When a new state law goes into effect Sept. 9, Alaskans no longer will need a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but local law enforcement officers and gun safety instructors have some misgivings about the new freedom.
"Carrying a concealed weapon is not just strapping on a gun," said Rod Christopher, owner of the Peninsula Weapons Academy and Nordic Trading and Loan in Soldotna, who has been teaching weapons safety for 20 years.
"You carry a lot of responsibility with it," he said.
As part of the 12-hour class people seeking a concealed weapons permit were required to complete, Christopher taught firearms safety, mental preparedness, defensive shooting skills, strategic home and personal safety, firearms self-defense and the law and firearms selection, ammunition and accessories for personal protection.
Now that the Legislature has removed the concealed weapons permit requirement, the need to take the state-certified handgun course also is gone.
Alaska joins Vermont as the only other state not requiring people to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Twenty-eight states have laws requiring law enforcement officials to issue permits to people meeting minimal requirements and 14 states give the discretion to law enforcement whether to issue a permit.
Six states prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons altogether.
Proponents of the Alaska legislation, House Bill 102, argued that if a person could carry a gun in the open in this state without a permit, why would the person need the state's special permission to carry a concealed gun?
"There's a big difference between the government telling people they ought to do something and they should do something," said Rep. Eric Croft, sponsor of HB 102.
"I didn't see any reason for the state to infringe upon the constitutional right of people," he said. "It's appropriate to take away the right for conduct."
The new law does not automatically change other statutes regulating who may carry deadly weapons or where they may be carried.
State law mandates that convicted felons may not knowingly possess a concealable firearm and no one may carry a firearm within the grounds of or on a parking area immediately adjacent to a public or private school or preschool.
The same prohibition applies to licensed child-care facilities and assisted living homes.
"We left in those conditions," Croft said.
Christopher said that as a rule of thumb, he taught students in his concealed weapons permit classes they could not carry a concealed weapon "where there are kids or seniors."
Croft also said the way the Alaska concealed weapons law read, not only handguns were included.
"If you took a kitchen knife and put it in a bag and walked out of your house, you were committing a misdemeanor," he said.
Rep. Paul Seaton of Homer, also a co-sponsor of the bill, said, "Unless you were out hunting, if you had a sheathed hunting knife on and were wearing a coat over it, that was a concealed weapon.
"Also included were rifles behind the seat in your car," he said. "And statistics didn't show that the (weapons) training was accomplishing what it was meant to.
"People didn't realize (a concealed weapon) was anything that was classified as a deadly weapon, not just firearms," he said.
In addition, the concealed weapons permit was not cheap.
Christopher said he charged people $89.25 to take the required class and they had to pay an additional $40 for fingerprinting and photos, plus $99 to the state for the permit itself.
"People need the class," Christo-pher said. "We teach the law and when you can use deadly force.
"People think they can just shoot someone breaking into their house they can't.
"They can't put on a gun and walk into a post office or go pick up their kids from school," he said.
Christopher said he tried to tell lawmakers the importance of the training that came with the permit requirement, but they wouldn't listen.
"What they've done, they removed the education from shooting," he said.
"I'm all for the second amendment. I'm a life member of the (National Rifle Association). I believe people should be allowed to carry weapons to protect themselves but they need education."
"I encourage people to get the training," Croft said. "I just wanted a law ... carry, it's your right, but there are also places where you can and cannot carry a weapon."
Some home-rule cities in Alaska, such as Anchorage and Juneau, have municipal laws requiring concealed weapons permits, but central Kenai Peninsula cities including Kenai and Soldotna follow state law.
"I liked the idea that Alaska could set its own standards for training and gun safety," said Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp.
"Carrying a weapon, concealed or unconcealed, is a great responsibility. I can't think of one single incident we've had involving a person with a concealed weapons permit," Kopp said.
Soldotna Police Sgt. Robbie Quelland, who has taught concealed-weapons permit classes, said on the positive side, the new law allows people who could not afford the permit to now carry a concealed weapon and it allows the general public to arm itself for self-defense in a safe manner.
"The downside is they won't get the training," Quelland said.
"The class talked about limitations where concealed weapons could be taken. We talked about rights of civilians in making a private-person arrest. We talked about proper and quality weapons," he said.
"Out of everyone who's taken the class, we never dealt with any of them criminally. I wish they wouldn't have gotten rid of the class."
Although Quelland said he believes the number of people carrying concealed weapons will increase when the law changes next month, time will tell how many continue carrying concealed weapons for any length of time.
"First of all, there's the additional seven pounds you'll be carrying in your backpack or purse," he said. "Then, when they start to realize they have to take the gun off and lock it in a safe in the trunk every time they go pickup their kids from school or from day care or when they go into the post office, they'll be less likely to want to carry the weapon."
Although the permit requirement will be lifted, Christopher said his weapons academy will continue offering gun familiarization and weapons safety classes for people who want them.
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