Friday, October 21, 2011

Do You Need a Concealed Handgun License?

I taught the Texas concealed handgun class for over 10 years.  In that time, the laws and administrative rules relaxed.  This reduced the amount of work for the DPS, instructors and CHL holders.  More recently the laws for carrying a gun have relaxed to the point that the vast majority of Texans don’t need a CHL.
I always opened my CHL classes with the participants introducing themselves and explaining why they are there.  The most popular answer was “I want to legally carry a gun when I travel.”  Carrying a handgun while travelling has been legal in our state for some time, but it was often clouded by circumstances that placed the burden on a citizen to prove they are traveling.  Once they established residence in another county by renting a hotel room they were no longer a traveler. 
Throughout my career as a firearm instructor I have always preached that a firearm should be carried on the body in a quality strong-side holster.  This is the safest, most secure means of carrying a weapon.  It is the fastest to draw, easiest to conceal and most comfortable to wear.  There are a few other circumstances where this may not be the case, but for the average cop or armed citizen there is no better option.  Guns should NEVER be carried in a purse, briefcase or stored in a vehicle.  These are all things that are frequently stolen.  One of the reasons we arm ourselves is to protect against robbery.  While handing the guy your property, why not hand him your weapon at the same time?
My point about the holster is to illustrate that many concealed handgun licensees don’t carry a weapon on their person.  Citizen’s guns most frequently live in glove compartments, consoles, between seats and in door pockets.  They’re often in a holster that hasn’t been strapped to a belt since their last trip to the range six months ago to fire the proficiency course.  Don’t laugh, most cops shoot about that often.  For lack of comfort or confidence, most don’t carry the weapon on their person.
The most recent changes to our gun laws implemented what is popularly called the “Castle Doctrine.”  This means that a person may carry a firearm in their home, vehicle, and places under their control.   The weapon has to be concealed and they can’t be criminals or do criminal things in the mean time.  Check out Section 46.02 of the Texas Penal Code.
So what does this mean?  Unless you intend to strap the weapon on your body, cover it with a jacket, outer shirt or conceal it in a “fanny pack” holster and carry it in public places, there’s no point in getting a concealed handgun license.  Depending on your age and other conditions, you’ll be out over $300 to get the license, and then on the hook to renew every 4-5 years at $70.  This may be well worth it to someone in the right circumstance, but experience says that most will rarely if ever use the privileges given by the CHL except for the shortened wait time in purchasing a handgun. 
When the Midland Shooter’s Association became a bad place to take customers I stopped teaching public CHL classes because it didn’t make enough money to rent or buy my own range.  I visited MSA this summer to qualify the Midland College Police and found that it hadn’t changed at all.  If you’re one of the few who could really use a concealed handgun license, I recommend Dennis Morris or Tom Vannaman.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The History of La Belle Fencing Club

The first thing most people say when they hear about our fencing club is, “I didn’t know we had that in Midland.”  While fencing isn’t the most common sport in these parts, the Permian Basin is surrounded by it.  There are clubs in El Paso, Amarillo, Lubbock , Austin, DFW, San Antonio, etc.  It’s a sport enjoyed by people of all ages, from kids to the 70+ crowd.  It’s often misunderstood and confused with reenactment swordplay.  Olympic  fencing is a sport.  So how did it wind up in Midland?
An article appeared in the January 10, 1983 Midland Reporter-Telegram that first announced La Belle Fencing Club’s existence.  Robert Walter, Gilbert Garcia, Mike Husband and Orlando Temple were the first members.  Robert was an import to Midland.  He had fenced in college and joined Gilbert’s fencing class at Midland College.  Mike was  the Plains Division President at the time.  Orlando, who worked for the City of Midland, had fenced for his home country of Panama in the Olympics.  The article also announced their first beginner’s class which took place in the old Parks and Recreation building behind Dennis the Menace Park.  It also explained that the club's name referred to a situation in a fencing bout where both fencers are tied at a score one touch short of winning the bout and the next touch decides the winner.
My mom showed me the article and I was immediately interested.  I was 12 years old at the time and found a book my Michel Alaux (which I still have) and started studying.  I took the class and stuck with the club for a couple of years.  The club moved around, meeting at the MAF National Guard Armory, the old Alamo YMCA, and even a few times in a day care.  A West Texas bust blew through and the membership dwindled to the point that insurance through the U. S. Fencing Association couldn’t be met and the club stopped meeting.
The club existed in pockets for a few years.  I began my career in law enforcement and didn’t fence for a long time.  I lost touch with everyone in the club.  One day I was talking about fencing and heard the name Lan Powers.  Lan became involved in the club in the late 80’s and early 90’s when I wasn’t in the picture.  He attended the USFA Coaches College around 1989.  I looked up Lan’s number and called him around 1991 but the hours of our jobs made it impossible for us to establish a regular workout together.  The club continued to exist in small pockets and eventually stopped meeting.
Sometime around 1996 I bumped into Robert Walter.  He had become a minister and I started attending his church.  Again, work schedules prevented any serious fencing but we did manage to work out a time or two.  In 2005 I was accepted into an investigator slot at work which meant I was to work banker’s hours for the first time in my life.  I called Robert and Lan and the club was up and running.
I went to the USFA Coaches College in 2006.  We already had a beginner’s class scheduled when I got back.  We were having a blast.  We started competing again and, although it wasn’t pretty, we were hip-deep in modern fencing.  Oh my, how it had changed.  The sport was faster, more competitive and popular.
By 2008, Robert had taken a job in Virginia. Lan’s successful family business (Scully Stone) and Aikido study pressed him out of coaching but he managed to come cross blades once in a while.  He is currently a Sandan (Third Dan.)
Jim Geitgey called me one day and asked about our club.  He was new to Midland and had studied under Coach Andrey Geva in Houston.  Jim is an outstanding epeeist and once brought Andrey to Midland for a clinic.  I still use notes from that clinic!  Jim started a fund for the club’s coaching development which pays tuitions for us to attend clinics and coach schools.  An unfortunate joint injury put fencing aside for Jim but his help with the club has ensured the club a long life.
We’ve experimented with various beginner’s courses from once-weekly classes to weekend clinics.  Members come and go but the club maintains a roster of about 20 members with a core group of about six who can be found at most practices.  The club met at the Martin Luther King Center until we were offered space at the Cole Theater's basement.  We were thrilled to have air conditioning and wood floors! 
We've been going strong for five years without hiatus.  The skill level and enthusiasm is still high.  We'll be announcing more beginner's classes soon!
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Please comment if you have any additions or corrections to the club history.