Are Black People at Risk When They Carry a Concealed Weapon?

Here’s what three Minnesota gun instructors think.

A demonstration at the Governor’s Mansion for Philando Castile, following his death at the hands of a police shooting, on July 7, 2016 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The story of how Philando Castile died, as told by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, is one of a man who did everything he could to comply with the police officer who pulled him over. As Reynolds recounted in a harrowing press conference Thursday, Castile told the officer he was armed with a gun after being asked for his license and registration; Reynolds says she then told the officer the gun was legal and that her boyfriend had a permit allowing him to carry it. Moments later, the officer shot Castile multiple times, causing injuries that soon proved fatal.

It’s important to note that we don’t know exactly why the officer decided to shoot Castile—there’s no footage of the shooting itself and the St. Anthony Police Department has yet to release its version of events. The actions that Reynolds describes, though, sound perfectly reasonable—it’s hard to imagine what Castile, a 32-year-old black man, could have done differently. It’s also reasonable to wonder, given the horrific litany of cases in which police officers have used deadly force against black men and women, whether Castile ever had a chance at surviving the encounter.

Thursday, I spoke with three men who don’t agree with that assessment: a trio of white firearms instructors in Minnesota who provide formal training to people applying for concealed-carry permits like the one Reynolds says her boyfriend had. In spite of what seems to have happened to Castile, all three instructors told me they firmly believe there are steps people with concealed firearms can take to ensure their safety when dealing with law enforcement. Underlying their conviction on this point is a deeply felt optimism about the reasonableness of police. Their thoughts, which have been lightly edited for clarity, are below.

Mike Briggs, instructor and owner at Minnesota Fire Arms Training

Advice to students: “Here’s the first thing we say: If you get pulled over and you’re friendly and you don’t lie, and when they ask for ID, if you voluntarily hand up your permit to carry, our experience is you’ve got a huge chance of getting out of your ticket. Cops in Minnesota appreciate you volunteering it up. A lot of police in Minnesota teach this class, and most police officers are in favor of permit to carry. And they appreciate you being forthcoming.

“By putting your permit to carry right underneath your license and just giving it to them, you’ve told them without saying a word, I’m a good guy or I wouldn’t have a license to walk around with a gun. The sheriff has checked me out. I don’t have to volunteer this up but here you go. You don’t have to worry about me. And then if they start asking questions, you answer them truthfully. And that’s what we tell all of our students.”

Personal experience: “I myself have gotten out of several tickets by law enforcement officers by being friendly and completely honest when I got pulled over. When they ask for ID, I don’t say a word—I just put my permit right with my ID and give it to them. And then most of them will say, ‘Are you carrying a firearm?’ And then I’ll say, ‘Yeah, it’s in my center console, or it’s in my backpack, or under my seat, or whatever. What would you like me to do next?’ A lot of them have even been sort of funny with it. I had one state trooper say, ‘You keep your gun in your holster, I’ll keep mine in mine.’ ”

On whether black people can safely follow the same protocol as whites: Absolutely. For sure. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white. The instructions and the advice are the same.

On Philando Castile: To be honest with you, it sounds to me like he did everything you’re supposed to do. That’s what I’m assuming so far. It sounds like he handled it the way you should. And it sounds like the officer had a short-circuit. That’s what it’s sounding like, but I don’t know what happened before the video.

Jon Kautz, director of operations and instructor at Gun Permit Center

Advice to students: “In Minnesota there’s no standard protocol for a traffic stop like this, where you have someone who’s carrying. Each police department sets their own policy for how to handle it. Minneapolis might do one thing; in Falcon Heights they might do another. So we always instruct our customers in our training to do whatever the officer says, to always keep their hands visible at all times, and to always ask, ‘How would you like me to proceed?’ and leave it up to the police officer to offer directions on how they want to handle it.”

Personal experience: “If I’m pulled over and an officer asks for my credentials, the next thing I would say is, ‘Officer, I am a permit-to-carry holder. I am carrying at this time. The pistol, or whatever, is located in X spot.’ I’d keep my hands visible on the steering heel or on the dashboard, and I’d say, ‘How would you like me to proceed?’ ”

Thoughts on concealed carry: “If you’re a concealed-carry permit holder and you’re carrying, you assume some risk, you know? Things happen. Whether it’s on accident or intentional—you’re carrying a firearm. You’re assuming some risk in carrying a firearm. You have to assume some risk—it’s just like when you drive a car.”

How the Philando Castile situation will affect his work: “Will we change the way we do the training? No, because we believe we’re teaching it correctly. Will we emphasize this part of the training more? Yes. Will it come up for discussion? Guaranteed.”

Joe Penaz, instructor at Plane Cents Self Defense

Advice to students: “Be totally compliant. If they ask if you have a gun, tell them you have a gun, and make sure you ask them what to do next.

“I also say that if you have a gun on you and it’s on the same side as your wallet, and going for your wallet is going to expose the weapon, it would behoove you to tell the officer at that time, even though you don’t necessarily have to, ‘I have a weapon on me and it’s on the same side as my wallet.’ ”

Personal experience: “I usually start out by asking, ‘Are you having a good night, sir?’ I do. So few people ever say anything like that to a police officer. I’ve ridden with police many, many, many times. And all they ever do is get yelled at, spit on, cussed out. ‘Why aren’t you out arresting real criminals?’ and stuff like that. What does it hurt to ask, ‘Are you having a nice day?’ Wouldn’t you say that to someone at a Home Depot or a Dairy Queen? The only reason you’re not saying that is you’re getting pulled over and generally you don’t get pulled over unless you’ve done something wrong.”

On whether it’s dangerous for black people to take his advice: “Absolutely not. I have quite a few black people in my classes. I just don’t see that as a problem.”

Thoughts on guns: “We don’t want to ever kill anybody. Ever, ever, ever. But sometimes you have to. And you have to make sure that if you ever, ever, ever use a gun, it’s a tool of last resort—you had absolutely no choice, and if you didn’t use that gun, you’d be dead.”

On whether the shooting of Philando Castile was reasonable: “Do I have an opinion? Of course I do, but I’m not in any position to second-guess the police officer. I mean, this don’t look good, any way you cut it. But I don’t know. There’s so many possibilities of what happened here. If it’s racial—I’m just sick to my stomach. If that’s what it is, I’m sick to death.”