality rates. Any assertion that relaxing permitting and training requirements would make communities safer is simply not backed up by empirical data.

This bill would create a bifurcated permitting system. Those who wish to take the comprehensive eight hour Department of Safety-certified class that includes range training under the supervision of an instructor, can pay a fee of $100 to qualify for an enhanced carry permit. This is the current permitting system that is supported by 93 percent of Tennesseans and 89 percent of permit holders.

On the other hand, those seeking a “concealed carry handgun permit” would pay a reduced fee and choose from a variety of training options, including completing an online course that only has to be two hours in length. The “concealed carry handgun permit” would have no range, or live fire requirement. 

Concealed carry permit holders would be able to carry loaded handguns everywhere current gun permit holders can carry, with only the exception of higher ed campuses.

Given the choice, we can deduce that most individuals seeking a permit would likely choose the cheaper option that allows them to take a two hour online class rather than to attend a comprehensive day long class with supervised range training.

This means someone who may never have even fired a gun before could legally carry a loaded handgun, concealed, anywhere guns are allowed, including bars, restaurants, on public transportation, in playgrounds and parks where kids play, and even in legislative offices.

It is imperative that those wishing to carry loaded guns in public places undergo firearm safety training, in the classroom and at the range.

In 2008, The Rand Center of Quality Policing conducted an evaluation of the NYPD firearm training and firearm discharge review process. They found that the average hit rate in situations in which fire was not returned was 30 percent. In situations where officers exchanged gunfire with a suspect, the average hit rate was 18 percent. According to the LAPD, between 2012 and 2016, their officers averaged a hit rate of 33.4.

I share these numbers not to in any way disparage law enforcement.  I share these numbers to illustrate that even skilled officers who have undergone rigorous firearm training, spend numerous hours on the range every year, and participate in situational and simulated training exercises miss their targets more often than they hit them. What kind accuracy rates could we reasonably expect from someone whose experience with a firearm may only consist of an online class and no supervised range training?

If the concern is providing a more affordable permit option, please consider just reducing the price of the existing permit, or creating a sliding scale. In the interest of public health and public safety, I urge you to keep the current firearm training, including range training, requirements in place.