SEABECK — In Julian Piercy’s mind, the small bulge in his shirt near his lower back is a way of “leveling a situation.”
The clip that he fastens to his waist band before leaving the house isn’t just another accessory. It gives him an option, he said, when all others are off the table and a life is on the line.
When he feels the pressure of metal on his back, it gives him confidence that he has a chance of protecting those he cares about most.
“As a parent, I am the first line of defense for my children,” he said. “Not the police.”
Piercy, a nursing student at Olympic College, lifts his shirt to reveal a .45-caliber Springfield XD, a black semi-automatic handgun that weighs about 30 ounces when loaded. He carries it constantly with a few exceptions — mostly when he’s on campus and prohibited from doing so.
Having carried a firearm in his younger days because, frankly, he could, Piercy, 38, has once again obtained a license to carry a concealed weapon and is getting used to the feel of carrying again.
“The gun doesn’t make me invincible, smarter, or tougher than anyone else,” he said. “It’s merely there as a tool.”
Spurred by fear of a violent attack or because they have actually survived one, more Washingtonians are requesting concealed pistol licenses. The license, or CPL, allows them to travel with a hidden gun among an unknowing public. License holders jumped from about 179,000 to 258,000, 43 percent, between 2003 and 2007.
Federal buildings, courthouses, military installations, bars, schools and airports are off limits to concealed weapons, but they are allowed in most other public areas. In fact, Washington’s constitution permits its residents to “open carry” with a gun on their hip in public, but many gun owners choose to apply for the CPL and keep their weapon hidden.
“Nobody knows,” said Jim Wamsher, 52, of Port Orchard, who carries a Kimber 1911 on his hip. “And that’s the whole idea.”
Wamsher believes he has a moral obligation to protect his family and the community. But he acknowledges that carrying also gives him an obligation to be well-trained with his weapon.
There is no training requirement to get a concealed pistol license, however. To be eligible in Washington, residents must have no felony or domestic violence misdemeanor convictions, or any warrants for their arrest. They must pass nationwide and local criminal background checks. But they don’t have to state a reason for getting a license.
“It’s like a seat belt,” said April Borbon, 41, a business owner in Central Kitsap. “Hopefully I’ll never need it. And if I do, it’ll be a life or death situation.”
But do concealed pistol holders actually make society safer, a kind of armed public service?
Mark Duncan, deputy police chief on Bainbridge Island, said that’s a difficult question to answer. An easier question for him is whether they make society more dangerous. His answer is no.
“The cases of someone misusing their concealed pistol license are virtually unheard of,” he said.
Dean Byrd, chief deputy with the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, goes further.
“Sometimes that’s what people have to rely on,” Byrd said of CPL holders in rural parts of the county he patrols, “because law enforcement may be a long ways away.”
Duncan, who added that he carries “everywhere I go,” including when he’s off-duty, said those who get a concealed pistol license see themselves as having a “sacred responsibility.”
Kristen Comer, executive director for Washington Ceasefire, a gun control advocacy group, questions whether having more people carrying concealed pistols results in greater public safety. But she does concede that it might be true among weapons carriers who are trained and know the “gravity” of their undertaking. She cites a Texas law that requires concealed license holders to go through two days of training.
But that training shouldn’t be limited to target practice, she said. If one pulls his weapon and shoots, “You have to be willing to live with whatever consequence follows,” she said.
Reserving the use of a gun for life-and-death situations and spotting them is what Marcus Carter, executive officer at the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club, attempts to instill in everyone he teaches.
Carter’s classes include instruction on the legalities of carrying. He can cite from memory numerous articles of the Constitution both the U.S. and Washington’s version. Their amendments on the right to bear arms come most easily to his mind.
But just as he believes in guns, he believes in gun safety. He snagged the domain name “gunsafety.org” for the club’s Web site several years ago.
“If you’re going to carry a firearm, you have a responsibility to train with it,” he said.