Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Concerns Over Mass Shootings Spark Rise In Concealed Carry Permits


What happens when someone with a concealed carry permit actually faces using his or her weapon in self-defense? NPR's John Burnett takes that question on in his second report on armed America. This morning, he looked at the changing views around handguns. Nearly 13 million Americans have permits to conceal carry - triple the number just nine years ago - over concerns about crime and mass shootings. Here's John's report.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Detroit got a new chief of police three years ago. After he arrived, James Craig made an announcement that was unheard of among other big-city police chiefs. He deputized his citizens.

CHIEF JAMES CRAIG: Good Americans, good Detroiters who are responsible who have concealed weapons can be a deterrent to violent crime.

BURNETT: Since then, Detroit has become a sort of laboratory of citizen self-defense. Though crime is trending down, it's still a violent city, so lots of law-abiding folks have armed themselves. The night I arrived, this was on the evening news.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Two people have been shot this afternoon in Detroit. They were allegedly trying to break into a home when the homeowner pulled out a gun. Priya Mann is live on the city's west side...

BURNETT: Of the millions of Americans who get concealed handgun permits, only a tiny fraction ever use them. Pro-gun folks compare it to a fire extinguisher in the home. You have it just in case. But what happens when someone actually fires their weapon in self-defense? You're about to meet three Detroiters who did. All three had a CPL, a concealed pistol license.

DARRELL STANDBERRY: I was parked at the pump right in front of the gas station. I exited my vehicle and before I could even get to the door of the gas station, the young man was already sitting in the driver seat of my vehicle.

BURNETT: Darrell Standberry is 46 years old. He just earned a degree in green energy technology. He'd left his Yukon XL running with the key in the ignition. With interior TVs and custom rims, it was bait for a car thief. He says he told the young man to get out of his car. The young man told him to step back. That's when Standberry says he saw the carjacker reach toward his pocket.

STANDBERRY: He wasn't reaching in his pockets to give me any donuts or cookies or anything like that. He was reaching in there to do something - to pull something out of there to hurt me. And the detectives asked me that. Why didn't I wait till he pulled it out of his pocket? I could've lost my life waiting to find out what he was pulling out of his pocket.

BURNETT: Darrell Standberry unholstered his Sig Sauer .45, reached through the passenger-side window and fired one shot. He hit the carjacker in the torso. Gravely wounded, he drove away, crashed into a tree and died. Police found a pistol in his pocket.

How did that affect you? How did that change you, Darrell?

STANDBERRY: It changed a lot in my life - matter of fact, in my English class I just did a report on it. I named it "The Incident That Changed My Life Forever."

BURNETT: Standberry went to counseling. He became fearful of gas stations, and he carried the burden of killing a 19-year-old.

STANDBERRY: You know why? Because my son was 19 at the same time. It really bothered me that I had to take a 19-year-old's life. His life was just beginning, you know, but he was into the wrong things. To this day, I still, you know, ask God for forgiveness.

BURNETT: Now meet Alaina Gonville. She's a mother of three, a big woman who works as a bouncer at a Detroit bar. We're sitting in a hotel lobby next to a fountain.

ALAINA GONVILLE: I'm definitely a girly girl, and I just knew that I should have it for just in case.

BURNETT: Gonville was coming home from work late at night. She'd stopped at a store for a bottle of papaya juice. A scrawny guy walked up, pulled out a pistol and demanded her money. His accomplices were watching from a car behind him. As it happened, Gonville was carrying her Glock .45 openly on her belt.

GONVILLE: I'm assuming they saw my gun. That's when they opened fire from their vehicle. I heard the gunshots coming at me. That's when I pulled my gun and returned fire.

BURNETT: She doesn't know if she hit them or not. The robber bolted. His henchmen sped out of the parking lot, spraying Gonville and her car with military-grade bullets.

GONVILLE: I got shot with an AK-47 and it basically blew my arm off. It was dangling. I carried it into the hospital.

BURNETT: Do you think that having a handgun that night saved her life or endangered you more?

GONVILLE: That's a good question. I replayed the situation in my head over and over. I can't say, but I'm glad I had it.

BURNETT: Finally, meet Tatiana Rodriguez. Born in Colombia, she owns a tree trimming business in a Detroit suburb. Last October, Rodriguez was outside of a Home Depot loading some materials into her truck.

TATIANA RODRIGUEZ: A lady come in screaming through the door for help and somebody running.

BURNETT: A man was running into the parking lot pushing a shopping cart full of merchandise. Rodriguez used to work at Home Depot, and she knows the company policy is don't pursue shoplifters. But she says she thought this was more serious because a lady was screaming. She saw the shoplifters getting away in an SUV. She had her Heckler and Koch 9 mm with her.

RODRIGUEZ: So I take my gun out and I point at the car when he was coming towards us and I jump to the side and decide to shoot the tires to stop them.

BURNETT: In Michigan, it's illegal for a citizen to use deadly force to stop a property crime. Rodriguez got 18 months probation and had her gun license revoked. She thinks the punishment would've been harsher, but the cops caught the shoplifters after she shot out the tires. Her story got lots of news coverage. It's turned into a case study of when not to use your pistol.

RODRIGUEZ: It was not my intention to do anything wrong. It was just trying to help somebody who really needed it. And it backfired on me. So what do you learn? It's like you have to think a lot before you help somebody.

BURNETT: For this report, I contacted firearms instructors and lawyers who reached out to dozens of handgun carriers who had pulled the trigger in self-defense. To my surprise, very few wanted to talk. Some had been arrested by the police or sued afterwards and spent thousands of dollars on legal fees. They didn't want to be dragged back into the media spotlight. Others were just traumatized by the whole experience. For her part, Alaina Gonville, the Detroit bouncer, urges people to think before they carry a gun.

GONVILLE: A lot of times I believe people are just playing around and they think it's cool to have a gun. And it's not just about being cool. It's real life. Life and death is serious. Getting shot is serious. Shooting somebody is serious.

BURNETT: A Gallup poll released last year revealed that 56 percent of the respondents said they would feel safer if more Americans could get permits to carry concealed handguns. Jennifer Carlson is a sociologist at the University of Toronto who wrote a book about handgun carriers in Michigan called "Citizen Protectors."

JENNIFER CARLSON: This is what I think is really fascinating. It's not just the idea of if I conceal carry I'm safer. It's the idea that if I just imagine that there's people out there who are conceal carrying then the world is safer.

BURNETT: But is it safer? All the trigger pullers I talked to for this story said the range time required to get a handgun license is grossly inadequate in terms of being prepared to defend themselves from an active shooter. They believe they're alive today because they did extensive practice on their own. Mark Cortis, a veteran firearms instructor in Detroit, urges all of his CPL students to get more training. He says hardly any of them ever do.

MARK CORTIS: One of my concerns about the state requirements for getting a CPL is they don't really include the tactics and the strategy that one will need to win or prevail in an actual gun situation. A hostile attack by a violent criminal is a fight.

BURNETT: Not only are most handgun carriers in America totally unprepared for a gunfight, but gun-control activists hasten to point out that more guns lead to more suicides and accidental shootings. I asked Detroit police Chief James Craig if he ever worries about the citizens that he has urged to arm themselves to help combat crime.

CRAIG: What concerns me more than anything else is guns in the hands of criminals, guns in the hands of terror suspects. That's what keeps me up at night, not armed citizens.

BURNETT: Meanwhile, firearms instructor Mark Cortis reports so many Detroiters are seeking concealed pistol permits, classes are booked for two months out. John Burnett, NPR News, Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Burnett
As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.