Editor's note: This post was part of a cover story package in our February 19, 2014 print edition. To read the other portion of the story, see "How did S.C.'s 'guns in bars' bill pass so fast?", also by Corey Hutchins.
We’ve written a lot about a new law that will allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry in South Carolina’s bars and restaurants. The same law, which Gov. Nikki Haley could sign as early as tomorrow, also strips a mandatory eight-hour training requirement for those applying for a CWP.
Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) is a CWP instructor who wrote the House version of the bill. He says it’s so instructors won’t have to go into great detail on the mundane fundamentals of firearms with experienced gun owners. “I can teach the class to experienced folks in seven hours,” he says. “It may take me 12 hours [for] a group that’s not experienced.” For instance, in a class of experienced applicants, Pitts could tell them to keep their finger outside the trigger guard without having to explain what the trigger guard is and what the trigger does. The new law “simply eliminates the specific eight-hour time limit so you’re not simply looking at the clock waiting for eight hours to go by," he says. And students will still be tested before they can earn a certificate.
In 2012, agents with the State Law Enforcement Division arrested a handful of CWP instructors for teaching classes fewer than eight hours. In one instance
, a SLED agent paid $65 for a class that lasted less than an hour, didn’t involve a handgun qualification, and in which the instructor gave out the answers to the test.
Students who took classes with the arrested instructors had to retake them elsewhere. Many ended up in classes taught by Joe and Janet Katz in the Midlands. The Katzes don’t mess around. I know: I took a two-day class with them in 2009 to get a CWP. On the first day, they told us their class was comprehensive, that we’d probably go over the eight-hour limit, and we wouldn’t finish until they were satisfied all our questions had been answered. Now they teach one-day courses at Rainbow Farms, a new 35-acre private facility with moving targets off Exit 41 on I-77 near Lake Wateree. Joe Katz says it’s been described to him as a “Disneyland for people interested in guns.”
The Katzes are taking a wait-and-see approach to the new regulations.
“Janet and I have to satisfy our own conscience,” Joe Katz says. “We’re going to adhere to the law, of course, as a minimum standard, and then we’ll do what to do to make sure our students are OK … somebody’s life can depend on that course.”
There are more than 1,000 CWP instructors throughout the state, and not every one might have such scruples. Clearly the ones SLED busted didn’t. And while Katz fears some might take advantage the law, Rep. Pitts doesn’t think it will lead to problems, such as, say, instructors rushing students more quickly through classes so they can make more money.
“I’m not worried about that,” Pitt says. “And the reason is that they do still have to teach the requirements, and the people have to be tested to that.”
There were 229,456 active CWP holders in South Carolina as of December, 2013, according to SLED; 364 permits were revoked last year. SLED is in the process of drawing up a fact sheet on the new regulations for instructors.