Last July a federal judge declared the outright ban on the carry of firearms in Washington, D.C., unconstitutional. Since then the city has implemented a carry permit process and certified eleven instructors to provide the 18 hours of training that the District’s permitting process requires.
Leon Spears is one of those instructors and his company DC Concealed Carry is already accepting students.
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Spears cuts an imposing figure, but his friendly personality tempers any intimidation his large stature might bring. He is also well qualified to teach people how to carry a firearm.
Spears is an NRA law enforcement instructor certified in handguns, shotguns, and patrol rifles like the AR-15. "I’ve been doing this full time for about eight years now," Spears said. "I teach security officers. I teach police officers. I teach civilians. Beginner shooters. I have new shooter classes. I have husband and wife classes. I do home consultations. I’ve helped people at the range with disabilities."
"So, it’s the whole gambit. But firearms instructing is what I love to do."
Millions of people have concealed carry permits, and many have two or three. Spears is one of a very few people who can legally carry a firearm in 46 states.
"I have many permits," he said. "As many as I can possibly get."
"New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and California are the only states I dare not carry my firearm."
That doesn’t mean he believes carrying a firearm should come without restrictions, especially in D.C. "I’m a Second Amendment advocate," he said. "I understand that the Supreme Court has deemed the Second Amendment is not absolute, and I agree with that."
"It’s not absolute. You need to be trained, you need to be certified, and you need to stay proficient. So, it’s a great responsibility. You have to think about self-defense. You have to think about laws, how to talk to law enforcement."
Helping teach people how to handle that responsibility is one of the reasons he’s decided to offer concealed carry courses in D.C., but it’s not the only one. "A lot of my clients that are D.C. residents were just so enamored by the fact that it was an option now," Spears said. "Some people have actually been even emotional about it."
"One person actually teared up."
Spears told the story of a man he knows who was robbed in front of his family. He said the man was completely defenseless. "He said, literally, ‘What was I going to do? Throw my car keys at them?’"
"They were stuck up and they didn’t have anything to defend themselves. What do you do? You feel completely violated. He was like, ‘I feel like I’m relieved. That there’s at least an option out there.’"
Spears said DC Concealed Carry has also been hearing from business owners eager to obtain permits. "A lot of business owners have been contacting us," he said. "They conduct business in the city all the time, very, very late at night."
"And they would like to have the option to defend themselves if they carry cash or have valuables on them. I know two jewelers that have clients in the city. What are they to do? You know, only work in daytime?"
The desire to take the law into their own hands isn’t what motivates people looking for a D.C. concealed carry permit, according to Spears. Instead, he said, they’re just interested in defending themselves.
"It’s just a relief," he said. "That’s all that it is. Really, simple basic option."
"There’s no vigilantism around here. People just want to have the option to defend themselves."
Spears knows it will be difficult for any of those people to actually obtain a permit. The process is one of the most difficult in the country, requiring the applicant to prove to the District’s Chief of Police they have a "good reason" to carry. Under the current law, a desire for self-defense doesn’t qualify as a "good reason."
Those approved for a permit—only 16 individuals in a city of over 6 00,000 thus far—must complete a lengthy and expensive training process: Eighteen hours of training with 16 hours in the classroom and two hours of live fire training.
"The cost is high for the process," Spears said. "If you are a non-resident without any other permits it’s, at a minimum, $560. It’s $350 for residents."
"So, it can be very, very costly."
Spears said he didn’t know of a more expensive process in the entire country.
"I know Connecticut’s process is expensive and Florida’s process is expensive. Connecticut is about $160 or $170, all inclusive with money orders and the whole thing. Florida is about the same, maybe close to $180.
"Of course, Connecticut is good for five years and Florida is good for five years. D.C. is good for two years."
Spears said he’s here to help his students through the process, providing all of the required classes and even helping non-D.C. residents get permits in their home state before applying in D.C.
They’ll provide shuttles to and from ranges in Virginia or Maryland for the live fire training since D.C. has no public firearms ranges. If a student has certificates from previous training they’ll see if they can be exempted from portions of the required training.
Spears said it is possible to be exempted from nearly all of the training given the right certifications. "The only requirement you cannot be exempted from is the D.C. specific laws on self defense," he said.
The myriad of requirements and the expense of acquiring a permit may turn many away—only 76 have applied thus far—but Spears thinks he will still be able to fill classes. He points to people who might simply want to get educated on the intricacies of D.C. gun laws, such as college students or lawyers.
"They might just want to get education," he said. "This process is above and beyond just concealing."
"Let’s say your momma wants to go and learn how to shoot a revolver. That’s great. She might not want to pack a [concealed] Saturday Night Special but at the same time she’s now empowered with the knowledge she can handle a firearm."
"It’s an opportunity to educate. It’s a passion of mine."