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Florida concealed carry goes permitless, and gun instructors hope for the best

Taking a concealed permit class in Tampa reveals what’s lost with the new firearms law.
 
Steven Lim prepares to fire a pistol in front of instructor Brent Adair during a concealed weapons permit class at Brandon Gun School.
Steven Lim prepares to fire a pistol in front of instructor Brent Adair during a concealed weapons permit class at Brandon Gun School. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published April 4, 2023|Updated April 7, 2023

BRANDON — Firearms instructor Brent Adair entered the windowless room behind the modest gun shop and greeted all three students waiting for his 11:30 a.m. concealed carry class.

“Knowledge, skills or attitude, which is most important?” he asked. There were enough empty chairs for five times the students. Mumbles came back to him. “Definitely attitude. You’re carrying a tool that can take a life. You need proper attitude to avoid problems.”

He asked if they remembered a fatal shooting in Clearwater that started with a guy upset over handicap-reserved parking. “Wrong attitude.”

The students held thin stacks of printouts with single pages covering gun handling, gun malfunctions and the legal definition of “securely encased.” One page held 120 words on “a gun owner’s responsibilities,” including preventing “unauthorized and untrained individuals” from reaching their guns. A 20-question quiz was tucked below six pages of ads for Adair’s more advanced classes.

Floridians have since 1987 needed a license to lawfully carry a concealed firearm in public. The state requires, essentially, three things: a background check, $97 and a certificate from a class like Adair’s.

That changes soon. The Florida Legislature passed a new permitless carry bill in March. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law Monday. Requirements for licensure to carry a concealed weapon sunset July 1 — no more training certificates needed.

The classes that approximately 2.6 million Florida concealed license holders have taken over the years have varied widely. Many instructors — even those who support permitless carry — believe that safely carrying a weapon requires far more training than the law ever required, anyway. They just hope people seek it out on their own.

What Florida stands to lose in mandated training was on display in Adair’s class. He started with the basics of how to hold a gun (“Finger off the trigger”), where to safely aim one (“At the floor, not the wall that a bullet can go through”) and the rule of keeping a gun unloaded when not in use. (“But if it’s in the nightstand protecting your house, it’s in use.”)

Adair held up a blue plastic replica gun to demonstrate grip. The students looked but did not touch. Adair moved on to misfires. “Write this in the box on the next page exactly,” he said. “Pull the trigger, nothing happens.” The students complied. He taught “sight alignment,” or aiming, via illustrations.

Adair told a story about waking up in the middle of the night to a sound, grabbing his pistol, and finding his stepdaughter creeping in from a party. The lesson, he said: “Before you shoot an intruder, always look them in the face.”

Brent Adair holds a "blue gun" while teaching a concealed weapons permit class at Brandon Gun School. Adair does not support Florida's new law allowing permitless concealed carry without mandatory gun safety training.
Brent Adair holds a "blue gun" while teaching a concealed weapons permit class at Brandon Gun School. Adair does not support Florida's new law allowing permitless concealed carry without mandatory gun safety training. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
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Adair has always hoped for what he believes is the safest scenario: That his concealed carry class will reveal to students that they’re still too incompetent to safely carry a weapon.

“I’m not in favor of this bill,” said Adair, a registered Republican, a week before it passed in the Republican-controlled Florida House. “You take away that opportunity to at least show them, ‘I need more training’.”

His concealed classes packed in students in recent years, he said, especially when the pandemic dovetailed with protests over George Floyd’s murder and “people realized they were on their own.” After DeSantis made it clear he supported permitless carry, classes slowed. Adair expects things to get slower yet.

Adair felt “hooked” the first time he fired a gun on a friend’s family’s rural property at 11. For years after that, he shot BB guns in a compromise with his parents — until he bought a Sig Sauer P226 on his 21st birthday. Ten years ago, he started teaching, eventually leaving a career as a dental lab tech. He’s seen things, especially at gun ranges.

“Gun skills aren’t common sense,” Adair said. “I’ve seen people do things that will scare the crap out of you — mishandling firearms, pointing the gun at themselves, fumbling around.”

Adair, like other instructors the Tampa Bay Times spoke to, fully believes we’re all safer with more law-abiding citizens carrying guns. But he may be something of an outlier by, ultimately, disagreeing with this easing of access. Other firearms instructors said the current training isn’t sufficient, but they absolutely don’t think it’s up to the state to make any training or licensure mandatory.

“I think the Constitution is very clear and that right to carry is granted to us by God,” said Ryan Thomas. He founded Tampa Carry, which offers concealed permit classes via online video to thousands of people each year. Despite his business interests, he believes, “This is the way it always should have been.”

But on training, he also agrees, “People don’t even grasp the fundamentals until they reach six to 10 hours at a gun range.”

Will the new law kill the concealed weapons class industry?

“Fortunately, I’m not a one-trick pony,” said Tampa’s Durand Capers, who offers a variety of classes through Tactical Education & Defense. “It’s going to slow down, but that’s a good thing, because to survive, instructors are going to have to step up and train better. And the instructors who currently do those bare minimum classes are going to fall off. And people will get better training.” He hopes.

Travis Arnold, founder of Tactical Warriors in Pasco County, said he’s kept an eye on Texas since that state began allowing most people over 21 to carry a holstered firearm, concealed or not, without licensure.

