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Thread: In crime-pocked Memphis, the good guys -- and women -- get ready

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    Founder's Club Member - Moderator longwatch's Avatar
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    By Don Wade
    November 19, 2006

    They are not of one race, one gender, or one generation. They are of one mind.
    It's time. It's time if they live in a gated community in East Memphis or a poor neighborhood in South Memphis.
    It's time if they're postal workers or preachers, and it's time if they're retirees or entrepreneurs.
    It's time if they've had guns pointed in their faces while working in a neighbor's yard during broad daylight, or while working behind the counter of a convenience store in the middle of the night.
    For all of them, it's time.
    "I hate to say it," says Scott Carroll, owner of the Bullzeye Shooting Range on Lamar Avenue, "but business is good."
    So crime pays. Or at least it does for businesses dedicated to helping people protect themselves in a place rated the second-most violent in America, according to the FBI's national report for 2005. That report showed the Memphis metro area recorded 1,197 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, trailing only Florence, S.C.
    Bullzeye is one of several shooting ranges in the metro area that offer the eight-hour training course required by state law to obtain a handgun carry permit. Classes are typically full, and at Range Master on South Mendenhall classes are booked weeks in advance.
    "We're here because of the increase in crime in the city, and for the safety of our family," says Sheree Hester, a 29-year-old pharmacist taking the course at Range Master with her husband, Ernest.
    "It's just watching the news every day," Ernest agrees, nodding his head.
    It's news that makes people change the way they look at things; at what they would be willing to do under certain circumstances.
    What if that woman in Frayser hadn't acted last month when three men kicked in her apartment door and demanded money? The woman had her children in that apartment. When one of the invaders hit her with his gun, the woman took it from him and shot and killed him, inspiring the other two suspects to flee.
    And so the questions come: If she had done nothing, would she be dead? What about her children?
    Don Hill, 55, a mail handler who lives in Whitehaven, and who went through the handgun course at Top Brass Sports in Millington, has an answer for what happened to that particular bad guy: "I don't want to say you get what you deserve, but sometimes you get the consequences of your actions."
    Better safe than sorry; that's Hill's thinking.
    "People are scared, very scared," says Chris Fowler, 56, who co-owns Top Brass Sports. "And I understand."
    He understands because he sees the looks on their faces.
    When Vietnamese immigrants were being victimized in Parkway Village, many came to Top Brass for training -- so many, in fact, that Fowler brought in a Baptist missionary to serve as an interpreter.
    "I've had Arabs, Pakistanis, Hispanics, and they're all U.S. citizens," Fowler says. "These people have stores, businesses. They've been robbed and they don't want to break the law."
    They want to live the American dream in Memphis -- home to Elvis, barbecue and bloodshed.
    "You know," Fowler says, turning back the clock, "I went to Overton High School and I grew up in Parkway Village. We didn't even lock our doors at night.
    "Can you imagine?"
    • •
    In 2000, 3,916 Shelby County residents had handgun carry permits. Five years later, in 2005, that number had more than doubled to 7,838. This year, permits are on pace to hit 8,000.
    Statewide, the issuance of permits is also dramatically higher. In 2000, there were 24,627 permits approved. In 2005, the total had doubled and then some, to 55,364.
    "I'm all for an armed populace," says Sgt. Vince Higgins, spokesman for the Memphis Police Department. "As long as it's a trained populace (in gun safety) and educated in liability."
    But the fact so many more people are applying for handgun carry permits speaks to something else. Citizens understand that much of police work is reactionary.
    "What the authorities typically do is investigate crimes that already have happened," says Tom Givens, owner of Range Master, which trained 274 people in August and September alone. "That doesn't help the victim at all.
    "Fifty years ago, there were good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods. Bad guys make house calls now."
    Rebecca Rogers, 52, knows that. She was working in a neighbor's yard in Fox Meadows at about 12:30 in the afternoon this summer when two men approached and demanded money.
    "I had a gun pulled on me," she says, eyes wide. "I thought I was going to get shot."
    She escaped harm even though she had no money to give them. At one point, she just sat down on the front steps even as they trained the gun on her. When she started to use the house phone she'd brought with her, they ran away.
    The explanation she received from police: "They were stunned because I didn't cooperate."
    Which begs a question, given that Rogers is getting a carry permit: Could the situation have had a worse outcome if she had been armed?
    "I don't know," she says. "I'm kinda scared."
    Scared to carry to a gun or scared to not carry a gun?
    "Both," she says.
    • •
    For others, the choice is easier. A 53-year-old Thai woman who works behind the counter of a convenience store in Hickory Hill has been robbed four times. And so she got a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol and formal training.
    It comes in handy early one morning just three weeks later when she is doing inventory behind the counter and has the front door locked. As shown on store video, a lone male knocks on the window at 1:45 a.m. He asks if the store is open. She tells him it is, but to pull back the hood on his jacket and she will buzz him in.
    He complies and the door unlocks. But as he comes through the door he crouches down and pulls a mask over his face. As soon as he reaches the counter, he pulls a gun and points it at her.
    She sees what's coming. She moves to her left and bends down below the counter as his gun comes out. She then rises slightly, still using the counter for cover as much as possible, and has both hands wrapped around the grip of her gun.
    She fires one shot. The robber flinches, then turns and flees without firing his gun.
    "I think I hit him in the shoulder," she says.
    The whole thing takes mere seconds.
    "It was like automatic," she explains. "I'm not excited. I don't want to shoot anybody . . . it's just automatic."
    Except, it isn't just automatic. It is training combined with instinct and poise.
    "After I attend class, I know how to operate," she says late one night at the store, where she still works. "I really trust this gun."
    • •
    "A gun is morally neutral," says Givens. "It works for a good man; it works for a bad man."
    And as the store clerk's story proves, it works best for a trained man (or woman).
    Yet, not all states mandate training to carry a handgun. Like Tennessee, Arkansas requires a safety course before applying for a permit. Mississippi does not.
