Editor’s note: I’d like to preface this piece by saying that I witnessed what happened first hand. I was there. I took this Arkansas Concealed Carry Certification course. Yes I was a bit annoyed by the requirement, but that is a story for a different time. After the chaotic events of the class, though, I was tempted to write it up. Instead, I asked the instructor to write it up herself.
This is her story. We’ve decided to use it as the first in a series of articles we’re calling Teachable Moments.
From Weird to Ugly
by Carla Wells
My name is Carla Wells. I am a concealed carry instructor for the state of Arkansas. I’m an Iraq veteran who deployed as the only female in a group of eighteen in 2006. Was I qualified to go over? Yes. I passed all my range qualifications and did my training like my team did. Was I ready to go over? No. Did I know and understand my sidearm? Just the “point and shoot” part.
I’m sure some of you can relate. When you’re in the military and its range day, some are taught to raise their hands and a block officer will come and fix any stove pipes or troubleshooting for you. Yes. That was me and, sadly, a few others as well. No one took the time to help us really understand our weapons. An occasional class once a year just doesn’t cut it.
It wasn’t until I got to Iraq and stood at the clearing barrel to unload fellow Airmen’s pistols that the light bulb went on. Sadly I was a Security Forces cop, and though I was dang good with my 5.56, if I had gotten into a jam with my pistol, everyone around me would have been screwed.
Fast forward to 2011. A colleague asked if I wanted to become a concealed carry instructor. I thought about this overnight, paid my fees the next day and joined the instructor class. I was tested before I even entered the room, just not in the way you would expect.
Being asked to go home with the instructor isn’t part of the typical instructor qualification process. I was a bit embarrassed and irritated. A fellow Airman that I served with was standing behind me and overheard the remark, but I blew it off and sat down.
As the instructor began to teach class, he casually handed me a training pistol and told me to clear it. I took it, cleared it and handed it back to him. It was at that moment I realized why I had agreed to take the class. As a woman, I wanted to teach other women. I wanted them to learn in a comfortable atmosphere, without the intimidation. I didn’t want female students to have to go through what I endured from my instructor.
The state of Arkansas requires five hours of classroom time plus four hours of range time before instructors can certify students. Why so much time, you ask? When people leave the range after a day of class, most inexperienced students (and there are more of them than you’d think) have just barely learned the fundamentals. As an instructor, I support the state’s curriculum. A day of class is hardly enough time for me to be confident with who I am certifying. In most cases, it’s the last time I see these people.
I believe Arkansas has a good understanding of this. Just because you’ve attended the class and got the t-shirt, it doesn’t mean you’re really ready to carry, even with the license. With Arkansas’s requirements, and my basic judgment as an instructor, the State can be assured that all attendees have had some kind of formal training with their firearms.
I don’t know most of my students. However, in the event that something goes bad in a gunfight and a student ends up in court, as an instructor, I may have to testify that my student was briefed on the laws, use of force, and to stayed current on changes associated with concealed carry in the state. It was my name on the instructor’s sheet. I don’t take that lightly.
Case in point. It’s the summer of 2014 and I’m teaching a class. By the end of the day, I wished I’d canceled the class and given everyone a rain check because the situation went from weird to downright ugly. At the end of in-class session, which was held in a side room at a local restaurant, I noticed a student carrying his gun to his car. No holster. No case. He just freely carried it in his hand, right through the dining room of the full restaurant and out into the parking lot.
I followed, and politely explained to him that he should case his gun until he got to his vehicle. He mumbled something unintelligible and kept on walking to his truck. I passed him off as a rude idiot and walked back into the classroom, where I was told that the same gentleman was seen by three other students—washing his gun with soap and water in the men’s restroom. During one of our breaks, while I was working with another student, he decided to scrub up his gun—right in the middle of the lunch rush.
At this point, the red flag was flying high. I smelled his drink. No sign of alcohol. In fact, other than this odd behavior toward the end of the class, there wasn’t anything I could find that seemed out of place. Could he simply be that clueless?
Later in the day, I had eleven people waiting to qualify at the range. No time to waste. I called the genius over who had washed his gun in the sink. I wanted to qualify him and send him on his way.
I needed to get a feel for what was going on with him. He clumsily walked up to the line and displayed a practiced proficiency with his pistol. He shot well enough. He hit the target. He easily qualified, and I didn’t find any evidence of alcohol, at all. He still slurred a bit, and he had a tick that spooked me. But he qualified and I thanked him and said good-bye. He fishtailed his truck on the way out.
I wasn’t about to let it go. I called the State Police that Monday morning and told them what I’d seen in the class. That is my legal responsibility. I chose to let the State of Arkansas handle the decision. Let’s face it. I didn’t want to piss someone off when there were already guns and ammo around. You don’t poke a bear. Even if he wasn’t a bear. How would I know?
But he fishtailed off down the road and didn’t come back. So I pressed on. Eventually I worked with a woman who’d brought her husband’s Ruger 9mm P 95. She was having trouble hitting the target and I began watching her trigger pull. I asked for the gun and shot a couple of rounds into the target to get a feel for the trigger. I stopped. With the gun still pointed down range I felt for the slack in the trigger. I squeezed enough to feel the slack and stopped. I told the student to watch my finger and see where it stops… then it happened.
BOOM! It wasn’t intentional. In fact, it scared the hell out of me. I looked up in shock and said something along the lines of “what the hell?!” I honestly cannot remember what happened right before or right after. It is still a blur. I went through two emotions. Shock and total embarrassment. I’m the instructor! As if anything else could go wrong, now I was responsible for an accidental discharge. The bullet went down range and in a safe direction, luckily.
Like I said—from weird to ugly. At any rate, I let the surprise of what I did blow over quickly. I couldn’t and didn’t make a big deal about it. There was still work to do. Everyone knew it happened by accident. At this point, people were uneasy and I was embarrassed but there were still people to get qualified.
I ended the class by working with a man who hadn’t shot in a very long time. I worked with him one-on-one for forty-five minutes. I also worked with a female, letting her shoot different types of guns in order to get a feel for what she liked and what to look for when she went shopping—yet, another advantage of actually attending a class instead of getting your permit online.
In other states, applicants for concealed carry permits don’t get that kind of attention. It doesn’t matter if a student claims to have shot their whole life or if it’s the first time. I’ve had men I thought would knock it out of the park take three trips to qualify. In contrast, I’ve had women with little experience step up and hit black every single time. I’ve also had experienced shooters get nervous and lose their heads and have to be instructed on how to clear their stovepipes.
After class, I went over the scene in my head. I tried to replay what happened with the accidental discharge. Did I pull the trigger or was the slide open just a hair? Did I press the mag release and the bolt slammed forward, causing it to go off? This is what my husband is still trying to convince me happened. He loves me and I assume he’s trying to make me feel better. I think I pulled the trigger. Even though I don’t remember pulling it past the slack, I know I must have.
I took August off. It’s the first month I haven’t had a class in a year and a half. You don’t think something like that would affect you. I, personally, never thought about it. I have always been safe and never thought it would happen to me. I usually take things in stride but this is something that made me sit back and want to regroup. In my class for September, will I be more attentive? Most certainly. Will I be relaxed? Highly doubt it. As long as I’m instructing shooters, I never want to become complacent. From the least to the most experienced shooter, my last class reminded me that it can happen to anyone.