Valdosta Daily Times

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June 21, 2013

Colo. law strikes all-online firearm training

DENVER — In an age where you can buy a car or get a college degree without ever leaving the house, Colorado lawmakers have made one thing impossible to obtain from comfort of the couch: A concealed weapon permit.

A new law requires people to show a firearm instructor in person that they can safely handle a gun before they get a permit, seeking to close what lawmakers say is an Internet-era loophole they didn’t envision 10 years ago.

“There was no thought of anyone going and sitting in front of a computer and doing the whole course online,” said Democratic Sen. Lois Tochtrop, a sponsor of the new law, and one of the legislators who voted in favor of Colorado’s concealed-carry law in 2003.  

Most states require proof of training to carry a concealed weapon. Instructors teach basics like how to load and unload a gun, how to hold it and fire it and ways to store it properly. Only a few states allow people to complete a concealed-carry training course entirely online.

Some Colorado lawmakers were astonished at the ease with which people could get a concealed-carry training certificate. Democratic Rep. Jenise May, who sponsored the bill with Tochtrop, said one of her staffers found a course online and got a certificate in less than an hour after answering eight questions and skipping a training video.

Colorado was one of the few states to pass gun legislation this year, despite national outrage over mass shootings and President Barack Obama’s failed attempts to get federal gun laws through Congress. Laws to provide for universal background checks and limits on ammunition magazines made it through the state Legislature with no Republican support.

The change in training rules got a handful of Republican votes, although most in the state GOP rejected the idea of scrapping all-online training permits.  

“We allow people to obtain full, four-year college degrees online. Why wouldn’t you be allowed to obtain the training for a concealed carry weapons permit completely online?” said Republican Sen. Greg Brophy.

The importance of in-person gun training is debated.

Those who offer the all-online courses insist their teachings are rigorous, and say they’re filling a market need of the digital age by allowing people to complete a class quicker and cheaper than before.  

Eric Korn, the president and CEO of Virginia-based American Firearms Training, said he started offering online handgun training in Colorado about two years ago, and his company also offers training in other states where all-online permits are allowed — Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Iowa, Missouri and Virginia.

He said the online courses are just as effective. His company’s training includes six videos and more than 100 exam questions, and is much cheaper than in-person training: $50 once you pass the course to get the certificate, free if you don’t pass.  In-person training courses can cost three times as much.

“I think what we did was socially conscious and relevant,” Korn said.

Other firearm trainers say there’s no substitute for learning gun safety in person.

“My point of view is, nobody knows everything about firearm safety,” said Kevin Holroyd, who runs a business called Colorado Concealed Carry. He said his training — which is offered at his Aurora location — lasts about eight hours and includes information on shooting fundamentals such showing people to always keep a gun pointed in a safe direction and always keep their finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

Colorado county sheriffs, who are the final authority on whether to approve or deny concealed-carry training permits, supported the bill, even though they opposed the other new firearm restrictions.

Some counties already refused to approve permits if the training was done entirely online. Sheriffs don’t keep track of how many certificates were approved from all-online courses, said Chris Olson, the executive director of the County Sheriffs of Colorado.  

Sheriffs had concerns about the online training, saying it wasn’t enough to learn proper safety procedures, Olson said.

In Oregon, Democratic lawmakers also want to get people away from their computer and to a real instructor. The proposal would specify that training courses could not be taken online. However, the bill doesn’t appear to have enough support to get out of committee.

“There are responsibilities that come with having a concealed handgun permit, and one of them is knowing how to use it,” said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat and chief sponsor of the bill. His proposal would’ve also required people to pass a “live” fire test but that provision has been dropped from the bill.

John W. Jones, the executive director of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association, said online training has not surfaced as a big concern for his group. Although in Virginia the court clerks issue concealed-carry permits, the sheriffs have veto authority, Jones said.

“Everybody does things online. My sense is that we can live with it if it’s good course,” he said.

Wyoming is even more unusual: A concealed-carry permit is only required if people want to use it in another state.

Colorado’s new law, which took effect after the governor signed it last month, still allows most of the training to be done online. It requires, though, that a gun owner complete show an instructor in person they know how to handle a gun.

It’s like driver’s training, May said: People can learn the basics of driving and the rules of the road online, but have to take the actual driving test in person.

“People need to know how to shoot a weapon and store correctly so it doesn’t go off,” May said. “Those are all things that you can’t necessarily learn from the Internet.”

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