"We would have to shut down our range to the public to allow those type of people to have access to our lanes, I mean there is no way they can shoot without muzzling everyone here!"
"I think it is great what you are doing, but we are just not interested in providing classroom space for them. Those types of people and guns? No way. Not here."
What type of people could I be teaching Texas CHL classes to and licensing to carry that would elicit such responses from range owners across Texas? My name is Lara Wagner and I am a state/nationally certified sign language interpreter. I conduct CHL and NRA classes, voice off, entirely in American Sign Language (ASL) directly to Deaf and hard of hearing communities across the state through my company, All Can Carry. I established All Can Carry to address the problems Deaf and hard of hearing people face when trying to obtain their CHLs and exercise their right to self-protection.
To address the questions posed in the introduction about what type of people Deaf and hard of hearing are: They are teachers, students, engineers, physical therapists, lawyers, doctors, and veterans. It is safe to assume the type of person who can pass anatomy and physiology exams, understand medical textbooks, survive residency, and pass the bar can understand range rules.
The problem of teaching the Deaf and hard of hearing has been overcome in the past year thanks to ranges and academies opening their doors and their minds. With ranges available, the related problem of keeping course cost down while hiring a certified sign language interpreter had to be overcome. Hiring certified interpreters can financially burden a small company and is not required by the Americans with Disabilities Act Undue Hardship Burden clause. Due to this, there are many stories of Deaf community individuals trying to obtain CHLs through uncertified students learning ASL, family members who can sign a little, instructors practicing the "just sit up front and read the PowerPoint and my lips" and even an extreme case where a Deaf individual used his 9-year-old daughter to interpret the CHL class for him. Those who receive licenses through any of the above methods are left with a weakened court case in a self-defense situation. Is the information taught in CHL classes so trivial that an equivalent translation of the information is not necessary? Whether a person can hear or not, students of CHL classes want to be able to carry a concealed handgun after the course is completed and paperwork is finalized. Has the weight of this responsibility been forgotten?
All Can Carry meets the problem of providing affordable training to the Deaf and hard of hearing through its dual qualified owner. However, other problems remain. For example the question often arises during classes about how Deaf individuals can inform arriving police they are Deaf and in possession of a firearm after an active shooting incident. I have answered the question with "I really don't know what you should do" which is an unsatisfactory response. As a hearing person, it is easy for me to speak and tell responding officers who I am, where my concealed firearm can be found, and any other information they need to know with my hands in the air, conspicuously empty. Although some can, not all Deaf individuals can or feel comfortable using their voice to speak.
This problem remains unresolved as does the issue of how the Deaf and hard of hearing will react in a shooting situation. Needing a safe location to place Deaf individuals in realistic, self-defense situations to see what would be the most effective way for them to respond in an active shooting situation, I found Austin Davis' Virtual Training Academy (VTA) in Houston where Deaf and hard of hearing individuals were welcomed to experience real-life shooting scenarios with the test first and the lesson learned second. These invaluable virtual experiences allow individuals to make mistakes and learn from them without lasting consequence. I was placed in the simulator first to experience what my Deaf attendees would go through. I was astounded to find my hearing failed me when I was placed in an intense, high stress situation involving my life or that of someone else. My brain could not register the words being said when I pulled my gun on another human being. In a life or death situation, the population I teach and I am not so different. I encourage everyone with a CHL to visit Houston and be part of Davis' Virtual Tactical Academy to learn how your body reacts to high stress situations.
Deaf or hard of hearing individuals were not placed in a public shooting scenario at the first trial. Further investigations about what public shooting environments would plausibly look like will be considered between now and the next trial. Coincidently, what owner/trainer Austin Davis learned from the Deaf attendees through a sign language interpreter was the deep distrust found between the Deaf community and law enforcement. Time that might have been working with the shoot/no shoot video simulator often veered into a conversation about a bad situation with a police officer, a city caused ADA lawsuit, or a story about a Deaf friend being beaten by a cop. This subject should be examined in more detail in a law enforcement journal or police forum.
My hope is that the right eyes will read this and come forth with additional knowledge pertaining to working with the Deaf and hard of hearing population. Developing and implementing a plan that allows Deaf individuals to successfully communicate with officers in an active shooting situation has the potential to save lives and avoid unnecessary harm and lawsuits. Hopefully this article also reaches the eyes and educates ranges, companies, and organizations who answered my request to bring the Deaf and hard of hearing to their range with disgust and skepticism. To the range owners, managers, and shooting clubs across the state, please keep in mind that I travel to various cities teaching classes to the Deaf. One day you may receive my call asking you to open your doors and ranges to my Deaf or hard of hearing students. Please keep in mind that Deaf people can do anything you can do except hear.