A Nurse with a Gun

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Beth's Got a Gun

She was beaten, kicked in the face, gagged, tied to a chair and locked in a closet. After escaping that nightmare, Beth Ferguson needed nearly two weeks to garner the courage to step out of her home. Her first trip was to church, her safe haven. She went on a Saturday night, hoping fewer people would be there as opposed to the heavily attended Sunday morning service. But it was packed. "It's odd, because when you're a victim of something like this, you almost begin to act like a victim. I got real overwhelmed and nervous. I was scared half to death, and I didn't know why," Beth said. "Have you ever seen a scary movie and been scared afterward? That's what it's like."

She endured the glances from curious church members, who couldn't help but see the bruises and cuts on her face. After that night, Beth decided she needed to return to a normal life. But she still felt violated, unsafe. She was living in fear. Her second trip out of the house: a gun shop on Cross County Road in North Charleston. "I'm going back to work one day," Beth said. "And when I do, I'll have a gun."

The Attack; The Recovery

Beth, 41, was the only customer in the Carolina Florist shop on Ashley Phosphate Road late in the afternoon on April 10. The man behind the counter advised her to look through a book so she could pick out a corsage for her son's prom. Suddenly, he held a knife to her throat. Beth Ferguson and Frank DiNardoShe fought, but he choked her until she was unconscious. She woke up to find him standing over her. When she fought again, he kicked her in the face until she agreed to cooperate.

In the locked closet, Beth sat tied to a chair, a tennis ball stuffed in her mouth. But then the man drove away, and Beth seized the moment to free herself. After she climbed through the false ceiling and dropped down into the bathroom next door, she smashed her way out through the front glass window to freedom. Lemar "Tommy" Mack, the 45-year-old husband of the florist shop owner, was arrested two days later. He was charged with kidnapping, armed robbery and assault and battery with intent to kill.

Mack had previously been convicted and served jail time for abducting a woman at a Kmart on Rivers Avenue and raping her. He also had been convicted for attacking women in 1979 and 1984. He remains at the Charleston County Detention Center because he can't make the $3 million bail. Beth has filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against Mack and his wife, Deborah Mack, and Carolina Florist.

Weeks after the attack, she walked into a gun shop for the first time. A steady stream of customers flowed in and out of Trader World Gun & Indoor Range, where dozens of shotguns, rifles and assault weapons line the walls. Shaking, Beth headed for the glass encasement filled with handguns. It runs the length of the shop. Boxes of ammunition sat on the counter. Behind it stood Frank DiNardo, a handgun in a holster on his side. Frank, a firearms instructor for nearly 30 years, was expecting Beth. Her instruction began with their first handshake; firm, thumb straight forward, not to the side. "That's how you hold a gun," Frank told her.

As the two talked, Beth saw a fellow church member from Cathedral of Praise. The woman had heard of Beth's kidnapping; she was there to buy pepper spray. Several women from the church, in fact, had come in for spray and stun guns. A group of them was considering purchasing handguns. One of them already was receiving private firearms instruction from Frank. Beth asked Frank if she needed to buy her gun before her firearms lessons began. "You're not ready," he said. He worried about her emotional state so soon after the attack.

"One minute I'm fine, and the next, I'm crying for no reason," she had told him. Counseling sessions were being arranged. Frank scheduled her gun classes to start about 10 days after their first meeting. Four hours each class. Five classes. Maybe then she would be ready, Frank said.

Frank sees a difference between the sexes when it comes to buying a gun. Men tend to walk in and buy on the spot, then schedule only the training required if they decide to apply for a concealed weapons permit. Women are more cautious. They want to learn how to properly handle and fire a gun first, then decide if they will buy, Frank said. Frank recommends taking three courses before the purchase — a basic course in the handling, firing and storing of a handgun; a personal protection course; and a course on carrying concealed handguns.

On May 6, Beth started classes, and she found a new friend in her instructor. Frank listened as she told him her story and cried. "We're going to go through this together," he said. The bruises on her face had healed. Some redness in her left eye was the only visible trace of the assault.

"My outside's healed a lot, but my inside needs healing," Beth said. She cried less often, and she and her husband had resumed their weekly date nights. Still, she sometimes had panic attacks when she was alone, or if she saw someone who looked like the man who attacked her. She found strength in the 100-plus cards and letters from friends and strangers. She resolved to arm herself with a gun. "What the Lord told me is, 'You're going to be the victor, not the victim.' "

A Gun in the Hand

The three basic rules for handling a gun were in large, capital letters on a screen in the training room May 6:




Frank takes a slow and easy approach to teaching people how to use handguns. He starts with a toy gun, then uses dummy cartridges to teach people how to load a real revolver. Beth Ferguson and Frank DiNardoIn the hot, darkened firing range, the first gun Beth shot was an air pistol. The recoil is slight when the gun is fired, and it makes little noise. She fired at inflated balloons, which made a pop that helped prepare her for the sound of a gun blast.

Next, Beth brought in a .22- caliber pistol. It is loud, and the recoil made her hand jiggle slightly as she shot off 10 rounds at the target — a paper figure of a man. Tiny puffs of smoke wafted from the gun, and the metal casings pinged against the concrete floor beneath her. Beth grinned. "It's not so bad."

