FOUR HOURS. That's it.
In order for me to get a concealed weapons permit in Florida, my firearm competency certification class took four hours.
Now, there are some fine instructors out there. When I took it way back in 2008, my instructor encouraged me to keep coming and learn more before I made a gun purchase. He stressed that carrying a weapon did not guarantee safety. He made it clear I wasn't qualified to be the sheriff of anything after a measly four hours. But I had satisfied the legal requirements to carry a concealed weapon.
Now that same training would make it legal for me to "carry" openly if HB 163 passes. That wouldn't have been wise for me back then. I simply didn't have enough expertise.
Eight years ago, I was single and had just started working the night police reporting shift at the Times. I saw things that many people haven't, and it awakened me to dangers that can lurk out there, things that made owning a gun seem sensible to me, and I stand behind my decision to get gun education and seek licensing to carry a concealed weapon.
Angry families of suspects and angrier families of victims slammed doors in my face, threatened me off their property and lightly gripped the choke chains of already agitated attack dogs. Night after night, I was dispatched to come back with gruesome details of a murder — three of them involving police officers — or some other unspeakable offense.
Once, I had to spend 15 minutes steeling my nerves before getting out of the car to ring a doorbell. It was the home of Dontae Morris' mother when the convicted killer was still on the loose.
As a then-single woman, I felt safer at home knowing that I had a gun — and that I had qualified for the right to slip it into my purse had I ever felt the need to do so. There was never an instance where it was necessary. It did not make me less nervous. It did make me much more aware.
Now I have a different beat, and I spend more time in theme parks than back alleys, but the kinds of crimes I once covered are still occurring.
Concealing a weapon for use in emergencies offers some concealers peace of mind. Now, put that same nervous person in a situation where someone they don't know is approaching with unknown intentions with a firearm on full display. What's the result? We can't know. But with more than 1 million concealed carry permit holders, the odds are that at least one person will let their nerves get the best of them.
I've been married for five years to a man who's reassuring, chivalrous and ever-present. It's one extra barrier between me and the societal dangers that make me nervous. And yet, I still want my gun.