HUMBLE, Texas – By 7 a.m. most Saturdays, the parking lot of a Golden Corral off Farm to Market 1960 bypass is mostly full.
But it’s not all patrons coming to sample the restaurant’s famous buffet. Around 150 people poured into the restaurant on a Saturday in late January for a concealed handgun licensing course.
To have a Texas concealed carry license, the Department of Public Safety requires an individual to take 50 shots with live rounds to prove handling abilities.
Inside the restaurant, while other patrons who were not part of the class dined on waffles and scrambled eggs, those taking the CHL course were asked to fire one single blank shot from a pistol into a noise-proof barrel.
“I might as well buy it off the street and have someone show me how to use it,” said Debra Rocha, who took the course and only later found out she would not be getting a Texas license, but an application for a Florida license.
Texas has a reciprocity agreement with Florida that allows gun owners with Florida concealed carry licenses to conceal carry in Texas.
Channel 2 Investigates went undercover to verify Rocha’s story. Within an hour and 14 minutes into the four-hour course, and less than 20 seconds of gun handling, certificates of completion were provided.
A Harris County sheriff’s deputy was overseeing the firing portion of the course, and according to state records, he is not even certified in Texas for firearms training.
The remainder of the four hours was filled by fingerprinting, a sales pitch from a legal insurance group for gun owners, some anecdotal information about carrying practices, and finally, about 30 minutes of step-by-step instructions on how to fill out the Florida license application.
“This is simply a weapon discharge so that you can get your license," said Russel Medley Sr, who runs the course. "We feel it’s personal responsibility and everyone should get their training if they feel they need it.”
When asked why no one even checked for identification before notarizing applications, Medley explained that the fingerprints would provide the background check necessary when submitted to the state of Florida.
According to the Florida statute, an individual has to demonstrate competency with a firearm, which can be achieved in several ways. The state will accept a hunter’s safety course taught by their Fish and Wildlife commission or a similar agency in another state, any National Rifle Association firearms safety or training course, and any course utilizing NRA certified instructors.
Medley claims to have an NRA and Texas Firearms Instructor Certification. However, that could not be verified with the Department of Public Safety because he is not a member of law enforcement, so the information is not public record.
Medley’s company, 4hrchl.com, boasts that it’s the only course in Texas that offers CHL certification in such a short period of time.
At Top Gun Range in Southwest Houston, their courses are about five hours, with the 3.5 to four hours dedicated to lectures explaining the gun laws of Texas with a written test and then shooting range qualifications.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re not going to pass the qualification,” said Rees Williams, general manager for the range.
Channel 2 Investigates obtained data from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which regulates concealed handgun licenses in that state. The data showed that 4,862 Texas residents have a Florida concealed handgun license.
“I thought these are just Florida folks that are being recognized here,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, after being shown the video of Medley’s course by Channel 2 investigates.
Whitmire said he feels this course is an end-around of Texas current licensing requirements.
“It’s shocking that people can circumvent such a well discussed law in Austin,” he said, adding that he has a forum to bring this to his colleagues' attention.
Channel 2 Investigates reached out to the headquarters for Golden Corral about the class.
“While Golden Corral supports efforts to educate the public regarding responsible gun ownership, we are not a sponsor of this firearms training presented by a private company," a spokesperson said in a statement. "It is our understanding that this course was conducted under the supervision of members of local law enforcement using a training simulator that does not involve the actual discharge of live ammunition.”
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services did not respond to Channel 2 Investigates questions regarding Medley’s course, and if they felt it met the legal requirements under Florida law, but a spokesperson said the department would review the information provided about the course.