Sat 15 Jan, 2011 06:10 am
KYLE MUNSON'S IOWA January 14, 2011
Boone, Iowa. —
Turns out that the key lesson in gun class is
to keep your finger off the trigger.
The focus is on why not to fire your weapon.
At least that was my experience last week at one
of those wildly popular "license-to-carry" classes
with 51 other Iowans in downtown Boone.
These classes have seen capacity enrollment
statewide. More than 150 people last month
flocked to this same auditorium. Some who
attended last week were spillover from that
throng and received half off the $50 tuition.
Cherokee County has offered free classes for its
residents, taught by one of its deputies. Upward
of 90 locals attended the first couple of dates, so
now attendance has been capped at 45 per class.
Guns have rated the biggest story of the year so
far for Iowa and the rest of the nation, from the
school shooting in Omaha to the attack on Rep.
Gabrielle Giffords' town-hall event in Tucson, Ariz.,
to the droves of nonprofessional gun-license seekers
in each of Iowa's 99 counties.
Iowa on Jan. 1 became the 38th "shall issue" state,
requiring county sheriffs to issue gun carry
licenses to any law-abiding applicant with narrow
exceptions, rather than employ individual discretion.
Amid the breathless flurry of gun news, I did the
patient thing: Sit through all four hours of Hawkeye
Firearms Instruction's class last Friday
evening in an auditorium on the second floor of
Boone City Hall. Stop to contemplate whether
Iowa truly threatens to slide back into
stereotypical Old West-style justice, with
gunslingers knocking back whiskey shots in
barrooms as bullets zing up and down Main Street.
The short answer is no. The only brazen gunfights
I expect to encounter here will be on the big
screen when I finally get to see "True Grit."
Not to gloss over the fact that another murder
always is imminent or that gun lust thrives in
American popular culture, but let's not get carried
The only pistol brandished in my class was a
molded plastic dummy gun that instructor Steve Hensyel
of Oskaloosa used for demonstration.
He has taught nearly 40 such classes around Iowa
in the last six months - in restaurants, living
rooms, even an auto repair shop. The typical
student pays $50 to earn a certificate from his class,
which he or she then takes to the county sheriff to
pay another $50 for a five-year license - with $5
or $10 on top of that if a person wants a "hard
card" plastic photo ID version of the license.
Hensyel, 42, by day is a self-employed graphic
designer and computer repair tech. He's been a
National Rifle Association-certified instructor
since 1999. He's also one of four co-founders of
Iowa Firearms Coalition, a NRA-affiliated
organization with about 3,000 members.
The coalition, founded in 2003, previously was
known as Iowa Carry and was a driving force
behind Senate File 2379, which was signed into
law in April by departing Gov. Chet Culver and
took effect Jan. 1.
Students come from array of backgrounds
On Friday, I sat next to Janet McGovern of Boone,
one of a handful of women in the class.
"Most women are petrified of guns," she said, but
after a lifetime of learning about guns from her
Vietnam veteran husband, Mrs. McGovern, 63,
was ready to get her own license.
Other students included a female junior from Iowa
State University who suffered through an abusive
relationship and was curious about the license
process. There were retirees full of questions,
based on stories they had read online. Plus
numerous hunters, with and without camouflage fashions.
Hensyel wasn't exactly the Dalai Lama, but
throughout his four-hour curriculum, divided into
10 chapters, he emphasized what seemed to be
the Zen of wielding a gun in self-defense. Dressed
in a gray T-shirt and blue jeans, he spoke into a
headset microphone as he clicked through slides
and video clips:
• "Your brain is the most powerful weapon you
have at your disposal," he insisted.
• "A gun is not a talisman" that wards off trouble.
Openly carrying it might invite trouble.
• "Look inside your heart of hearts" if you think
you want to own a gun. "Can you take another human life?"
• "You cannot carry a gun and have a sensitive ego;
they do not work well together."
Other lessons weren't as philosophical.
For instance, hollow-point bullets are best for
incapacitating an attacker. Always aim at the
torso, the largest possible target - especially
considering that accuracy plummets in stressful
situations, even for the most experienced shooters.
Hensyel calmly discussed the finer points of
choosing a holster.
He also didn't mince words when it came to hot issues.
"If you drink and carry, you're a dumb ass," he warned.
As long as a gun owner is under the legal .08
blood alcohol limit, he or she can toss back a cold
one while packing heat, but to be a good
ambassador of gun ownership and protect yourself
from potential liability, Hensyel strongly
discourages mixing bullets and Budweiser.
Always keep the gun concealed, he advised.
Why attract extra attention with a gun on your hip?
Why lose the element of surprise and become an
easy target if you do happen to stumble into the
middle of a convenience-store robbery? Why risk a
frightened citizen phoning 911, mistaking you for
a gun-toting thug lurking in the bread aisle?
Counties see surge in demand for licenses
Long lines continue when Iowans, clutching their
class certificates, trek to their local sheriffs'
offices to apply for the actual licenses.
In Boone County, an extra staffer was hired to
help process gun licenses. A steady stream of
citizens strolled in earlier this week at the Boone
County sheriff's office.
Among them was Doug Kratz, who didn't need
to take a gun class because of his documented
military training. He retired from the Iowa
National Guard in 1999 and carries what he called
a "dependable" .38 special with a 4-inch barrel.
I didn't seek my own license despite sitting
through the class. Looking inside my heart of
hearts, I'm unlikely to join the ranks of gun owners
I did grow up on a farm, where my father kept
guns on hand for self- defense - defense from
rabid skunks as much as criminals.
I have friends who hunt, or shoot trap in their backyard.
So I'm unarmed, but I'm also reasonably confident
that the Old West will remain confined to local
theaters and the Academy Awards, despite all the