The Tennessee Handgun Carry Permit Class…AKA you are now safe to load, unload, and carry around a pistol. And that’s about it…

Forgive me for the snarky title.  I don’t mean it to be so obtuse sounding, but I feel that the idea of getting a carry permit these days, now that we are in the, “Shall Issue,” era, gives regular people a false sense of confidence in their abilities.  EXAMPLE:  let’s say that you and your favorite coworkers are standing around the water cooler Monday morning, and debriefing each other on the events of the past weekend.  That cut-up from IT, Herbert, is telling everyone about how his ex-girlfriend’s current boyfriend has been threatening him with texts and emails, and telling Herb how he’s going to, “Get what’s coming to him.”  Herbert did the right thing…he called the police, filed a harassment complaint, filed for an order of protection from his ex AND her boyfriend, and now, now he’s thinking he needs to get a gun.  “I’ll get my carry permit and then I’ll be good to go if Irene’s awful boyfriend, Fritz, decides he’s going to come to my house to kill me.”  Oh Herbert, if only it were that easy.

The, “carry permit class,” as it is so commonly called, is exactly that…it’s a state-mandated (READ:  devised by politicians) to put a monetary hoop in front of the applicant, and also require them to pass a background check (including fingerprints) and take and pass both a written and practical (shooting) exam to demonstrate minimum proficiency.  Just like a, “driver’s test,” that we all had to take to get our driver’s license, that test (nor the driver’s education class) make you a, “good,” driver.  If anything, they teach you the basic rules of operation, and remind you that if you hit something with any degree of speed, that you’re going to hurt or kill yourself or someone else.  In the permit class, the goal is much the same…keep the fire-hole-end pointed in a safe direction, otherwise you’ll drill a hole in something you didn’t want to, or kill yourself or someone else.

Unfortunately, just like driver’s education and the subsequent driver’s test, that results in a driver’s license doesn’t prepare the novice driver for the rigors and dangers of city traffic, the carry permit class and subsequent written and practical test, doesn’t prepare the novice citizen for the rigors and dangers of defending oneself from human predators.  Even if you think it does!

The classroom lecture was taught by a retired OKC Police Officer, Kent Harville.  Kent is a Rangemaster Instructor Course graduate, and did a wonderful job of conveying the state mandated material, and intertwining it with a series of relevant stories from his experiences as a law enforcement officer, to bring home his points.  It made material that is important to know, yet very dry, interesting.  The course was held at the wonderful NASHVILLE ARMORY just off of the freeway (and incidentally, four minutes from my dental practice) of I-65 in Nashville Tennessee.  The Nashville Armory has been in business for a few years now, and they run a great, clean, modern facility with a helpful staff, and Kent taught the material with authority.

For the live-fire portion of the class, fifty (50) rounds were fired, in the following course of fire, on a reduced size (half size) B-27 type target.  If the entire, “X-ring,” was shot away, the winner would get a prize:

3 yards:  10 rounds on the fire command from the low ready

5 yards:  10 rounds on the fire command from the low ready

7 yards:  10 rounds on the fire command from the low ready

5 yards:  10 rounds on the fire command from the low ready

3 yards:  10 rounds on the fire command from the low ready

Not a difficult course of fire, by any means.  I shot the X ring away, but wouldn’t you know it, when the target was reeled in and laid flat, a tiny piece of the, “red,” x ring was still present, having been creased and folded over by the 9mm Federal ball I was shooting.  Next time, when doing the old, “Shoot away the red,” carnival trick, I’ll bring a wheelgun and some wadcutters.  That red will never know what hit it.


Going over the notes I took in the class, I gleaned the following:

  1. Revolvers…the instructor summed them up as, “Simple, but not easy.”  He said that they can be used by most anyone, however, they are not the ideal choice for beginners, especially in the Airweight or Scandium/Titanium configurations, because they are so abusive to the shooter
  2. The Golden Saber, .357 Magnum 125 Grain Jacketed Hollowpoint is a winner.  It shoots flat, and the recoil is managable in stainless steel guns.
  3. The course of fire gives a false sense of security (because it is really easy)  ALTHOUGH it DOES cover the range(s) at which MOST civilian self-defense shootings occur, that is, 3-7 yards (about the length of a car)
  4. The course (via a recorded DVD presentation) spent more time talking about the effects of alcohol and drugs on human physiology than it did on the principles of marksmanship.  This is unfortunate.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right…I ALREADY HAVE a Tennessee Handgun Carry Permit.


