Many in Southeast Missouri packing concealed weapons

Monday, December 5, 2011
State of Missouri concealed carry instructor Andy Johnson goes over the 19 hits that student Lynn Cunningham made Saturday during her concealed carry instruction in Kennett, Mo. (Laura Simon)

KENNETT, Mo. -- The loud boom of a pistol being fired echoes through a gaping field in western Dunklin County on Saturday afternoon. The noise fills a blank sky just east of the Arkansas border and causes a lone rooster to crow in protest.

Bang.

Birds quickly fly out of a nearby tree to avoid danger.

Boom.

A young dog cowers behind a truck in the field.

The shots are just a few of the 20 Lynn Cunningham fired while passing her concealed carry licensing test Saturday.

"Women need to have protection and safety," said Cunningham, 65, after putting 19 bullets through a 23-inch-by 45-inch target with her SIG Sauer P230 .380 hand gun.

Cunningham was one of seven students to pass Andy Johnson's concealed carry class that day. Johnson, a high school teacher, has taught the class since Missouri's concealed carry law went into effect in 2004. Since starting Concealed Carry Instruction, Johnson has averaged 200 students a year from all over Missouri.

Lynn Cunningham, 65, of Octa, Mo. fires her SIG Sauer P230 .380 hand gun at the target Saturday during her State of Missouri Concealed Carry Instruction in Kennett, Mo. Cunningham hit her target 19 out of 20 times. (Laura Simon)

"Good citizens should have a handgun to protect themselves," said Johnson, who has handled firearms since his childhood and is a National Rifle Association and FBI certified instructor.

Missouri is one of 49 states to have a concealed weapons law, and shares reciprocity of its law with 41 states.

Roughly 1 percent of citizens in states with concealed carried laws have a permit, Johnson said. In Missouri, 129,577 people have a valid permit, good for 2 percent of the state's population, according to statistics from the Missouri Department of Revenue.

In Cape Girardeau County, 1,795 residents have a valid concealed carry license, a number that is proportionate to Missouri's 2 percent of the population. The amount of concealed carry licensed residents in rural areas normally teeters between 3 and 4 percent, Johnson said.

James "Junior" Swift is part of Cape Girardeau County's 2 percent, and on Nov. 30, he allegedly wasn't afraid to use the rights he gained when he was issued the permit.

That evening, Swift, 38, was arrested and charged with unlawful use of a weapon following an argument at Kidd's on Broadway with a woman over a spot at a fuel pump, a case that has brought media attention and public scrutiny.

According to a police probable-cause statement, Swift allegedly put his registered and permitted weapon into his clothing, apparently hidden under his shirt, during the argument. He is licensed for concealed carry in Cape Girardeau County.

Because of conflicting witness statements, Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle is rethinking whether to press charges against Swift, saying that he'll need additional information.

"He had a permit to carry a concealed weapon," Swingle said. "But nobody has a permit to exhibit a weapon in a threatening manner."

Education is key

Although uncertainty surrounds Swift's potential charges, one thing is certain: had he not had a valid concealed permit, the consequences would have been worse. Possessing a concealed weapon without a permit is a Class D felony, which is punishable by up to four years in prison and a potential $5,000 fine.

If Swingle decides not to press charges, Swift will have avoided any punishment by attending a class, shooting a target 15 times, registering with the sheriff's department and passing three background checks.

Johnson said Missouri concealed carry classes focus on shooting fundamentals -- marksmanship, grip, stance, sites and trigger work -- as well as safety and execution of the principles on the range.

"Everybody always passes," Johnson said of his classes. "I've never had anyone shoot so poorly that they failed."

Johnson said he allows students to work on fundamentals on the range before taking the final test, which requires shooters to shoot a silhouette target 15 out of 20 times with a hand gun from seven yards away.

In Johnson's instruction, the test comes after four hours of classroom work that shows students how to load, clean, store and fire guns properly. Everything that Johnson teaches is required by Missouri law, he said.

Passing the class does not necessarily get you a permit, however.

"Although simple, not everyone can get a permit," Johnson said.

To get a permit, Missourians must be 21, a legal U.S. resident and cannot be convicted of or charged with a felony. Residents cannot have more than one D.W.I. or drug-related conviction in the past five years.

"I let my students know up front that a felony may keep you from getting your permit," Johnson said.

Once students have passed the course, they can go to the sheriff's department and apply. There, they will be subjected to three background checks on state and federal levels. The sheriff's department has 30 days to issue or decline to issue a license, Johnson said. A concealed carry license costs $79, and training typically costs $100 to $150.

Once issued, the license must be renewed every three years.

‘The best people'

Johnson said that when more people have a concealed carry permit, crime rates tend to decrease. The National Academy of Science has not found any evidence to support Johnson's claim, but his basic logic says criminals should beware when entering homes in communities with a high amount of concealed carriers.

"Criminals don't know who has a gun and who doesn't," Johnson said.

Missourians may use deadly force against someone who is committing a forcible felony in their home, according to the state's "Castle Doctrine."

Residents with concealed carry licenses are less likely to commit crimes because of the background checks they must go through to get licensed, Johnson said.

"No criminals have their concealed carry permit," he said.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said it is rare to see someone with a license to commit a firearm offense.

"We file many cases a year involving somebody displaying a weapon in an angry manner," Swingle said. "But we don't file many, if any, of someone who has a permit who displays their weapon in an angry manner."

Swingle said that's thanks in large part to concealed carry education. Swingle lauded educators for teaching safe practices at licensing classes. Instructors teach students when to pull the trigger and make sure only the right people get licenses, Swingle said. In October, three gun-related crimes were committed in a three week span.

While Johnson agrees instructors do a good job in promoting safe and legal gun use, he said the students should receive the praise for refraining from misusing their firearms.

"Concealed carry weapon citizens are the best people out there," he said.

psullivan@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

1325 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

State Road 547, Kennett, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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