If there’s anything the NRA has been able to accomplish in its quest to be the defining voice in the gun debate, it was taken care of for them by Indiana Governor Mike Pence. He decided to arm his National Guard after the Chattanooga shootings and then authorized America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ to conduct training classes on concealed-carry of handguns. The NRA announced that their “world class” training program would be cost-free to any Guardsman.
The NRA was founded as a training organization in 1871, and while most of its current activity involves lobbying for more lenient gun laws at the federal and state level, it still maintains an active training department and claims to have certified somewhere north of 120,000 trainers of whom 13,000 are ‘active’ in law enforcement training. Getting certified as an NRA trainer isn’t exactly the same thing as getting certified as, let’s say, a Honda mechanic. For the latter you not only have to take an intensive training program at a company-certified training facility, you also have to pass a battery of written and hands-on tests to demonstrate that you can actually repair a car. Regarding the requirements to be certified as an NRA trainer, I’m being generous and polite by saying that the requirements are basically that you show up at a range, a classroom or someone’s house, sit through an eight-hour recitation of the training manual, take a short-answer written test that nobody flunks and you’re good to go.
I suspect, of course, that the NRA probably took a more direct hand in the Indiana Guard training, because it’s one thing to conduct training for every Tom, Dick, Harry & Louise who wants to carry a gun (although very few states actually require specific training to qualify for CCW), it’s another to become a training partner for the U.S. Military. And if you think that the National Guard only gets called out for local emergencies and disasters, think again. Half the troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been Guard units, and one out of ten troops killed in the war theater were from the Guards. So if you’re training the National Guard, you’re training front-line, military troops.
Now don’t get me wrong. The NRA isn’t doing the basic firearms training for the M-4 battle rifle carried by the Guard both here and overseas. To date the training is being offered to Guard members who want to carry a concealed handgun which has evidently become an aspect of the beefed-up security measures that Pence and other Governors ordered in response to the Chattanooga shooting deaths. Indiana has no training requirement whatsoever for state residents who want to walk around carrying a gun; the state police website says: “Please be safe and responsible whenever and wherever you carry your handgun.”
I see two problems with the decision by Governor Pence to engage the NRA to train his Guard. First, it’s yet another manifestation of off-loading government functions onto the private sector, in this case, government functions involving security and armed defense. Nobody’s going to tell me that the NRA ‘s approach to certifying firearm instructors is even remotely close to how the U.S. military trains and equips its own. But let’s not forget that Pence is running for re-election, and it never hurts to cozy up to the gun-owning lobby when you’re up for office in a red-meat state.
The bigger issue, however, is whether there’s any proof that sticking a handgun in your pocket makes anyone safer at all. Using a gun for protection involves a lot more than just learning how to aim and fire the damn thing. What it really requires is extensive training to know if armed force is required at all. Someone points a gun at you is a no-brainer. But what if he walks up to you with one hand behind his back? Sorry, but reading a few sentences about ‘being alert’ from the NRA manual doesn’t quite work. At least not for me.