COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - With every bullet fired from a gun, a conscious decision to inflict deadly force is made.
That was my biggest takeaway from a concealed weapons permit course I did with the Richland County Sheriff's Department. Not only had I never shot a gun, but I had never even held a gun.
It made for quite the new experience.
"You have the right to protect yourselves and your families. That's something that's been in our Constitution for many years. You have the right to do that," RCSD Lt. Dominick Pagano said.
Lt. Pagano was one of the instructors who ran the concealed weapons permit training course at RCSD's training facility on Harmon Road in Columbia in late April. He is an advocate for CWP training courses and continuous practice with a handgun.
"If you can't take a clear, precise shot, you can't shoot."
Lt. Pagano is talking about training. He told me it's critical to train and continue to learn to ensure safe firearm ownership.
"Deadly force is a last resort. So if you can get away, get away. But, if you do have to use deadly force, just understand the laws on when you can and cannot utilize deadly force."
The training was timely. As the South Carolina Legislature ended its session this spring, one of many bills left hanging in the air was Senate Bill 449 – which aims to legalize open carry in South Carolina. The House's version, House Bill 3930, passed through the House of Representatives this spring. The Senate's version sits in the Senate Judiciary Committee until it is taken up again in the next legislative session.
"I've been around guns all my life but the concern is people like you who have not been around guns. I'm all for second amendment rights, NRA fan, everything else, but I don't think it's an imposition to make sure people are trained," Senator Sandy Senn said.
Senator Senn is an avid gun advocate, but doesn't think there's anything wrong with the current system of gun ownership and concealed carry.
"Everybody does have a right to keep and bear arms - but everything has a limit."
Meanwhile, Representative Chip Huggins was one of the sponsors on the House's version of the bill. He says arming good-intentioned citizens will actually make the streets safer.
"I think the likelihood of someone committing a crime when they have knowledge that you or I have a weapon on us may lessen them committing a crime. It's mixed emotions. I will tell you, certainly, we don't want to put weapons in the wrong hands. That's not the intention here. Other than to protect so that we do lessen crime."
While this debate continues, the process to get a CWP remains the same. But, you don't have to have a CWP to carry a gun. You only have to have a CWP if you intend to carry a concealed weapon.
Anyone can go buy a gun from a gun store following a clean background check. The difference: in an open carry state, gun owners can carry that gun on their person in plain view, though guns would still be prohibited in places like federal buildings, on school grounds or in hospitals.
If you'd like to read up on the House's version of the bill, click here.
If you'd like to read up on the Senate's version, click here.
In a brief interview after my first time firing 50 rounds, my photographer asked me what I would like people to know about my experience. Here's what I said: "Knowing how to defend yourself in any scenario is not only the most empowering thing you can do yourself, but it is the safest thing you can do for yourself."