Firearms training demand is greater than class space
Jeff Day provides one of the most popular classes on Martha's Vineyard. The state-certified hunter safety course he teaches is regularly over-subscribed, and this spring's session filled soon after the schedule was announced.
There are ten people on the class waiting list. If a slot does not open up they will have to wait until next year or find a class on the mainland - no easy task.
The Vineyard demand is mirrored across Massachusetts and the rest of the northeast, Susan Langlois, Mass Wildlife hunter education coordinator, told The Times in a telephone conversation Tuesday.
"We went from 55 courses being offered across the state to 75 to 80 annually and they are still filling," Ms. Langlois said. "And what we have noticed in the past 14 months is that they are filling more quickly and with more interest than I have seen in the past."
Ms. Langlois said the demand is not unique to Massachusetts. At meetings with administrators from other states across the northeast from Maine to West Virginia she has heard similar stories. "They are all experiencing the same thing," she said.
Massachusetts has some of the most restrictive firearms laws in the country. Completion of a firearms safety course is required to qualify for any class of firearms license. Successful completion of the free state-certified hunter safety course meets state firearms licensing application requirements, as well as in and out-of-state hunting license requirements.
Ms. Langlois said she does not know what is driving the recent demand. She said there was a huge bump in 1998-1999 when the new gun laws went into effect. But then it dropped.
"What I'm noticing is increased instructors, increased courses and increased graduates," she said. An additional 1,400 students per year she estimated. "What I do know from the comments that we get back is that people enjoy the courses." She said that includes the estimated 15 percent of students who are not interested in hunting but take the course in order to qualify for a firearms license.
For those not interested in hunting, the State Police administer a firearms safety course available through private instructors and clubs, most often for a fee.
Mr. Day, a Chilmark police officer and certified hunter safety instructor, said he has seen demand increase over the last three years, a fact he attributes to changes in gun laws
Mr. Day said that previously the majority of students were new hunters and mostly youngsters. Now approximately 60 percent of the students are adults and 40 percent are under 18 years of age.
Mr. Day said the reasons adults take the class vary. They include the ability to purchase pepper spray, buy firearms, and inherit family firearms collections, hunt, target shoot, home defense, and employment requirements.
Mr. Day said he increased the size of the spring class that will be held in the newly rebuilt Martha's Vineyard Rod and Gun Club in Edgartown from 30 students to 40 to accommodate demand.
This will be his second class in six months. He hopes that people who have signed up but who will not be able to attend all three sessions, as required, will cancel ahead of time to open up a space.
Mr. Day said he and the other volunteer instructors are doing everything they can to meet demand. He said graduates seem to enjoy the class and find the information useful. The Vineyard class also features game lunches.
"That lunch was amazing," Ms. Langlois, who attended the October class, said. "No wonder people want to come."
For more information on state hunter education programs, refer to: www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/.