    "I'm really torn (over the Mississippi law) because I believe the Second Amendment gives everybody a right to carry a firearm," says Scott Kilby, owner of Range USA Inc., in Bartlett. "That being said, I see people come in here all the time that don't know which end of the gun the bullets come from."
    Consider, too, that Tennessee law doesn't demand a safety course to own a handgun; that's only required if applying for a carry permit. Who knows how many people own handguns they keep in their homes or businesses, and never have received any safety instruction?
    "Very few ever get training," Givens says. "Yet nobody would ever go to Parachutes-R-Us and pack their own chute and jump out of an airplane."
    • •
    Givens' analogy resonates with me because when I was 21 and doing a story on skydiving, I did jump out of an airplane. I received several hours of training and the fact my byline appears over this story is proof I did not pack my own chute.
    But at Top Brass in Millington, where I go through the state-required, eight-hour handgun permit course, I learn how to load the 9mm Glock 19 I am issued for shooting on the range.
    One time, when I feel like I'm falling behind, I hurry and actually try loading the bullets into the magazine backwards. In a class of about two dozen people, I am not the only one who does this. But it is no less embarrassing and it confirms the need for at least basic training.
    Before we head to the range at Top Brass, instructor Michael Flowitt takes us through the basics of shooting. He starts with the stance: Our feet should be shoulder width apart, and we should be on the balls of our feet so we're "stable but mobile."
    This interlocks with what Fowler will tell us both in the classroom and on the range: In a real-life situation in which the other party is armed, "move before you ever get the gun out of your holster," he advises. "The hardest thing to do is hit a moving target."
    Next, Flowitt teaches us how to hold the gun. I have to remind myself to keep my index finger along the side of the gun and not on the trigger until I'm ready to fire. "If you have your finger on the trigger when you put the gun back in your holster, you just might shoot yourself in the foot," Fowler says with a little laugh.
    As for the grip, my left hand is to wrap around my right hand beneath the trigger guard. Because I'm shooting a semi-automatic, I have to remember something else: to keep my left thumb on the left side of the gun and not behind the rear sight, or upon firing the gun the slide will kick back and cut my thumb.
    Fortunately, I remember to keep my thumb out of the way and I also do a pretty good job of looking through -- and not over -- the rear and front sights of the gun and to the target, a paper silhouette of a man five yards in front of me. If that seems near, remember that most dangerous situations are just that -- close encounters less than 10 feet apart.
    "If the bad guy's 30 feet away, I've probably got time to run," Fowler says.
    Once I've established a stable shooting position and grip and have my sights lined up, I'm ready to pull the trigger.
    Of the 50 rounds I fire, 48 of them are within the target area. I've shot 96 percent, and it only takes shooting 70 percent to pass this part of the course.
    "Not bad," Fowler says. "You only had two fliers."
    • •
    The truth is my 96 percent is deceiving. I shot at distances of five, seven, 10 and 15 yards.
    I was also taking as much time as I wanted to aim and shoot. The target wasn't moving. I wasn't moving. Yes, I did have to fire five shots with just my right hand and five shots with just my left hand.
    Like me,Ella Brown, 45, was firing a handgun for the first time.
    "It was kicking strong (at first), but it got easier," says Brown, who likes the idea of having a gun when she leaves her job at the dog track in West Memphis late at night. "I probably did better with my left hand. That was a surprise."
    • •
    By Tennessee law, there are two times when a citizen may use his gun to the point of deadly force. One, to defend himself when he believes his life is in imminent danger. And two, to defend others when he believes their lives are in immediate danger.
    In class, a 45-minute video explains the law and shows hypothetical situations -- some in which a citizen uses the proper judgment in firing his gun, some in which he does not.
    "If you use it, you're gonna get sued," student Mike Bernero says.
    Not necessarily. But if a citizen who has a carry permit fires his gun in legitimate self-defense and a bullet strikes an innocent bystander, the permit-holder is potentially liable.
    "Every bullet has your name on it," says Scott Carroll, owner of Bullzeye.
    So better to never fire the gun, if you can avoid it. That was the case with Cordova resident Chris Cope, who last summer stopped a man who had stabbed several people with a butcher knife at a Schnucks on U.S. 64. The perpetrator was stabbing another person when Cope, licensed to carry a gun, intervened.
    "Somebody had to stop him," Cope said at the time. "I had a pistol and nobody else did."
    Cope pointed the gun at the suspect, ordered him to the ground, and then handcuffed and detained him.
    "That's the perfect example of a citizen with a handgun carry permit," says MPD's Higgins. "He took the guy out without firing a shot."
    Other examples are more complicated.
    "Somebody asked me about the fruit vendor," Fowler says, referring to the street merchant in Frayser who last month entered a Federal Credit Union and shot and seriously wounded one of two masked men later indicted on bank robbery charges.
    "I tell my students: 'Don't do that. If you're defending your life or family's, OK. But don't do that.' I'm sure that man meant well, but don't get involved. Be a good observer and write down the license plate number."
    Liability isn't the only concern. In Fowler's mind, it's not even the main one. A successful defense of life and limb, Fowler says, could eventually have catastrophic consequences.
    Fowler knew a police officer who shot and killed a man in a liquor store holdup. Although the officer was just doing his job, he never got over taking another man's life. After years of not sleeping, he took his own.
    "You need to own up on the front end, that if you carry that gun you're willing to shoot somebody," says Fowler, who has worked in law enforcement for more than 20 years and is the volunteer director of reserve operations for Gallaway Police in Fayette County. "You have to be able to make peace with the Lord with what you're going to do."
    To not make the peace is also to risk indecision in what is a pass/fail test:
    "If you're gonna carry a gun," Fowler cautions, "it may not work out. You may get killed."
    • •
    The first "Death Wish" movie, with Charles Bronson playing Paul Kersey, a man who becomes a raging vigilante in the wake of home invaders killing his wife, was released 32 years ago.
    But the people in today's handgun permit classes do not appear to be Charles Bronson wannabes. They are simply trying to be safe, not sorry.
    They wish not to die before their time.
    "These people are not haters," says Fowler. "They're scared and they want protection. And they have one job: Stay alive."
    -- Don Wade: 529-2358
    Visit and watch a video of version of this story.