“We saw that classes do decline,” he said. “But people started getting in trouble because they didn’t know the law, and they came back. People will realize they need training.” He hopes.

• • •

“Don’t try to save a life and aim for a leg. Most likely you’ll miss and end up in legal trouble,” Adair told his class. “Aim for center mass, where the vitals are, and let God take care of the rest. You’re not shooting to kill, you’re shooting to stop the threat. So if the police ask why you shot five times, you say because they didn’t stop until the fifth one.

“Too deep?” he asked when the class got quiet. They replied with nervous laughter.

Adair took a beat and looked at them. He had two hours, total. The most he could plant in their minds was a seed of things that had become some of his own core beliefs: Respect for the power they’d wield, and the gravity of being scrutinized under the law — let alone the knowledge of what a gun’s safety does and how to stand and so many other basics.

Adair passed around some defective ammunition. With 90 minutes gone by, it was the closest anyone had come to touching a real weapon. He listed cheap but unreliable bullet brands to avoid and told the students to write it all down.

He devoted a block of time to the logistics of how to get fingerprinted for a background check and apply for a permit once the class wrapped.

Adair passed around his phone with a photo of a bullet-holed target and the 10-year-old boy he’d taught to shoot like that, as a nod to his more advanced classes. He asked if anyone wanted to purchase a copy of a book on gun law and offered info on a sort of legal insurance policy for $11 a month that covers your lawyer in the event you shoot someone.

It was nearly the end. The students pulled out their quizzes, labeled “final exam.” Since the law does not require any test, it was just a teaching tool. The exam consisted of Adair reading each question, then asking, “Which do you think it is?” before ultimately telling the students what to circle.

Ammunition should not be present when cleaning your handgun. (True.)

Before handling a gun, you should learn how it operates by reading the owner’s manual. (True.)

In Florida, you must tell the officer that you have a firearm on you during a traffic stop, even if the officer does not ask you. (False.)

Then it was time to fulfill the most specific requirement of Florida’s soon-to-be defunct law. The instructor must witness each student fire a gun.

The students donned ear coverings and lined up. In the corner of the room stood a metal cylinder, about a foot across. At the top end a pistol sat in a holder, aimed down into a bullet trap. A student stepped up and tried pushing a bullet into the magazine backwards. Adair turned the bullet around and pressed it in. The student slid the magazine into the pistol and, without aiming, looking down the sights or lifting the weapon off the holder, pulled the trigger.

No recoil. Barely a sound. Done. Next. Legal requirements fulfilled, the students left with their certificates.

Shani Williams prepares to fire a gun into a bullet trap during a concealed weapons permit class at Brandon Gun School. Such training will no longer be required to carry a gun in Florida.
Shani Williams prepares to fire a gun into a bullet trap during a concealed weapons permit class at Brandon Gun School. Such training will no longer be required to carry a gun in Florida. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

There are certainly less rigorous classes than Adair’s in the Tampa Bay area. One highly popular option requires stating you’ve watched a free 40-minute video online, then making an appointment to fire that single shot in front of an instructor. There are certainly more rigorous classes, lasting half a day or longer, with students firing multiple magazines at real targets and sharing in-depth legal discussions. They all meet the state’s standards.

Whether anyone carrying a gun in Florida attends one will soon be entirely their own choice.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri spoke in Tallahassee in support of permitless carry, in part because the training requirement was a “perfunctory check-the-box. You don’t have to do anything.”

Concealed weapons licenses will remain available, albeit unneeded, in Florida. A perk of opting in is being able to legally carry in other states that recognize Florida’s license.

As for background checks, Floridians won’t need one to carry, but they’ll still need a clean one to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer.

Florida law will still allow for other ways to obtain a gun without a background check, such as private sales, inheritances or gifts. People banned from getting a concealed license due to criminal records or mental health issues remain just as prohibited after July 1.

“The problem is a lot of people currently don’t realize they’re banned until they apply for a permit,” said Adam Brown, who runs Straight Shooters Firearm Training in Tarpon Springs. “It happens all the time with people who go through my classes. They’re prohibited due to stuff from 30 years ago. Well, you get gifted a firearm from grandpa and you don’t need a permit, and you have no idea you’re prohibited, so you’re carrying. Now you get stopped by law enforcement. Guess what? Now you’re arrested for a felony.”

• • •

“Please get training,” Adair said, “I want to see all of you back here.”

The students filed out of the tiny classroom, through the gunshop and into the parking lot, holding their certificates. Steven Lim, 24, said he only recently became interested in guns and bought a pistol. His partner, who declined to give her name, said she actually hated guns but thought it would be smart to have her concealed license in case she needed to move one of Lim’s or her father’s guns.

Neither was aware that the law requiring the license was soon to be changed, or was even up for discussion. Would Lim be getting more training before he carries a gun in public?

“Oh, hmm, maybe,” he said. “Yeah, I’d like to. I’d definitely like to, I think. We’ll see.”

• • •

This is the first in an occasional series exploring the culture of guns and gun ownership in Florida. Christopher Spata will explore changing norms and attitudes, how Floridians live with guns today and people’s personal stories about firearms that venture beyond the usual framework. To share thoughts or story ideas, email cspata@tampabay.com.