From the Florida Times-Union
In most classes, the teacher doesn't point a gun. But none of the almost 40 people in a bunker-like back room of the Jacksonville Expo Center at the Fairgrounds even raised an eyebrow when Charlie Berrane calmly aimed and sighted a revolver. The firearms instructor worked his way methodically through safety tips as he explained the correct way to hold the pistol and squeeze the trigger. "Do you know the story about the man who brought a knife to a gun fight?" Berrane said. "I want you to win your fights."
Almost 100 people turned out July 19 for two concealed carry classes at the Jacksonville Gun Show. Hundreds more milled through rows of bullet blasting goods in the main vendor's area. Despite a nationwide economic decline, gun store and range workers say First Coast residents aren't cutting back on self-protection.
Jackie Miller, owner of Bullseye Gun and Pawn, said she has seen increased traffic from gun novices whose interests were piqued by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that interpreted the Second Amendment and legitimized private gun ownership.
Protection, not recreationShe said most people aren't looking for guns for recreational sport shooting - they want to safeguard themselves from crime. She has tracked a steady 20 percent increase in sales, and all of her concealed carry classes are full well before registration ends. Brenda Trickler, business manager at Gateway Rifle and Pistol Club, said her outdoor range is packed every weekend. She said the range has become popular with gun enthusiasts interested more in safety than target practice. "It's a lot about what people see on the news," Trickler said. "Some people think you can't walk to your car by yourself anymore, and they want protection."
Statistics from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Licensing also show a consistent upward trend in the number of Duval County concealed-carry applications during the past five years. In 2004, Duval County submitted 1,385 applications - sixth highest in the state. In 2008, that number jumped to 4,230, supplanting Hillsborough County as fifth-highest statewide.
Miller said this increased interest is changing the face of her clientele. What used to be a male-dominated culture has increasingly become more coed. Women hold 16 percent of the concealed-carry licenses in Florida, according to the Division of Licensing. But Miller said she thinks the number of women in an average class is more than twice that. "It's not as man-centric as it used to be," Miller said.
Education for all agesThe faces in Berrane's class reflected the same trend. There was an even distribution of male and female, young and old, experienced and inexperienced. And that's how he likes it. "These classes are about being prepared, and everyone needs to know that," Berrane said. "Police can't be at your doorstep if there is an emergency, so you might be forced to protect yourself."
A woman standing next to him in a black T-shirt with bold block writing on the back silently reiterates his point: "I carry a gun cause a police officer is too heavy."
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Trigger tested, but 'not a gun nut'
Carrying a gun is more than just peace of mind for Doug Freeman. The owner of Marvin's Electronics in Murray Hill grew up around guns and owns multiple weapons for hunting and self-protection. He's used them for both. In 2006, Freeman shot a 26-year-old repeat felon who he thought was planning to rob him. The man, Vincent Hudson, had entered the store acting erratically and repeatedly asking for money. Freeman, thinking Hudson reached for a gun, shot him. Hudson was struck five times but lived. Freeman said he's not proud of the shooting - but he was more worried about protecting his family and employees from a potentially dangerous man. He'd rather Hudson would have walked straight out of his store. "I'm not a gun nut," Freeman said. "I didn't buy a handgun to kill people. I bought it to protect myself and my family."
Maria Martinez homeschools her children, and reading and arithmetic aren't the only subjects on the syllabus. The 38-year-old mother said she and her husband are gun owners and stress firearms safety with their children. They have all their guns locked and inaccessible to the kids, but she said it's important they realize the inherent danger of firearms. She's enrolled her kids in the National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle program, which teaches children the proper behavior for dealing with guns. "You don't touch it," Martinez said she told her children about gun safety. "If you pick it up, you could kill somebody, and they're not coming back."
Not a statistic
Luis Melendez knows what a bullet wound can do to the human body's delicate internal structures. The surgical assistant and medical instructor has worked in the Shands Jacksonville trauma unit and seen his fair share of bloodshed. That's why, he said, he decided to sign up for a concealed-carry class with his 18-year-old son. "I don't want to be one of those guys, another statistic," Melendez said. He and his son picked up multiple guns to complement their newly acquired knowledge from Berrane's lecture. Melendez also bought a couple of gun locks to keep his firearms safe. But, he's not done yet. "I'm still looking for a good safe," Melendez said. "I want to teach my son about the guns and make sure my family is safe."
Afraid no more
Living on the city's Northwest side has Gloria Louis on edge. The retired teacher moved six months ago to what she now considers a bad area of town. She's heard of shootings and home invasions in her neighborhood and she doesn't want to be a victim. Even though she admits she's afraid of guns, she said she hoped going to a concealed-carry class could lessen some of that unease. A few of her friends in the NRA convinced her to attend a class because the first-hand experience might calm her fears about gun safety.
Labels: CCW, Self Defense, Teaching New Shooters