By DANNY RESTIVO
Kim is a middle-aged woman who said she is “deathly afraid” of guns.
Ironically, it’s one of the reasons she chose to take a concealed-carry class.
“I want to educate myself so I’m not in fear of them anymore,” said Kim, who did not wish to reveal her last name. “I also want to protect myself.”
Kim lives by herself in a secluded portion of northern Trumbull County. Her home has been broken into a couple of times, and her professional job forces her to travel to crime-ridden neighborhoods in Warren and Youngstown.
“There’s not one specific reason I’m taking the class, but after being accosted by people on the street multiple times, I thought it would be a good idea to get my permit,” she said.
Kim is taking a concealed carry class in Niles offered by Joe Burkey, a National Rifle Association concealed-carry license instructor.
She’s not alone in wanting to take such a class. The number of permit applications is on the rise throughout the Valley.
According to the Ohio attorney general’s website, 471 concealed-carry permits were issued in Mahoning County in 2011 and 114 were renewed. In 2012, the number increased to 570 permits issued and 187 renewed.
The numbers are more pronounced in Trumbull County. According to the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office, conceal-carry permits issued rose from 1,118 in 2011 to 1,483 in 2012. The number of renewals more than doubled during the same time frame. The number of permits issued and renewed in 2013 is already on pace to surpass 2012. As of April 10, the sheriff’s office had issued 715 permits and 213 renewals.
Burkey’s 12-hour class at the United Veterans of America Post in Niles spans three days with a four-hour session each day. Ohio law requires that anyone seeking a concealed-carry license receive 10 hours of classroom instruction plus an additional two hours of handgun firing on a range.
On Thursday, about 15 people seeking concealed- carry licenses listened to Burkey talk about the difference between a revolver and semi-automatic handgun.
“The biggest difference is that the revolver has a hammer on it,” Burkey told the class while holding a .357 magnum and pointing to the hammer above the gripped portion of the gun. Burkey described the weapons, including the type bullet each used and how each is properly loaded. On the third day of class, students head to a nearby range where they will perform live firing on a 9-inch target from15 feet away.
Burkey said his class teaches the fundamentals of pistol shooting, such as proper aiming techniques, handling of ammunition, firing positions and the details of what a concealed-carry license allows gun owners to do and not to do.
“Ohio is an open carry state,” said Burkey. “I can carry a firearm around or in the open if I want, but if I want to enter a certain establishment, I have to get a concealed-carry permit.”
The Ohio permit is valid in 32 other states, including adjoining states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan. Unless gun owners get special permits, an Ohio license is not valid in Pennsylvania, nor is a Pennsylvania license recognized in Ohio.
Burkey said he’s seen a an increase in the number of people taking his class since legislators began to talk about expanding gun laws in December after the Newtown, Conn., shootings.
“My phone was ringing off the hook,” Burke said.
Burkey believes potential legislation for expanded background checks for gun owners isn’t a deal breaker for gun enthusiasts. However, he does feel future gun laws won’t stop there.
“What we’re worried about is the erosion of the Second Amendment,” said Burkey, who believes innocent and law-abiding citizens will be punished under tightly regulated gun laws.
“At some point we’re going to have to say ‘we can’t control all the murderers in the country,’” Burkey said.
He said his current class size is about 15 people. He had a class of 36 earlier this year and another of 42.
The two women who process concealed-carry licenses in Trumbull County say they’ve worked hard in recent months to keep up with demand for such licenses.
They and others say the reasons have to do with proposed curbs on guns since the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut, the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office’s reputation for handling the licenses efficiently and concerns about safety.
“I did 74 in one day, and I got double pneumonia,” said Michelle Notar, a clerk at the sheriff’s office who handles the licenses.
Her replacement while she was off work, Heather Altiere, said she worked overtime most days trying to keep up.
“I think a lot of them [applicants] were afraid that ... [guns] were going to be taken away,” she said. She thinks some people are also getting their license now to take advantage of Ohio’s not requiring proof of competency to renew a license.
Notar and others say Trumbull County has high CCW numbers because it is a popular place to get a license for residents of Trumbull and adjacent counties.
One reason, Notar said, is she doesn’t require appointments for most aspects of the licensing process.
About half of Burkey’s 300 students in the past three years have been from Mahoning and the other half from Trumbull, he said.
Fred Gerardino, of Youngstown, owns and operates an auto repair shop on the North Side. He said his business is in a bad neighborhood, and he’s had windshields busted and tires slashed in his lot. Gerardino said a police officer even shot someone last year a block from his garage.
“I’m getting my permit because I need to protect my livelihood,” he said. “I need to be ready.”
Gerardino said he’s not worried about pending gun legislation, but his classmate, John Rice, of Hubbard, said the laws are creating more obstacles for law- abiding citizens to protect themselves.
“The people who want to do harm will always be able to get a gun,” said Rice, who moved to Ohio two years ago from Long Island. He admits that where he lives is safer than his old home, but he doesn’t believe laws should restrict Second Amendment rights.
Kim said she hasn’t purchased a firearm yet, and isn’t positive she will once she is certified. Even if Kim does buy a gun, she hasn’t decided if she will carry it on her at all times.
She did say her fear of guns is going away, and she thanks the class for it.
“It’s been a big help to me,” she said. “I think everyone should take the class before purchasing a handgun.”