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Ready, aim, CLE: Course combines primer on gun law with target practice, weapons permits

By DIANA SMITH, Staff Writer

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Get ready to channel your inner Daniel Boone or Annie Oakley.

There’s still time to sign up for two South Carolina Bar-sponsored courses that will teach attorneys the ins and outs of gun law – and allow them to spend their afternoons firing weapons to qualify for concealed-weapons permits.

Incorporating target practice is a newfangled twist on the average firearms CLE, which is offered by bars in several states.  

But “the South really likes their guns,” said Doug Kim, an intellectual property attorney who is helping coordinate the May 6 CLE in Greenville.

“It’s certainly different. It’s not what we typically do. But we like different,” added Terry Burnett, CLE director for the S.C. Bar. “We don’t think all CLEs should be boring, putting-you-to-sleep, poking-your-eyes-and-ears-out kind of things.”  

The Bar has already filled a concealed-weapons permit CLE course that will be held in conjunction with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department on April 9. 

And RSVPs for the May 6 class have been so enthusiastic that half of it was full within hours after an announcement went out, Kim said. Registration is open for an additional concealed-weapons course on May 7 in Columbia. 

But pay attention, potential sharpshooters. This isn’t an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. target practice. If you want your CLE hours – you can get 1.5 or 2 credits, depending on the class – you still have to put in the classroom time.

Participants must complete concealed-weapons training as required by the S.C. Department of Law Enforcement. That’s where they’ll learn the basics such as the legal definitions of different firearms, SLED rules, NRA rules, storage, cleaning and child gun safety. 

That’s the stuff that the general public learns, too. What makes the Bar’s CLEs different is that the curriculum is also full of lawyerly stuff.

For example, criminal defense attorney Jim Bannister will use examples from case law to discuss statutory immunity, self-defense, defense of vehicle and defense of habitation.

Learning how to manipulate and fire a gun may also provide lawyers with new insight into how to handle cases dealing with clients who run into legal trouble and have concealed-weapons permits, he said. 

“For me, seeing what they’re actually taught opens up a lot of different ideas and avenues to pursue a defense for them,” Bannister explained. “It’s one thing to say they have a concealed-weapons permit. It’s another thing to say they went through the class and learned that they’re allowed to stand their ground, and meet force with force, and at the point they believe their lives or the lives of a loved one are in jeopardy they have the authority pursuant to the laws of the state to use their weapon.”

 Why now?

The idea for a CLE that qualifies lawyers for a concealed-weapons permit has been percolating within the S.C. Bar for more than a year.

Elizabeth Cook, a former police officer, attorney and chair of the Bar’s CLE seminars committee, initially presented the idea to Burnett with the idea that concealed-weapons training would be a good service to members.

“Lawyers face a lot of emotional issues. They handle things that are very, very important to people, and there are instances where lawyers have been targeted by people who are angry about their situation,” she said.

That point was driven home just last year when Pickens attorney J. Redmond Coyle was shot outside of his office by a client who was upset over a divorce settlement with his estranged wife, whom Coyle represented.

The next night, York attorney Melvin Roberts was killed in his home. His then-girlfriend was charged with the murder.

That the Bar is now sponsoring the CLE is “no reaction” to those killings or other past attorney attacks, Bar spokesperson Leigh Thomas said. 

Burnett added his hesitation was due more to the fact that he had “no earthly idea whether people would come and whether the program would pay for itself” given the need to pinch pennies in a floundering economy.

For their parts, Kim and Bannister said they primarily advocated for the CLE because it’s hard to find time to take the required SLED training on a busy attorney’s schedule.

That said, “I’d have to concede that [self-protection] may be a small part of it,” Bannister said. “I personally have been involved in at least one or two cases that were pretty controversial and I received some threats at home. While I doubt I would ever carry a firearm all the time, it would be nice to have that option if I felt the need had gotten to that point.”

None of the individuals interviewed by Lawyers Weekly have heard concerns voiced by other members of the Bar about whether offering a concealed-carry CLE might appear to be sending a pro-gun message.

“We would not take a position, pro-gun or anti-gun,” said Thomas, the Bar spokesperson. “Obviously we’re a mandatory organization and have members who fall on either side of that issue. This seminar provides a service to our members, and we felt this was a nice opportunity to do that.”

Added Kim, “Regardless of whether you think it’s a good idea for people to carry guns, the current state of the law is that you’re allowed to do so. Why not put together a program that teaches lawyers – at a lawyer level – how to do it, and do it safely?”

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