CWP: A Trend Toward Training

CWP: A Trend Toward Training Photo by Samantha Lyles

CWP: A Trend Toward Training Photo by Samantha Lyles

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Whether the assailant is a mentally disturbed active shooter, a radicalized terrorist, or a grudge-bearing employee, it seems that scarcely a month passes without some sort of gun violence headline seizing America’s attention. While the gun control debate rages on in D.C., an increasing number of law-abiding citizens are buying handguns for self-defense. In 2015, there was a ten-percent increase in background checks for gun purchases nationwide, bringing the annual total to 23.1 million.

Unfortunately, many of those buyers do not seek training in handgun safety, or learn about the legal obligations and liabilities assumed by gun owners. Here in South Carolina, over 276,000 residents have taken the initiative to educate themselves on these matters by completing Concealed Weapon Permit (CWP) training. Over 30,000 new permits were issued last year, and local firearms instructors hope this trend toward conscientious gun ownership will continue, increasing public vigilance one citizen at a time.

Firearms instructor Steve Cooper demonstrates a solid, level firing stance Photo by Samantha Lyles

Firearms instructor Steve Cooper demonstrates a solid, level firing stance
Photo by Samantha Lyles

“We teach our students the four fundamentals of situational awareness,” says Steve Cooper, a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and National Rifle Association (NRA) certified instructor with Paladin Training of Florence. “One – know who is around you and what they’re doing. Two – maximize your ability to see and maneuver. Three – know where you would go and what you would do if an incident were to occur. Four – honor your instincts. We want people to learn what constitutes normal in certain places and situations so they can recognize abnormal when they see it.”

When not aiming at your target, keep your finger at index position and off the trigger Photo by Samantha Lyles

When not aiming at your target, keep your finger at index position and off the trigger
Photo by Samantha Lyles

When not aiming at your target, keep your finger at index position and off the trigger Photo by Samantha Lyles

When not aiming at your target, keep your finger at index position and off the trigger
Photo by Samantha Lyles

Cooper and other CWP instructors stress that there is much more to gun ownership than just ‘aim at a bad guy and fire.’ If you aren’t willing to take on the burden of knowledge and responsibility that comes with carrying a deadly weapon, then please don’t buy a gun. You might only add to the problem.

If you currently own a handgun or are thinking about buying one, then it is incumbent on you to seek education and training. CWP classes are conveniently offered all over the state, practically every weekend, and – depending on the weather and the mosquito population – the classes can actually be a lot of fun.

See four videos featuring Steve Cooper, a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and National Rifle Association (NRA) certified instructor with Paladin Training of Florence at the end of this article.

Choose a qualified instructor

Investigate your potential teacher before signing up for a CWP class. Make sure your instructor is fully licensed and accredited by SLED and ask around about their teaching methods, reputation, and integrity. CWP instructors are charged with providing live firearms training and legal information that, depending on the quality of their teaching, could save your life or land you in jail. Taking on the responsibility of becoming an armed citizen is serious business, so avoid all fly-by-night outfits, deep discounters, and rubber stamp mills.

Instructors are required to provide classroom instruction on statutory and case law regarding deadly force, S.C. laws governing firearms and concealed weapons permits, proper firearms storage practices that deny access to children, prohibited carry locations, liability and responsibility issues relating to firearms, proper interaction with Law Enforcement Officers, the four cardinal firearm safety rules, handgun safety, manipulation, and operation.

South Carolina permits also require hands-on experience, with students learning basic handgun marksmanship, proper concealment techniques and drawing from concealment, and live fire qualification on the range with their teacher. Failure to clear any of these stages, especially a failure to exhibit safe and accurate shooting on the range, forces an instructor to deny a passing grade and refuse to sign off on a CWP application.

Instructors ignore these requirements at their own peril; in 2014, one CWP teacher in Columbia was arrested for essentially selling permits to over 350 people. Those students had their permits revoked and the instructor was charged with 29 counts of perjury.

Those who pass their classes and pay a $50 application fee should receive their permits within 90 days. These permits are valid for five years and can be renewed via mail for $50. A CWP application can be rejected if a background check reveals criminal charges or other factors that legally prohibit issuance of a permit.

If your CWP is lost or stolen, or if your permanent address changes, notify SLED immediately. Failure to notify is a misdemeanor. A replacement identification card will be issued for $5 upon request. Visit for application and replacement forms and more information regarding concealed weapons permits.

Picky shopper = safer shooter

“Some men will go out and purchase a handgun for their wife or their daughter, and they end up buying a big semi-automatic pistol that even they don’t know how to work,” says Ken Cogley, an NRA and SLED certified CWP instructor from McBee. Cogley says that more than once, a student has arrived at his CWP training center armed with a gun they couldn’t even load. He advises all those well-meaning dads and husbands to get feedback and input before buying a gun for someone else.

CWP instructor Ken Cogley suggests a 'try before you buy' strategy with handguns Photo by Samantha Lyles

CWP instructor Ken Cogley suggests a ‘try before you buy’ strategy with handguns
Photo by Samantha Lyles

“What you should do is take the person you’re getting the gun for to the shop, put the gun in their hands, see if it actually works for them,” Cogley says.

Shopping for a concealable weapon should be a hands-on, interactive experience, so seek out a knowledgeable salesperson who will let you try before you buy. For newbies, it may help to shop with a friend who has firearms experience but not overbearing opinions. Take your time and examine several potential purchases, evaluating each to make sure you find the right gun for your carry habits and your physical characteristics.

