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Published February 23, 2013, 09:35 AM

Sober message in Winona gun permit class

WINONA, Minn. (AP) — Six men and one woman, in age from the young 40s to the well-grizzled, all at ease on a Sunday morning in stocking feet with coffee and sweets as they settle into Fred Petersen's living room to get ready to carry a gun they believe may one day save their lives or someone else's.

By: JEROME CHRISTENSON,Winona Daily News, Associated Press

WINONA, Minn. (AP) — Six men and one woman, in age from the young 40s to the well-grizzled, all at ease on a Sunday morning in stocking feet with coffee and sweets as they settle into Fred Petersen's living room to get ready to carry a gun they believe may one day save their lives or someone else's.

Since 2003, when the Minnesota Personal Protection Act gave Minnesotans who met the requirements of the law the right to carry a handgun as they went about their daily business, Petersen has been helping citizens meet the law's demands.

"The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," Petersen says, resolutely, then quickly qualifies: "Just buying a gun doesn't improve things much."

A gun, he explains, is just a tool, a mechanical device designed to do a job that is only as effective — or dangerous — as the person attempting to use it. His class is intended to prepare participants to use that tool safely and effectively.

It's no small challenge, the Winona Daily News reported (http://bit.ly/XZqi2T).

Minnesota law only requires that a person is at least 21 years old and not a convicted felon or otherwise barred by law to purchase and legally possess a handgun. To holster that handgun and carry it, loaded, on the street and anywhere not specifically prohibited, a legal gun-owner must successfully complete an authorized firearms training class taught by a certified instructor.

Petersen brings nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience and a lifetime of hunting and handling firearms to his parlor classroom. "My dad was a game warden, and I've hunted all my life," he says, "so I come to it naturally."

In the course of his career, he has also served as a self-defense and firearms training instructor, and shot competitively with law enforcement and National Guard pistol teams. He took the NRA instructor course, he says, and was certified by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety as a permit-to-carry instructor.

For permit seekers, successful completion of Petersen's class comes in two parts — scoring at least 70 percent on a written test, and a live-fire qualification, hitting a target with 70 percent, or 35 of 50 shots.

Because there is no requirement for safety training or demonstration of proficiency to purchase a firearm, both experienced shooters and individuals who have never in their lives touched a trigger attend Petersen's class.

"I have to prepare the one and keep the others from getting bored," Petersen says.

Consequently, he starts out with the basics. He holds up a semi-automatic pistol_action open, magazine removed_to explain exactly how a gun works.

"Guns are just mechanical devices," he stresses, "and if treated with care will cause no problems."

Safety — doing what needs to be done to avoid problems, and the absolute need to do those things constantly and consistently — is really the message of the day.

Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

Keep your guns unloaded until you are going to use them, and always, always treat every gun as if it were loaded.

Keep your finger off the trigger and the safety on until until you are ready to fire.

"The safety is only a mechanical device, and we all know how reliable mechanical devices are," he says to a roomful of knowing nods. "The best safety on any weapon is the person holding it."

And safety — their own, of their families and loved ones, of anyone in danger of harm from another — is ultimately why the people gathered at Petersen's house are there.

That safety doesn't come from just carrying a gun, but being prepared and able when it is necessary, to use it, Petersen says.

Being aware and prepared is critical to the effective, responsible use of firearms. Being prepared also means being practiced, being familiar with the weapon you carry to the point where its operation is instinctive. In a shooting situation, Peterson says, you won't have time to remember how to cock the action or work the safety.

Stepping out onto the firing range backed by a wooded hillside, he re-briefs the class on the fundamentals of confrontational shooting. Aim for the main body mass, he says, and balance getting shots off quickly with hitting the target. Putting most shots into a target the size of a sheet of typing paper at 21 feet is accuracy enough, he says.

"This is reality, not Hollywood."

Reality can be brutally simple. There's no decision to shoot to kill or shoot to wound, he says. "You shoot to stop." Violent confrontation is "close, quick and dark."

"It will be a life-changing experience," he says.

To carry a weapon, to use a weapon is to take on a heavy responsibility, Petersen says, but it also can be the difference between life and death, harm and safety. While the aftermath of a shooting incident may involve questioning by police, court appearances, potential lawsuits and even possible arrest and prosecution, "it's better to be tried by 12, than carried by six."

"It's not an option of good or bad; but bad or worse."

He said the record of individuals with a permit to carry was exemplary, that the number of permit holders who commit crimes involving firearms is "miniscule to none," but on the other hand, that firearms are used more than 2 million times a year to stop crimes.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety closely tracks the number and activities of permit holders and each year issues an extensive report.

In 2011, the latest year on record, 20,772 Minnesotans held a permit to carry a pistol, 168 in Winona County.

Since 2003, 91,221 permits to carry have been issued in Minnesota, 693 of them in Winona County.

Since the law took effect, the Department of Public Safety has reported 114 crimes involving a handgun committed by permit holders, including one homicide, one robbery, six domestic assaults, 11 assaults and 30 instances of carrying while under the influence.

In 2011, Minnesota permit holders were reported to have committed 231 serious crimes, including 23 instances involving the handgun they held a permit to carry.

The Department of Public Safety also records the "number of lawful and justifiable uses of firearms by permit holders" for the protection of themselves or others or the prevention of a crime.

That number in 2011, according to the Department of Public Safety, was zero.

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Information from: Winona Daily News, http://www.winonadailynews.com

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