By Maggie O’Brien
World-Herald News Service
OMAHA — Business for an Omaha company that specializes in firearms and survival training has soared since the deadly Dec. 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, company officials say.
At the same time, applications for concealed-carry handgun permits are steadily rising in Nebraska and Iowa. Douglas and Pottawattamie Counties this month are seeing the most applications for gun ownership permits since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December 2012.
“People are saying, ‘Look, we can’t afford to think we can go on living our lives peacefully and go about our business as usual,’?” said Trevor Thrasher, chief operating officer of 88 Tactical. Among other things, the company trains civilians, military and law enforcement in responding to and surviving a mass shooting.
“We are getting people who are brand-new to firearms and people who are recognizing that simply going into the shooting range isn’t going to cut it anymore,” he said.
The number of people requesting 88 Tactical’s training has risen in the weeks since the San Bernardino attack, when a married couple — possibly inspired by the Islamic State — opened fire at a workplace holiday party, killing 14 people.
Dave Henson, 88 Tactical’s president and chief administrative officer, said company data shows a 60 percent boost in volume compared with the same period last year.
Of those calls, roughly 75 were companies or organizations seeking to develop what 88 Tactical calls an “active killer response” plan in case a gunman would walk through the door. About half are Omaha-based; the rest, Henson said, stretch from New York to Los Angeles to Montreal.
“Tragedy caused all this,” Henson said. “People put it off until it’s at their backdoors.”
From 2007 to 2014, the number of concealed-carry handgun permits issued in the U.S. nearly tripled, from 4.7 million to 12.8 million, according to a July report from the Crime Prevention Research Center. The group supports right-to-carry measures and opposes tighter gun control laws.
In 2007, Nebraska began allowing licensed gun owners to carry handguns; in Iowa, that move took
effect in 2011.
Ever since, applications for concealed-carry permits have steadily increased; Nebraska has more than 42,000 permit holders and Iowa has as many as 250,000. Authorities in both states have seen a spike in those numbers in recent weeks.
“We’ve had a massive wave of applications being filed,” said Ross Loder, bureau chief of the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s weapons permit section. “A high-profile shooting could generate a sense or fear or concern. But I just don’t know if there is any way to untangle what’s happening in the world right now.”
The trend is discouraging to gun control advocates, who argue that it’s irrational to suggest that mass shooters will be deterred by more people packing firearms in public.
“The rush to go out and get a gun is a fear-based, knee-jerk reaction that benefits the firearms industry,” said Amanda Gailey, president of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence. “There’s this fantasy that they are going to have superhero powers and intervene in one of these events. But when they are in the moment, they are probably going to freeze, shoot the wrong person or get shot by police.”
Capt. Kevin Conlon of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said that if someone wants to arm themselves, he or she must seek sufficient training and understand the “great responsibility” that comes with it.
“You have to think about the ultimate decision: to protect yourself and your family and take another person’s life in doing so,” he said.
David Richter II, a businessman, outdoorsman and gun owner, hosts a class at his rural Council Bluffs acreage a few times a year that is taught by licensed firearms instructors. Once someone completes the class, he or she can seek a permit to carry a handgun though the State of Iowa.
Richter said the average size of past classes had reached a dozen or so. But attendance at the next class, scheduled for Jan. 10, is expected to top 70, he said.
“People are concerned that something like (San Bernardino) could happen to them,” Richter said. “They at least want to have a shot at protecting themselves.”
Thrasher said his “active killer response” classes teach attendees how to survive and even stop a mass shooting incident. They are designed to be as realistic as possible. During the classes, a “killer” is in the room.
The company offers the training for people who carry handguns as well as for those who are unarmed. Thrasher said he might teach an unarmed person how to “evade and barricade” away from a gunman or — as a last resort — how to fight an attacker using improvised weapons.
“We don’t believe that training is taking place until we see clients perform in real-life conditions, in high duress,” said Thrasher, a combat veteran Army Green Beret with law enforcement and SWAT experience who came up with much of the company’s curriculum. “We teach them to be very defensive and measured in what they do, whether it’s fighting, running, hiding — whatever.”
Gailey, the gun control advocate, said if people are going to be armed, then additional training isn’t a bad idea.
“Good for them. But if I were in a mass shooting, would I want an armed citizen next to me carrying a gun? I don’t know,” she said.
Henson said he considers 88 Tactical’s active killer response training as important to home and workplace safety plans as fire and tornado drills.
“If you have a means by which to learn something that could help save your life, why on God’s earth wouldn’t you do it?” he said.
The company is building a $5.5 million shooting range and training facility in Sarpy County. It’s scheduled to open in the spring.
Thrasher said the timing is right.
“We are either at or near a tipping point where people are realizing that the government can’t protect you and do everything for you,” he said. “Everyone is responsible for their own safety.”