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Now that D.C. no longer requires a “good reason” to issue a concealed carry pistol license, what’s a law abiding, gun-owning citizen to do? According to Leon Spears, sign up to take his Firearms Safety Training Course.
“It’s been bananas,” says Spears, who was so inundated with calls that he slept in his office last Friday night. The day before, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announced he would not appeal a recent federal appeals court ruling that gutted one of the toughest gun laws in the country.
The ruling in Wrenn v. District of Columbia—and Racine’s decision not to appeal it—brings to a close an era in which the District has fended off persistent challenges to its gun laws. And it figures to shake up a system that until now has denied gun carry licenses to more than 70 percent of applicants.
Spears is in such demand that he opened up his I Street NW office on Sunday morning to a group of would-be gun licensees. Some are first-time applicants, and some have had previous applications rejected because they could not show sufficient reason to fear for personal safety, or couldn’t show that their job required handling large sums of money or valuables.
Under the new law, applicants will still have to undergo a criminal background check and put in two hours of range training, in addition to the 16-hour safety course that Spears and a limited number of firearm safety instructors offer. If they have been vetted already and denied for lack of “good reason” in the past, the process will be much quicker, Spears says.
The nine attendees are all male. Some are in their 20s or 30s, but most are older. Seven are black, two are white. One of those readily offers his name but asks that it not appear in this story because he has a “top secret” security clearance, he says, that makes his line of work sensitive. “I’ve been ID’d as a target and was advised by [government officials] to get a permit in Maryland already,” he says. “I want to be permitted from here to Florida, because that’s my range of activities, and I own property [down South].
“I’m not a hunter, and I’m not a gun nut,” he continues. “I had a friend who died in the Navy Yard shooting, and if he had been armed there wouldn’t have been such carnage that day. I’m sure of that.”
Spears, rumpled from the hectic weekend, is vibrant as he begins the class, which is abuzz with anticipation. “Let’s have a seat and we’re gonna be cooking with gas,” he says.
To say that Spears is a gun enthusiast would be an understatement. “I’m a gun guy,” he says. “I wake up every morning with one or two by my side, and I thank the Lord for waking me up.” Though he does not specify how many guns he owns, he stresses the importance of carrying a registration card at all times for every one of them in his possession. There are a couple dozen D.C. certified trainers, but he is the first concealed carry permit holder in the District and the sole proprietor of dcConcealedCarry.com.
He’s also somewhat of a Renaissance Man. He says he has degrees in Philosophy and English from Howard University, a Therapeutic Crisis Intervention certification from Cornell University, a Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness and Response graduate certificate from The George Washington University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and a Master of Science degree in Engineering Management, with a focus on Crisis & Emergency Risk Management.
He has worked as a clinical technician in the Johns Hopkins Hospital Emergency Department, and served as a volunteer firefighter for the Prince George’s County Fire Department, where he held an Emergency Medical Technician certification.
“Managing Tomorrow’s Consequences Today” is his firm’s motto.
Spears’ training session is part history lesson, starting with the District of Columbia v. Heller case, which kicked off a decade of court challenges and rulings in 2008. That case was about the Constitutional right to “keep and bear arms,” he says. Heller established the right to “keep,” but lost on the right to “bear,” and then in 2014 Palmer v. District of Columbia succeeded on the latter, says Spears. A few months later, then-Mayor Vince Gray signed D.C.’s most recent gun law into effect, thus beginning the round of challenges to the “good reason” provision that has been struck down.
“Now the burden is on the government to show why you can’t have a [concealed carry license], and not for you to show why you need one,” says Spears.
People are jaded because D.C. for so long has trampled on their Constitutional rights, Spears says, as he launches into a primer on the 16 exceptions to the new revised law. Government buildings, school campuses and adjacent parking lots, daycare centers, hospitals (or health care centers that provide “sensitive” services), public transportation, and places that serve alcohol are among the places where, under the law, members of the public cannot carry a concealed weapon, even with a permit. Some of these provisions come with caveats and contingencies, which several attendees appear familiar with. After a short while, hands begin to go up with questions about various scenarios.
Spears tells the class that once permitted they are the District’s “golden children,” vetted by the D.C. police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the FBI. “You are deemed to be a natural, reasonable person—prudent, morally responsible,” he says.
His students depend on him for more than just the ABCs of gun safety and a certificate that allows them to apply for a concealed carry license. “My clients share very intimate details regarding abuse, background information, and money routes, etc.,” he tells Loose Lips. “Many women, and men for that matter, have been robbed, attacked, etc., and they enjoy my confidentiality.”
Just over the Potomac River, in a small brick office building in South Arlington, James Wiggins Jr. provides a similar service that incorporates his own life experience and philosophy.
Wiggins is a former D.C. Fire and EMS Department medic who law enforcement officials enticed to attend the D.C. police academy in 1995 to provide gun safety training to recruits. He became so proficient that the U.S. State Department recruited him in 2003 to teach security and protection to employees transitioning out of military positions and into civilian life. “My city taught me well,” says the native Washingtonian, who now splits time between the District and Houston, Texas. He has more than a dozen law enforcement agency patches on his gun vest, and dozens of framed certifications, safety training and private investigator licenses, and commendations on the wall of his cramped office.
Wiggins says he’s in it for more than the money. He saw the damage that guns can cause, up close and personal, as a medic with Fire and EMS. “I love my city,” he says. “I’m gonna train people in how to protect themselves out here in the streets. There’s some evil people out there, and criminals know that there’s just a 2 percent chance of running into a person who is armed.”
Since last Thursday, Wiggins says he has received more than a dozen calls and emails from people looking to sign up for his class, which he says is better than the competition because of what he has seen and done in the line of fire.
“I’ve seen people suffer,” he says. “I’ve had a gun stuck in my back. I’ve been shot at, but not hit. You gotta be a smart, responsible citizen. A gun is a tool. You have to know how to use it. Like a saxophone: Just because you play it, doesn’t make you a musician.”
Wiggins provides instruction to private citizens, retired cops, and armed security personnel, he says. His services include advising clients on what type of gun to purchase based on their individual needs and circumstances. “Now that the hoops and loops have been removed, and you meet the standard”—21 years of age, law abiding with no criminal record, mentally competent—“you shouldn’t have a problem. Though if you got so much as an unpaid traffic ticket or child support due D.C. might try to come up with something to say you don’t have clean hands.”
Given his experience as a medic, Wiggins likes to say he’s in the “death business.” He says it has resulted in a sense of empathy. “If you graduate from the police academy, Fire and EMS and the Washington Hospital Center, you are the homeland security. You got psychology, social work, family counseling and life saving skills.”
He’s also a pretty good shot, having achieved a perfect score on multiple occasions, he says. “But avoiding confrontations is better than winning them,” says Wiggins. “How do we avoid bad situations? We use situational awareness. We use our common sense to understand our environment.”
Wiggins conducts the gun range component of his training academy at Sharpshooters in Lorton, Virginia where military and police like to go. “It’s the closest range to the Pentagon,” he says. “But D.C. has to get one. They’re letting too much money go to Virginia and Maryland.”
Wiggins demonstrates how to handle, check, and fire a weapon: “You are like a tripod,” he says, employing a photography metaphor, as he pulls back the slide of a Glock handgun to ensure the chamber is empty. He goes through the details of stance, grip, and posture.
“Keep the gun at eye level in front of you,” he says, “relax your shoulders, breathe normally.” Once you have the front and rear sights lined up and are ready to fire on your intended target, says Wiggins, “press the trigger slowly until the slack comes out, and then press all the way to fire.
“Then it’s like Humpty-Dumpty on the wall.”