A permit class isn’t training…a permit class isn’t practice.  A permit class is the bare minimum information that state bureaucrats think you need to be able to safely load, unload and carry a pistol, in legal locations, in the state in which you reside.  If you want to actually LEARN how to use that gun, you’re going to need training.  You don’t have to look far on this site to find great places to train, that will actually prepare you for what you will really encounter on the streets and parking lots of America.  Even if you think you, “know all there is to know,” about defensive pistolcraft, shooting under the supervision of a competent instructor who can see things you cannot, relative to technique, is invaluable.  I highly recommend you seek out competent instruction…getting the, “paper,” is just a legal hoop you have to jump through!

Here comes the BOOM!

This poster showing the anatomy of the Remington 870 shotgun hangs in one of the classrooms of the Memphis Police Department’s Firearms Training Unit.  Look at that vent rib/Ghost Ring barrel!


I LOVE shooting shotguns.  Whether it’s at birds, paper or steel, no other gun is more satisfying for me to shoot.  The noise, the smoke, and the on-target effect is dramatic.

I spent two hours this weekend in a block of defensive shotgun instruction with Jedi Master Tom Givens, at the 2016 RANGEMASTER Polite Society Conference in Memphis TN.  I have trained with Tom several times in the past, and I really appreciate the utility of his courses.  Tom couples a rich curriculum with a thoughtful, entertaining delivery, that is completely, 100% bio available to the lone, armed citizen.  If you are looking for some high speed military door kicking shotgun course, or some LE, “Patrol Shotgun,” course, look elsewhere.  Tom’s class prepares regular folks for the eventuality of defending themselves from a life-threatening attack in their home or business, with the shotgun.  Make no mistake…the curriculum isn’t, “easier,” or any less valuable than the aforementioned genres of classes.  The mission of the armed citizen is simply different than the military or LEO user.

The target to Tom’s left has the pleural region obliterated by close range application of birdshot.  However, you’ll note the pattern of buckshot at the belt-line of the bad guy…which Tom sent from 25 yards away using the Federal Flight Control 12 gauge buckshot.  All nine rounds are still present on the bad guy.  The next target over to Tom’s left, with the tight shot group on the bad guy’s pistol, was fired from 15 yards, and it is still fist sized!  Amazing!

Tom’s approach to teaching the shotgun is very systematic and delineated.  There is an order of operations that must be practiced.  Tom said that unlike a handgun, which with careless use can cause an errant hole to appear in an unintended target, shotguns simply destroy things that are unintentionally shot.  Prevention is key, and that prevention is actionable through careful, regimented gun handling.  Safety was stressed throughout the class.  And, like Tom’s other range classes, Tom tells you exactly what he wants you to do (electronic ear protection is invaluable for training classes.  If you don’t have them, you need to get them) and then you do it.  It’s a game of, “Tactical Simon Says!”  If you keep up, and do things the way Tom tells you, you quickly see the majesty and superiority of the shotgun for close-in self defense scenarios.  The students that fell behind, or had trouble following directions, were coached back into the right algorithm by Tom or his wonderful wife, Lynn.

Although we only used birdshot for this class, Tom’s full shotgun course uses birdshot, buckshot and rifled slugs.  However, Tom demonstrated and explained the wonder of the Federal Flight Control OO Buckshot, at 5 yards, 15 yards, and 25 yards.  Even at 25 yards, all nine of the .33 caliber pellets were clearly present on the silhouette targets we were using.

Tom also talked about the rationale behind the shotgun.  Lately, in law enforcement (and in the civilian world, as a natural by-product of this) the trend for M4 or AR-15 type rifles use has become far more common than ever before in history.  M4’s, are mildly recoiling, and less intimidating to small framed folks, than the 12 gauge.  So many uninformed, uniformed folks feel, “better,” with an M4.  Even though engagement distances for nearly any domestic law enforcement and certainly any civilian self defense scenario are well within the range performance envelope of the shotgun, many people still opt for the carbines.  The, “non-standard response,” drill with the M4 dictates that 5-7 rounds are fired from the carbine into the bad guy to maximize the ballistic effect of the sometimes anemic and not always predictable 5.56x45mm or .223 Remington round.  Thus, a standard 28 or 30 round carbine magazine contains what Tom calls, “4-5 servings,” of projectiles.  From the shotgun, with Federal Flight Control ammunition (for example) a standard pattern 870 Express, Wingmaster, Police or Tactical has a tubular magazine that contains between 4 and 7 shells, each containing 9 projectiles.  This meets or exceeds the projectile delivery capabilities of the carbine!