  2. #2
    Founder's Club Member - Moderator longwatch's Avatar
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    Just watched the video its pretty powerful stuff listening to the testimonials.

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    I used to live in Germantown (suburb of Memphis), and life was generally better. Memphis was plain scary at times, but not being old enough to carry a handgun (though a 12 gauge shotgun stood vigil over my apartment), I made it a practice to only venture through Germantown, Collierville, and Cordova. MPD is a great group of individuals doing their best, and Shelby County sheriff's department is a great organization too. Open carriers were never molested, asked to unarm, because they were the first responders to an emergency situation.

    Now I'm back here in Newport News, VA, and I'm not anymore comfortable here than in Memphis. I need to get my carry permit (I tried open carry before and Sears in Hampton ordered me to leave or disarm.) I heard its a nightmare to get a permit from Newport News, but I'm going to try really soon. (I already took the class)

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    Regular Member VAopencarry's Avatar
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    Wow, nice find LW.

    Collier, It shouldn't be a hassle. Post in the Virginia topic area if you feel like they are giving you the run around. You can then be directed for the right course of action.
    "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." - Thomas Jefferson

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    Campaign Veteran kimbercarrier's Avatar
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    Collier 4385 I have a friend who recently recieved his permit in about 3 weeks , the woman who does the fingerprinting told him it usually takes about 2 weeks. He wasn't hasseled in any way.

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    Founder's Club Member - Moderator longwatch's Avatar
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    I found this article off believe it or not, there are often gun related stories popping up with the rest of the topicality.

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    That is a good article. The only bad thing is the reference to the training film. The Dept. of Safety really needs to update it.


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