June brought a different Beth to the Trader World gun shop for her second class. She prepared a short speech for a judge when her accused assailant requested that his bond be reduced. She was relieved when she learned the judge would not consider it. A counselor had helped her deal with post-trauma stress. Panic attacks came less frequently, and she felt much stronger. Frank took off the kid gloves and put a 9 mm pistol in Beth's hands.

A startling blast and a bright red flash erupted from the gun, and Beth's hand jumped upward. She winced and then stood motionless in a cloud of gray smoke. "Your whole body just jolts. It was so powerful. I felt like I couldn't control it," she said. Beth learned that choosing a firearm is like buying a good pair of shoes. It has to fit.

The 9 mm was too much. The .38-caliber revolver was easier to control — less recoil, but the trigger was more difficult to pull and it had no safety lock. She definitely wanted her gun to have a safety feature. Something between those two, a .380-caliber pistol, seemed just right. Moderate recoil, good control and a safety lock. It was small to boot — the perfect concealable weapon.

Back to Work

By mid-June, Beth felt a lot more like her old self — the one who was strong and trusting and confident. She had vowed not to return to work without a firearm, but she was needed to help run the six mattress stores she and her husband own. Pepper spray would do while she finished her firearms classes and applied for her concealed weapons permit. Her first day back overwhelmed and frightened her. Finding a full day too much at first, she eased herself back to work. "Baby steps," Beth said.

With the basic gun course behind her, Beth started an eight-hour concealed weapons course that would teach her the laws about guns. Although citizens with a permit can carry a weapon, the gun cannot be visible. Beth experimented with a variety of options, including keeping her gun in her purse, in her pocket or in a holster on her hip or ankle. She quickly ruled out keeping it in her purse, because one of the first things her attacker did was take her purse. "If there was a gun in my purse, he would have had it," Beth said.

The Big Day

On July 2, Beth was strong again, empowered even. She held a pistol with conviction as she stepped onto the range for the shooting test for her concealed weapons permit. She had to hit the target at least 35 times out of 50 shots, and she made it look easy. "She shot a 46 out of a possible 50," Frank said. "She did extremely well." Beth aced her written test as well, and the permit application was off in the mail.

In mid-October Beth's concealed weapons permit arrived. She met up with Frank and purchased the little .380-caliber pistol that she had eyed months earlier. The attack earlier in the spring was behind her. Beth has her life back, and now she's packing heat. "If I'm in a situation that's life or death, I want to live," she said. "So I'm prepared."

Nadine Parks
The Post and Courier; Charleston.net

Thank you Nadine Parks! Ms. Parks concludes her article with a primer on the basic steps towards gaining a CCW in South Carolina. she also includes a listing of those prohibited from buying a gun, such as felons, the mentally defective or incompetent, illegal aliens and those subject to a restraining order. If only other journalists would write such positive articles!

Beth Ferguson chose to protect herself with a Bersa Thunder 380. Congratulations Beth!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo! I was very impressed with the detailed steps the gun-store owner took to prepare her. Starting with an air pistol at balloons is a brilliant idea. And to persevere through all that for 'one sale' is a testament to the man's character.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Jerry The Geek said...

I'm extremely impressed by Beth's story, and by the excellent job Nadine performed in writing about it.

This is a positive and uplifting story (pardon me if I sound insufficiently effusive) and I do thank you for hosting it.

As the anonymous comment mentioned, I was also impressed with gun shop owner Frank DiNardo's professionalism. Sometimes, such a matter-of-fact approach to a real world solution can be as effective as twice-a-week trips to a psychologist.

Perhaps they are two sides of the same coin.

The Gun Culture is not a tool of "The Gun Lobby". It is a loose collection of people of character, who sincerely care about their fellow citizens.

Bravo again for presenting such a realistic and positive picture.

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Dion said...

Great article. I lived in North Charleston for 11 years and know that there are many risks.
It is nice to see that the shooting sports can support another gunshop.
I have to wonder what would have happened to Beth if she wasn't so well to do that she could afford to not work for 6 months.
I am glad that the court system in Charleston upholds the reasonong that violent criminals shouldn't be let back out for any reason.

2:46 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Very cool. I'm sorry she had to undergo such an ordeal.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Edwardo said...

Thanks for posting X. I live in SC and had not seen the article. I have sent a congratulatory email to Mrs. parks and her publisher at the paper.
On another note Check out my S&W model 15. I posted the pictures with you in mind.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Great article Xavier. Like the first commenter said, this is a great gun store owner. I'd like to buy that man a beer. It's an eye-opener to see that the criminal actually tried to kidnap someone in his wife's business. Common sense would seem to say that you wouldn't do it there...

11:47 AM  
Blogger Laughingdog said...

Using air pistols on balloons to "prepare her for the sound of a gun blast" actually seemed a bit odd to me. But I've never had an actual rape victim as a student either.

I've never run into any problems with starting new shooters (male or female) off on a .22 pistol. As far as getting prepared for the sound of gun blast goes, you don't even have to shoot to be exposed to that in the range. I will admit that I avoid teaching timid/nervous shooters at any range that isn't a 25 yard range. Anything smaller just doesn't give enough volume to disperse the shockwaves if someone is firing off something big.

12:20 PM  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

Great article, and Frank sounds like a great instructor for people completely new to the subject. I think gradual immersion is vital for some people to achieve a comfort level. Bravo.

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Mykal said...

Extremely well written. My father is an NRA firearms instructor and his main focus is instructing women. I'll be forwarding this to him since I know he'll be able to use some of it in future classes.

1:07 PM  

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