My go-to shotguns for home/office defense.  The stocks are cut down to 12″ LOP.  That way they can be used by anyone in my family.  As long as I remember to keep my thumb straight, I won’t clobber myself in the face…despite that I am actually 6’4″ tall and could run a slightly longer LOP.  The Magpul stock, with no spacers, gives a good, “usable by anyone,” LOP, and so does the Hogue short stock.  The 870 on the left in the above photo has the, “DEA Barrel,” but currently (and what I ran in the class) wears an 18″ bead sighted barrel.  I like sights that are low on the barrel.  That’s my preference, and yours may vary.  So I tend to gravitate towards the bead on the pedestal or the bead mounted to the barrel.

Tom covered the various ways that one can carry and transport ammunition for the shotgun and have it ready for immediate use.  The two ways that we examined were the stock (butt cuff) carry, or receiver (sidesaddle) carry.  Tom prefers butt cuff carry.  He feels that having a sidesaddle changes the handling characteristics of the shotgun, making it thicker than he’d like around the middle. He also doesn’t like the mounting system for most sidesaddles which can pinch the receiver excessively, causing difficulties for the action bars to properly traverse the race ways inside the receiver.  This can tie up the gun, and that is simply a non-starter.  The butt cuff (or, the modern iteration, a nylon and elastic strip, attached with vehicular grade Velcro to the stock of the gun) offers a less obtrusive solution to the sidesaddle.  Another feature of the butt cuff that I noticed was that the rounds tend to be less susceptible to the effects of recoil, and thus actually stay in the loops, instead of falling out after long strings of fire, since the shells are located further from the axis of rotation during firing, and hence less susceptible to inertia.  My sidesaddles have notoriously dumped rounds (if they aren’t brass, “up,”) with astounding regularity.  Nobody wants a garage sale of spare shells at their feet when they need their life-saving equipment close at hand.

There were several different shotguns present in the class, ranging from 28″ barreled 870’s that were meant for bird hunting, to a Winchester Model 1200 Defender.  A few students brought guns that were either obsolete for the class purpose, or simply unsuited for the user.  One student brought some iteration of the Taurus Judge, in .410, but in shotgun form.  The same student also brought an Ithaca 37.  Since neither of those guns can be easily combat loaded (that is, have a round dropped directly into the chamber, and run the action forward and be ready to shoot) Tom told the student to leave those guns in their cases and borrow one of his loaner Remington 870’s.  Another student brought a shotgun that was nearly as long, as she was tall.  She traded that out for another one of Tom’s loaner guns, a 12″ Magpul stocked 870, that was MUCH easier for her to use.  Tom lectured specifically on the length of pull of a defensive shotgun…and why too many people use shotguns that have a woefully long LOP that they really cannot use.  Tom recommended that any defensive shotgun have a LOP between 12″ and 13″.  However, most shotguns come from the factory with a 14″ OR LONGER length of pull.  While a stock that long might work great for bird hunting, when the shooter is bladed at a 90 degree angle from the target, in defensive shooting, when our stance is more squared to the target, a shorter stock makes wielding the weapon easier, and more ergonomic.  Thus, Tom recommended that if people keep a shotgun in their home or office for defensive purposes, than they should keep the length of pull short enough to allow any family member to use it.  Also, people that are very tall can STILL use a short LOP shotgun!

I am a lifelong student.  I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on private training tuition over the last 20 years.  And I’ve spent over $500K on my graduate education.  I know what good training looks like!  And while I am always open-minded in classes, there are things that I hear, or learn that I simply choose, “not to incorporate,” into my mental utilization schema.  I can honestly say, in the three live-fire classes and the seven classroom presentations I’ve taken from Tom, I’ve never heard him recommend a concept or introduce an idea that I didn’t agree with.  Tom’s material works!  He has had 62 students successfully navigate the muddy waters of self defense shootings, and he has continually evolved his curriculum to reflect the changing context of the urban environment, as well as adapt to new emerging threats.  Tom has been at this for 35 plus years now, and the impact he has made on the self-defense industry is IMMENSE.  I always learn something new when I am in Tom’s presence.

The Rangemaster Polite Society Conference is THE best training symposium around.  You cannot find a deeper well of knowledge for such a low price, anywhere.  The expertise of all of the instructors and the attendees is truly a sight to behold.  I have so enjoyed the two Polite Society Conferences that I have attended, that I modeled the Paul-E-Palooza Memorial Training Conference after the Rangemaster conference, and even many of the same instructors teach at both events!  As Tom said this past weekend, “I put on a conference to see all my friends!”  And that is very true for me, too.  Some of the greatest, most honorable people I know on this planet were in attendance, and a good weekend of learning and fellowship was had by all.

From the left, Cecil Burch of IMMEDIATE ACTION COMBATIVES, Caleb Causey of LONE STAR MEDICS, and Mark Luell of GROWING UP GUNS


Mark, Tom and I.