Gun classes boom in Michigan amid safety concerns

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Pete Nagy had been wanting to get his concealed pistol license so he could protect himself and anyone around him if someone ever started shooting.

But his wife wasn’t enthusiastic about him spending a day away from the family to take the pistol safety training course required by Michigan law.

Then, in mid-November, terrorists unleashed bloodshed in Paris, killing more than 100, and a few weeks later in San Bernardino, California, where 14 people were gunned down at a holiday party.

“Now she’s giving me the blessing,” said Nagy, a Bloomfield Hills resident and financial adviser who took a training class earlier this month. “I don’t want to be caught with my pants down in a coffee shop when someone comes in and starts shooting the place up.”

Nagy is among thousands of residents who will apply this year for a concealed pistol license, currently held by 497,016 people in Michigan.

As President Barack Obama has used his executive authority to broaden background checks for gun buyers, pistol safety trainers say they see a surge in people registering for classes.

“People are becoming more aware of crime and more aware there are attacks like the one in San Bernardino and makes people think more about their personal safety,” said Northville resident Will Luker, owner of U.S. Gun Classes, which offers safety courses throughout Michigan.

But some experts question the correlation between gun ownership and safety.

Many gun advocates say they can keep themselves safe simply by owning a firearm, but that is a myth, said Marc Zimmerman, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan.

“Owning your own gun, you are more likely to be hurt, by yourself or someone else,” Zimmerman said. “There is no data that shows if you own your own gun you are less likely to be victimized.”

The number of concealed pistol license holders has grown dramatically in Michigan in recent years. In 2009, 180,380 state residents held concealed pistol licenses, according to data from the Michigan State Police. That number had increased 250 percent by January 2015, when 454,905 residents were concealed pistol license holders.

Even so, permit holders are a fraction of the state’s 9.9 million residents.

What experts say doesn’t matter to Luker, or those who enroll in his daylong class, which teaches the fundamentals of gun safety, defensive shooting, the legal use of force and more.

This month, he hosted a class that included Nagy, a couple and a person turning 21, the minimum age in Michigan for someone to get a concealed pistol license.

Others in the class were Tim Wolanski, of Commerce Township, who bought a spot in the class for his girlfriend, Sarah Hereford, of Ann Arbor.

Hereford said she was thrilled to take the class with all the crazy stuff going on in the world.

“I grew up around guns, but I never felt as much of a need for one as I do now,” Hereford said. “I don’t want to be a victim. I’d rather protect myself or someone else.”