In the line of fire

A firsthand look at what it takes to carry a concealed weapon

Journal-World Reporter Chad Lawhorn, left, receives instruction from Max Miller, a Lawrence police officer who also is a licensed firearms instructor, on Monday July 30, 2007 at the Fraternal Order of Police firing station near Lone Star Lake. An eight-hour training class is a prerequisite for carrying a concealed weapon in Kansas.

Armed in Kansas

This is part of an occasional series about reporter Chad Lawhorn’s experiences as he acquires a gun and applies for a permit for concealed carry in Kansas.

Lawhorn will chat online about his concealed carry experiences at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

We were talking about shooting a man.

I mean we were really talking about it. It wasn’t just this idle, full-of-you-know-what, usually inappropriate chit-chat based on the flick you caught at the theater last weekend.

Max Miller was telling us the ins and outs of shooting a guy.

“Handgun combat is a lot like real estate,” Miller said. “It is location, location, location. If you put a .22-caliber round in the middle of someone’s brain, it will stop ’em. A .44 round through someone’s shoulder, most people are done playing for the day, but some guys aren’t.”

I was having this conversation because the state of Kansas says I have to. I’m in the process of applying for a concealed carry permit – the paperwork that will allow me to legally hide a gun on my person – and part of the deal is that I have to take an eight-hour training class.


Max Miller is the trainer. Nice guy, but he wasn’t exactly what I expected. On this late July morning, he kind of reminds me of a park ranger: olive khakis, matching shirt with sleeves rolled up above the elbows, wire rim glasses and a calm and pleasant demeanor. The type of man that you can imagine asking directions to the geyser, not the guy who’s going to tell you how to take down the guy swinging a butcher knife at you.

But Miller can get pretty serious and pretty heavy when he needs to. He’s a sergeant with the Lawrence Police Department, although this training isn’t connected with the department. He does this on the side for $100 a student. He’s one of the force’s licensed firearm instructors and has taught cops how to shoot everything from pistols to sub-machine guns.

Eventually, he’s going to teach me and two other classmates a thing or two about shooting. We’re inside a firing range just outside the Fraternal Order of Police lodge. There will be a shooting test before the day is done.

But for now, it is still more talk – still talking about how to shoot a man. Miller clarifies that he’s not urging us to shoot an attacker in the brain with a .22. That’s a tough shot. He’s also not suggesting we put a .44 slug in the fellow’s shoulder. A .44 is a big gun that probably isn’t practical as a concealed carry. Instead, we seek middle ground. How about a .38 in the chest?

The rule for shooting someone is we’re not shooting to kill. We’re shooting to stop. When they stop, we stop shooting. The best way to do that is to use a strategy called center of mass. In other words, shoot for the center of the largest part of your target. Most times, that’s the center of the chest.

Miller tells us we need to be mentally prepared to pull the trigger, and maybe more than once.

“There are several logical responses to getting shot,” Miller said. “And one of them is dumping in your pants and running. Some people, though, get enraged, and then you really have to stop them because they’re going to tear your head off.”

All right, then.


This next part was even more uncomfortable. Miller turned the tables on us. He was no longer talking about shooting a man. He was talking about us getting shot.

After all, if you are having to shoot a man, it may very well be because he has a gun, too. The main message is this: Don’t let a bullet stop you from fighting on and protecting yourself.

“Remember, if it hurts, you’re still alive,” Miller said. “Just because you’re hurt and hurt really bad, that’s not a reason to give up.”

Then he delivered the line that I can just imagine Knute Rockne giving to a bunch of sad-sacks.

“Don’t get demoralized and die when you don’t have to.”

Got to admit, that’s good advice. Equally good, though, was his suggestion to figure out how to keep your gun in its holster if at all possible. He reminded us that just because we have a concealed weapon doesn’t mean we have an obligation to use it. There are plenty of times, even when danger is in the air, that you will want to keep your hand off your gun.

“Just like they say don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, don’t bring a handgun to a shotgun fight,” Miller said. “You’ll probably lose and get killed.”

Other things to avoid: Don’t try to shoot a gun out of someone’s hand, and don’t try to “fast draw” someone who already has a gun pointing at you. This all falls under the category of “Hollywood doesn’t make good training videos.”

If you do use your gun, though, it is not going to be any fun, even if you manage not to get shot. Miller told us the rush of feelings and emotions is something that concealed carry permit holders need to prepare for mentally.

He also cautions us that the stakes are high. He reminds us that Kansas has the death penalty for first-degree murder. He tells us about the jail sentences of several other lesser degrees of homicide. He goes over legal points for when you can use lethal force. I’m not going to get into the specifics here. If you want to learn them, it shouldn’t be through a newspaper article. But the general rule is that you can use “such force as a reasonable man would deem necessary” to protect yourself, your family or your home.

“If you know that reasonable man and what he’s thinking, let me know,” Miller said.

That’s his way of reminding us that bad things can happen to good people. If we ever have to shoot a man, Miller tells us, we should know what we could be in for.

“It may cost you a lot of money to pay a lawyer, it may break the bank, it may bankrupt you to get involved in a perfectly legal situation,” Miller said.

We took a test. You must score 100 percent on it. It took about five minutes and wasn’t hard. It was heavily weighted toward gun safety issues, which we talked a lot about in class.

It was 2:30 p.m. We started the class at 8:30 a.m. The talking was now done. It was time to shoot something.


It had rained all morning. It made the afternoon typical Kansas in July. It was sticky and the sweat poured. It was fitting weather for how I felt.

I wasn’t really nervous. Miller already had taken the suspense out of the testing process. “A 5-year old child with a squirt gun could pass it,” he said. But there were still some butterflies.

I was shooting two guns today. No, not at the same time. If you remember from my previous article, I bought a cheap .22-caliber Jimenez, semi-automatic. If you want to draw the wrath of area gun aficionados, that’s a good way to do it. I got lots of comments about that one. I won’t try to go over my reasoning here today.

But let’s just say that Miller wasn’t in love with the gun either. He wanted me to qualify with something bigger (although I did find several instructors who have would let me qualify with the .22). A bigger gun, though, wasn’t a problem. What I didn’t mention in the last article is that I have at my disposal a .357 Ruger Security Six. But I hadn’t shot it for a long time. I was anxious to see how I would do.

Miller showed us the finer points of drawing a weapon with a reasonable amount of speed. He had us fire about 100 rounds of ammunition from distances ranging from 1 yard to 25 yards. We shot standing up. We shot kneeling. We shot from our hips.

All that was in preparation for the shooting test. Miller was right. It wasn’t anything to worry about: five shots from 3 yards with one hand; 10 shots from 7 yards with two hands; and 10 shots from 10 yards with two hands. There was no time limit. To pass, you had to hit 18 of the 25 shots. The target was a bit bigger than a standard 9-inch paper plate.

The biggest thing the test taught me is that I don’t want to be anywhere in the vicinity when the guy who passed with a score of 18 pulls his gun.

Now that I’ve passed the test, I can go on to the next step of the process, which is submitting an application to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. That will involve fingerprinting and a background check, and may take 45 to 60 days before a license is issued. That’s another story.

What, you want to know what I scored? Fair enough. With the .357, I hit 24 of 25. With the “useless” .22, I hit 25 of 25.

Yeah, that made me feel good. But not as good as I thought it would.

I guess that’s because the one point I really did learn from this class was this: Hitting the target is the easy part.