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A gun safety class... for women only

Randi B. Hagi

On Sunday [Oct. 24] in Harrisonburg, students learned the ins and outs of concealed handgun permits.  The class, for women only, also covered when an ordinary citizen is legally justified in using deadly force.  WMRA's Randi B Hagi reports.

More than 40 women gathered in a conference room at the DoubleTree hotel for a concealed handgun permit course. It was put on by Focused Fire, a Florida-based company that offers classes in 27 states. Most of their firearms instructors are either active law enforcement officers or have a military background. Steven Calvaresi was in the Marine Corps for 13 years.

Credit Randi B. Hagi
Calvaresi works teaches courses for Focus Fire, a Florida-based company that offers classes in 27 states.

STEVEN CALVARESI: You can prepare to defend yourself if you believe a deadly force encounter is imminent. You don't have to wait until you're already getting stabbed to death and then pull your gun out.

The atmosphere in the room was jovial through much of the three-hour class, even while Calvaresi talked through violent scenarios and personal responsibility.

CALVARESI: But just, you know, some dude is being loud outside a bar, "ooo, I don't like the Dallas Cowboys," or something and you're like, [grabs gun] "what'd you say?" No. [audience laughter] Don't pull that kind of stunt, okay? You will go to jail for that.

He also went over basic gun safety, the concealed carry laws in Virginia and other states, and the circumstances under which deadly force is legally justified -- based on an aggressor's ability and opportunity to cause you serious bodily harm, the imminent jeopardy of the situation, and whether you’ve taken all reasonable actions to preclude shooting them.

The attendees asked a lot of questions about hypothetical situations -- many based on their own experiences. One woman asked if it made a difference if you already have a protective order against your attacker. Another, who lives alone out in the country, said she felt she should be able to shoot any man if he broke into her house. The group seemed to bond, through humor, over some very real fears.

CALVARESI: All I can do is explain to you the circumstances in which you're going to need to explain why you have a dead body in your living room when a cop shows up.

ATTENDEE: I'm saying, because he broke in my door and I don't know what he's going to do to me.

CALVARESI: Well, you know what, that's your particular way of describing it -- that may or may not work, is what I'm simply saying. A cop is going to come to you, and what he's going to be looking for: where was this person's ability to hurt you? Did they have the opportunity to bring that ability to bear? Was there imminent jeopardy taking place, and did you do everything you could beforehand to avoid this?

ATTENDEE: So you could hit him with something else?

CALVARESI: Oh my god, yeah.

ATTENDEE: Like a baseball bat.

CALVARESI: Well, but just understand that, baseball bats -- [laughter] ah, a baseball bat -- can you kill someone with a baseball bat?


ATTENDEE: Just hit him in the legs! Not in the head.

It's already legal in Virginia to openly carry a firearm in most public places, but Calvaresi pointed out that, if an armed criminal sees that you have a gun, it could make you a target -- or the first target in a crowd. Lora Lohr, from Criders, came to the class with her mom. She's already a gun owner, but said she would feel safer if she could carry concealed.

[Sound of class chatter]

Credit Randi B. Hagi
Lora Lohr, from Criders, came to the class with her mom.

LORA LOHR: Because of the way that society is becoming, and the world is becoming, that, you know, you never know.

She was especially interested to learn about carrying concealed while on trips in different states.

LOHR: Just some clarifications on how you can carry in different areas, or cover yourself to carry different areas. That was really enlightening for me. And important to know if you travel much.

Calvaresi said that Focused Fire holds some classes for women only because --

CALVARESI: What they tend to find is that female students, I would say, come out here and … often have very pertinent questions that sometimes maybe they're not comfortable saying with maybe a male significant other.

He's seen more women getting involved in the Second Amendment community at large in recent years.

CALVARESI: I've been to a couple of these different events, different kinds of rallies and even a few protests that I've been to, where there's quite a few women out there who are protesting for, in the favor of, second amendment and firearm rights and such … and I think it's a good thing, because I think what's happening is people are simply waking up to the fact that, you know, like I tell my Mom, you're already in the jungle. You may want to grow some teeth.

Nicole Cruz of Harrisonburg said that, as a single mother, she'd like to feel safer while out and about with her son.

Credit Randi B. Hagi
Nicole Cruz is a single mom in Harrisonburg.

NICOLE CRUZ: I just feel like being proactive and feeling safe is very important. I'm also a victim of domestic violence, so I want to feel safe wherever I go, and [pauses] taking control, and just feeling like I can come and go and being confident going to and from places with my son is very important to me.

Like many of those in attendance, her lived experiences led her to want to become more comfortable handling guns.

CRUZ: Someone tried to open my back door, come into my screen door, which I keep a stick in. [chuckles] So, you know, those things, being a single mom, kind of prompted me to sign up for this course … I don't know, I just feel like I'm walking out of here with a little more confidence.

[Sound of chatter fading out]

With course certificates in hand, the attendees left the hotel armed with the ability to visit their local circuit courthouse and apply for a concealed handgun permit.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.