WEEKI WACHEE — Taking careful aim, Danny Ambrose squeezed off the last round from the .22-caliber Ruger Mark III. He smiled and nodded at his paper target 12 feet away.
With 15 shots finding their mark, Ambrose, 35, successfully completed the "live fire" portion of the Hernando Sportsman's Club's concealed weapons permit class Wednesday. The course, one of several NRA courses offered by the club, is required of applicants for a Florida concealed carry permit.
By day's end, Ambrose and 15 other students were eligible to apply to join more than 900,000 Floridians who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon.
However, Ambrose said that really wasn't his intention when he signed up for the gun safety class. Although he has fired rifles in the past, he hasn't had much experience with handguns.
"I don't even own one," he said. "But if I do decide to get one, I want to know how to handle it safely, that I'm doing things the right way. I think it's everyone's responsibility to learn that."
So does Tom Knott, 83, who has been teaching NRA-sanctioned gun safety courses at the club for 30 years. For $60, participants can learn from Knott and his instruction team the fundamentals of shooting a handgun. Participants are taught to load, aim and how to shoot a weapon before heading to the firing range.
Knott said simply getting comfortable is the hard part for many people.
"It's often a matter of practice," he said. "We don't have a lot of people that fail the course, but we do get them. It's not for everyone."
He said he's seeing more and more novice gun users signing up for gun permit classes. He figures it's a sign of the times.
"A lot of people really just want the ability to protect themselves if necessary," he said. "My job is to teach them how to do that correctly."
The February shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford ignited controversy when the city's police department, citing the state's "stand your ground" law, initially did not arrest suspected shooter George Zimmerman. (He has since been charged with second-degree murder.)
In the aftermath, criticism spread to the large number of concealed weapons issued in Florida, far more than any other state, and the ease of receiving these permits.
However, Hernando Sportsman's Club president Randy Rickert said the state's regulations on concealed weapons are strict enough because convicted felons, people with mental health issues or those with domestic violence injunctions cannot get one.
"It's a totally political issue," he said. "Nobody is saying that there are no weak points in the law. But as far as I know there's no law that's going to stop stupidity. People have to accept responsibility in owning a handgun."
Rickert said his club's gun safety instructors routinely turn away anyone who lacks what he calls "the common sense needed to own a firearm." But he says that's not likely to do much in the long run.
"If you really want a concealed firearms permit, you can get it. There are plenty of gun shops and dealers who will be willing to overlook things. But we won't."