The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 20, 2013

Sheriff: Use brain, not gun

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

LEWISBURG — The best gun safety advice: Don’t shoot anyone.

“Avoid the need to use your gun,” Union County Sheriff Ernest Ritter III told 25 people of assorted ages and backgrounds at the inaugural concealed carry safety class, held Monday night at the Union County Government Center.

 “Ninety-nine percent of personal protection is using one’s brain.”

Common sense, knowledge and hands-on demonstrations were the order of the night as Ritter and two deputies walked folks, many of them first-time gun owners, through the ins and outs of carrying a concealed weapon.

“You are responsible for gun safety,” deputy Jared Mowen told the crowd. “Firearms are not dangerous by themselves.”

Ritter and Mowen discussed the proper handling of firearms, pros and cons of various holsters and why a clean gun is a good gun. There was a final exam, too.

Donald Girton of Mifflinburg, a handgun owner for two years, has had his concealed carry permit for about a year and took the class to learn more about how to handle his Ruger safely.

“I don’t feel unsafe, there are no problems with that,” Girton said, “but you never know.”

Protection was a chief motivator among those in attendance. Sarah Stanton, of Mifflinburg, and Renee Dunkelberger, of Kreamer, said they got their guns — a Taurus revolver and a Glock, respectively — and permits after what they’ve seen come through the emergency room at Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg, where they work.

“It’s got nothing to do with the job,” Dunkelberger said, adding that they’re not in danger in the hospital. But watching people come in and out for treatment, “you see what goes on in the area.”

What goes on in the world has had that effect as well. Before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in December, the sheriff’s office averaged 35 to 40 concealed carry permit applications a month, Ritter told the class.

Since the tragedy, “we now see about 350 a month,” Ritter said. But that also has concerned him, he said.

“People are getting permits and buying guns who have never owned them before,” he said. “We’re glad they’re getting guns,” but inexperience and lack of knowledge “is how things happen.”

Union County District Attorney D. Peter Johnson focused on justification and self-defense in his talk.

The issue of justification was probably the most controversial part of the legal discussion. Having a gun permit doesn’t grant “extra self-defense rights,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t protect you from criminal prosecution of illegal acts.”

“When you use your gun (against another person) what you’re doing is intentional homicide,” Johnson said. “That’s killing. If you get charged, the issue becomes justification.”

That means the gun owner must prove he or she reasonably believed there was an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm.

“If I was going to use my gun, you’d know it was a heinous situation,” said Ken Balliet, a gun owner for 30-plus years who asked his hometown not be named. “A lot of people are looking to protect other people, not just themselves.”

“In a rural community, you’re self-reliant,” he said. “You need to provide some sort of protection for yourself; the nearest response could be 30 or 40 minutes away.”

Balliet said he’s felt comfortable carrying his guns over the years, “but I’m really glad they offered this class.,”

“It was really needed,” he said. “There is a lot of confusion about the law.”