For instance, Cogley advises that a woman who intends to carry a handgun in her purse should avoid revolvers with protruding hammers because they might snag and prevent a smooth draw. Instead, look for a revolver with a zero-profile hammer or choose a compact semi-automatic. Check too that the trigger pull, hammer action, and the slide mechanics (on a semi-automatic) are comfortable. How easily can the gun be disassembled and cleaned? Ease of operation and reliability are paramount; don’t be seduced into an impractical purchase by aesthetics or a clever sales pitch.

Proper fitment is crucial, so judge your potential handgun critically. Is the grip frame long enough or does it leave your pinky finger curled under? Does your index finger rest centrally on the trigger? A fingertip pull or a third knuckle pull can routinely skew shots sideways. Are all the controls – hammer, safety, slide stop, magazine release, etc. – within easy reach? You should be able to identify and activate all controls without fumbling. Can you use the sights clearly, even while wearing your corrective lenses?

If possible, visit a range and rent the handgun you wish to buy. Fire it until you either change your mind or decide that it is, in fact, the right one for you.

Consider also how you intend to carry. Holster or handbag? Side-carry or small of the back? Once you determine your preferred method of concealed carry, which can inform your handgun selection. Some guns can “print” or present an identifiable outline beneath clothing or in purses, so for concealment purposes you should shop for a holster or bag that minimizes printing.

Select a gun chambered for a caliber you can handle, keeping in mind that not everyone can control the recoil of a Dirty Harry-style .44 Magnum hand cannon. Also check prices and availability of ammunition in your chosen caliber to make sure you can keep adequate plinking ammo (like the affordable full metal jacket variety preferred for practice) and home defense ammo (like hollow points or safety slugs) on hand.

Cogley says that choosing the proper ammunition for your purpose could potentially save lives, noting that full metal jacket slugs tend to maintain their shape and can travel through an assailant’s body and continue on at high velocity, possibly harming innocent bystanders. Hollow point rounds and safety slugs are intended to flatten on impact, providing a high degree of stopping power with less potential for pass-through, making them a more responsible choice for home defense and CWP usage.

Have gun, will travel?

If you’re hitting the road for a trip, check the carry laws in all states you’ll be traveling through. Even if your intentions are entirely non-criminal, some states have zero tolerance for handgun offenses and you could end up in a terrible, expensive legal snarl. Handgun carry laws vary by state; some states completely ban the carrying of firearms, and others offer complete reciprocity for South Carolina CWP holders.

Currently the following states offer reciprocity for SC-issued permits: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

SC CWPs are not honored in: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, New York City, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Virgin Islands, Washington, American Samoa, and N. Mariana Islands.

Gun transport rules for air travelers have tightened considerably with the rise of terrorism threats, but the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) allows for the transport of unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage. You must declare any firearms and ammunition to your airline when checking bags at the ticket counter. Choose a sturdy transport container with secure locks that can keep the gun from being accessed while in checked baggage.

SLED regulation “No Concealable Weapons Allowed” signage

SLED regulation “No Concealable Weapons Allowed” signage

When carrying locally, be sure to obey all state restrictions on penalty of arrest and criminal charges. South Carolina CWP holders can legally carry their firearms in public and in businesses, unless that business posts “No Concealable Weapons Allowed” signage. Carry is not permitted in public buildings (police stations, courthouses, city halls, etc.), school campuses, hospitals or health care facilities, or churches (unless the church makes a specific exception).

To read up on S.C. firearms laws, visit

Stun guns and pepper sprays present non-lethal self-defense options Photo by Samantha Lyles

Stun guns and pepper sprays present non-lethal self-defense options
Photo by Samantha Lyles

Less-than-lethal options

Carrying a handgun for personal protection is a decision people should not take lightly. If you ever use that gun to shoot an assailant, have that gun turned against you and your loved ones, or use a firearm in a negligent manner, the consequences will be serious, life-changing, and possibly deadly. For people wishing to defend themselves with less-than-lethal methods, there are several S.C.-legal options.

A stun gun is a popular and effective choice, but it must be used at close-quarters. Pressing a stun gun’s metal contacts to an assailant (preferably their torso, neck, or hips) for a few seconds can deliver a massive jolt of electricity through two inches of clothing, disrupting their nervous system and incapacitating them while you flee and summon help.

Pepper spray (aerosolized OC, or oleoresin capsicum) is widely available at retailers and sporting goods stores and offers a non-contact alternative. Some manufacturers add UV dye to their products, making it easier for law enforcement to identify an assailant who has been sprayed. A quality pepper spray should be effective from about 15 feet away, but that shouldn’t be left to chance.

“Buy two and use one as a tester,” suggests Cooper, who has tested and recommends Fox Labs pepper spray.

On a non-windy day, take your test canister outside and spray it in a safe direction away from all people and animals. Measure the effective distance for yourself and keep that range in mind, should you ever need to use it.

As with handguns, a non-lethal weapon is only effective if you can reach it before an assailant reaches you. Situational awareness is key; it’s hard to identify a pending threat when you’re busy texting. When traversing dark parking lots or walking in unfamiliar areas, keep your defensive weapon of choice handy. Keychain-sized canisters of pepper spray are ideal for this purpose, and some manufacturers offer stun guns that resemble cell phones, flashlights, or even lipstick tubes.

Word to the wise: after handling pepper spray canisters, wash your hands thoroughly to avoid accidentally contaminating your eyes, nose, or mouth with capsicum. It’s absolutely no fun.

Instructional videos by Steve Cooper, a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and National Rifle Association (NRA) certified instructor with Paladin Training of Florence, S.C.
Videos by Samantha Lyles.

Author: Jana Pye

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