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Concealed carry classes growing in county

Published 11:13 am Friday, July 11, 2014

Warren County’s latest enhanced concealed carry handgun class if filling up quickly, and demand for firearms classes is so high that the county has more than half a dozen certified instructors.

John Elfer, a longtime law enforcement firearms instructor, will teach his first enhanced concealed carry class on July 26. The class is designed for 10 people, and by Thursday afternoon, eight had already signed up.

“I’m doing the basic NRA pistol class and using the NRA curriculum,” Elfer said.

Elfer is the county’s emergency manager, but the class is being taught privately through his company River Shooters.

“I think there is a demand for it. If people are going to have firearms, they need to be trained how and when to use them,” Elfer said.

The demand is evident in the sheer number of enhanced concealed carry instructors listed in Warren County. The Mississippi Department of Public Safety lists seven instructors here — roughly one for every 7,000 residents. Oktibbeha, Washington and Hancock counties, which all have a similar population to Warren County, have a combined total of four instructors, according to the online DPS registry.

The database does not account for the home locations of instructors who offer classes statewide or across one of the state’s eight broad regions.

Instructor Steven Snow, a former Vicksburg police officer, is also planning to offer a class July 26 if he gets enough students.

The permits students earn during the class allow for a great amount of personal protection, Snow said.

“Our society is always evolving and changing and the fact of the matter is, I don’t care what crime report you read here or there, crime is not decreasing. My motto is don’t wait until it’s too late,” he said.

Students who pass the enhanced concealed carry class earn a state permit allowing them to carry a firearm into places that do not usually allow them to do so — colleges, athletic events and governmental meeting places.

“The first thing we tell everybody is this is not a get out of jail free card. This is not a license to go shoot people. You’re held to a higher standard when you carry a weapon,” said Chris Ratliff, who helps his wife, Vicki, run X-Ring Tactical.

Learning the ins and outs of state law is complicated and covers a good portion of the typically eight-hour classes. Taking one of the classes is the best way to learn Mississippi’s gun laws, said instructor William Earl Young.

“I teach from the basics to an advanced level,” he said. “To me it’s about keeping people aware of the Second Amendment. I want people to know the law.”

Safety is the top priority during the classes, which cover a wide range of topics, instructors said.

“A lot of people consider themselves firearms proficient, but until they take one of these classes they shouldn’t say that,” said instructor Jimmy Callender. “These classes are very important.”

Of the seven instructors interviewed this week, Callender was the only one who indicated that the state’s implementation of an open carry firearm law in 2013 has led to increased interest in the classes. The law essentially says that Mississippians can openly carry a weapon almost anywhere.

Others said people who seek an enhanced carry permit support gun rights but don’t think open carry is the correct way to exercise those rights.

“The people who are coming to me feel about the same way I do. Open carry is more of a threat to people and they don’t want to be singled out. They want their firearms on paper, and to have proper training,” said instructor Betty Wilson, whose late husband was Warren County deputy Tom R. Wilson.

Wilson, unlike most of the other instructors, typically teaches private classes rather than a large group.

“I have found that a lot of people prefer to do one-on-one,” she said. “They think they have stupid questions and are embarrassed.”

Mel Malone also takes a unique approach to teaching the enhanced carry class.

“If you’ve got a plot somewhere out in the country that we can sit down and do the class part of it, we come to you,” said Malone, who is also a shooting sports director for the local Boy Scouts of America.

Malone donates half of the proceeds from the courses he teaches to the Boy Scouts for use in purchasing firearms. Last year BSA was able to purchase seven shotguns, 10 muzzleloaders and 10 .22-caliber pistols with money raised from teaching the classes, he said.

“If it wasn’t for that, I probably wouldn’t teach the classes at all,” he said.