By John Joyce
Published in News on May 5, 2013 1:50 AM
Students in Ken Edwards' concealed carry class practice their shooting stance as they aim at paper targets on the Eastern North Carolina Firing Range in Dudley.
Firearms instructor Dan Pletcher reviews the safety mechanism on Greg Gurley's handgun.
The written tests had been taken, graded and passed.
Only the paper targets stood between the test takers and a concealed carry permit.
From the moment the pistol is drawn from its holster, raised to the ready position and the target acquired, there is a great sense of anticipation.
An instant later, the magazines empty, anticipation gives way to exhilaration
The instructions were clear.
"Five rounds in eight seconds," the instructor said.
The command was repeated several times.
"Ready on the left?
"Ready on the right?
"Ready on the firing line?
That part was easy.
Firing just two rounds in three seconds proved more difficult, but only because the temptation to continue snapping the trigger is instinctive.
The students fired 50 rounds each in this fashion, various sequences of shots in so many seconds were called out and executed.
Some struggled initially, but the instructors worked patiently, and diligently, to correct their mistakes and to teach proper technique.
At the end of the shooting portion of Ken Edwards' N.C. Concealed Carry Hand Gun Permit class, all 50 of the rounds had found their target -- center mass, many in the bull's eye.
"I knew you were a shooter soon as I saw ya," Edwards said.
Since the Newtown, Conn., massacre, growing controversy over gun control laws and proposed weapons bans have sent Wayne County citizens flocking to the Sheriff's Office to apply for purchase and concealed carry permits.
Either permit is good for five years and requires a background check and three references. The concealed carry permit, requiring completion of the safety course and a $90 application fee, can act as a purchase permit, but the opposite is not true. A purchase permit costs $5 and an individual can get up to four at a time.
The total number of permits handed out in 2012, more than 4,000, is on pace to be eclipsed in half the time this year.
Through the end of March, more than 3,000 permits had been issued by the Sheriff's Office.
"I've had as many as 120 (students) in a class, all ages, races, sexes and incomes," instructor Ken "Sarge" Edwards said.
Edwards is a 30-year veteran of the Goldsboro Police Department. The 53-year-old retired police sergeant is a certified firearms instructor with credentials from both the state of North Carolina and the National Rifle Association.
Edwards usually teaches the classroom portion of the CCW Permit course at Lane Tree Golf Club, but sometimes uses the Arrington Fire Department or other locations.
He also owns and operates the ENC Firing Range located off N.C. Highway 581, just over the Neuse River, west of Highway 111 South. The shooting portion of the class is held there.
"I had a 92-year-old man in one class. He could shoot, now. Couldn't hear a darn thing, but he could shoot."
Edwards teaches his permit class above and beyond the state requirements. He said anyone planning to carry a firearm should be as well-informed as possible about guns and gun safety.
Gun control, he said, is another matter altogether.
"None of what has been proposed is going to keep firearms out of the hands of the criminals," he said.
For those who can legally purchase and carry a firearm however, education is key, Edwards said.
"I have been instructing for more than 20 years, and I'm still learning," he told the class.
This day's roll call included men and women, black and white, veterans and active duty military members and non-military folks, young and older.
The course requirements mandate certain areas to be covered. The legal justification for deadly force lasts two hours, safety and presentation is also two hours. The firing range portion is two and a half hours.
Safe cleaning and storage are also covered in the course.
"Legal gun owners have the added responsibility of keeping their weapons out of the hands of those who cannot legally possess them," Edwards instructed. "That includes children and criminals."
The laws regarding concealed carry are many, and are strictly enforced by local and state law enforcement. The reason so many people are rushing to purchase firearms and to have permits to conceal/carry them now is the growing concern that, eventually, neither option will be available to the public.
Firearms have two purposes, Edwards said.
"One is sport and recreation. The other is self-defense."
Edwards said the joy of shooting and the relationships forged at the range are comparable to any sport.
It's like golf, he said. People come to the range for different reasons and from different walks of life. They begin to talk and to share tips and information and often form friendships.
Edwards staunchly defends the Second Amendment for these reasons, and for others.
He quotes the text of the amendment: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
The portion that reads "shall not be infringed" means just that, Edwards said.
He, and millions of other Americans, believe that the gun control argument hinges on the very idea that the federal government cannot "infringe" upon the rights of the people.
"They can enforce laws against an individual person, hence a convicted felon being prohibited from having a firearm, but not against the people as a whole," Edwards said.
Others argue that the sentence is being interpreted too loosely and that no one clause is separate from the other. If that were true, then the Second Amendment would only be applicable to the sustaining of a militia, and the rights of private citizens to "keep and bear arms" would have no mention either for or against.
It comes down to the inherent right of a person to defend himself versus the rule of government, Edwards said.
"The right to own a firearm for self-defense is natural law," he said.