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Threat? 

Should we worry about the guns in our midst?

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

He said it deliberately but loud enough for me to hear through my ear guards, and when he said it, I aimed my Glock 9mm at the perp and—as trained—squeezed off two rounds into his thoracic cavity.

If the perp had a heart, I just killed it.

“Do you want to finish with a headshot?” asked my instructor Steve Odom.

“Um, sure.”

“I think of it as the difference between draining the oil from an engine or taking out the electrical. Which do you think is quicker?” he asked.

“Electrical, er … headshot?”

“Definitely.”

That’s because maybe the “threat” is wearing body armor or maybe he’s a “dedicated adversary,” but according to Odom, a correctly placed headshot is, unlike the 80 percent survival rate for non-head-shot gun wounds, fatal. If the shot strikes the cranio-ocular cavity, a palm-size expanse of the face from the eyes to the mouth and cheek-to-cheek, you can figure “the threat” is instantly incapacitated … or dead.

I am Rambo.

And I am weirdly ashamed because I just pretended to shoot somebody in the face.

I’ve just been through the first two hours of the four or five days of intensive weapons training SLO County Sheriff’s Department Senior Range Master Steve Odom strongly recommends anyone who would consider owning a gun to protect their family receive from a professional instructor. “Where do you think most people get their gun training?” he asked?

“Movies?”

“That’s right. TV and Hollywood.”

Pointing out that Hollywood’s version of proper gun handling differs radically from a trained professional’s version should be painfully obvious, and after just the first 30 minutes with Odom, I realized I was already better trained than Rambo.

“Remember the scene when he shoots a LAWs rocket with the helicopter full of people right behind him?” asked Odom. “A LAWs has a 100-foot back-blast. Everyone in the helicopter would be dead.”

I even know LAWs stands for Light Anti-Tank Weapon. I kick Rambo’s ass!

click to enlarge THE GOOD:  Years of intensive training allow SLO County Sheriff’s Department Senior Range Master Steve Odom to fire his weapon while evading returned fire, exactly the kind of training needed by a citizen hoping to protect their home with a firearm. Most gun owners lack such training. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • THE GOOD: Years of intensive training allow SLO County Sheriff’s Department Senior Range Master Steve Odom to fire his weapon while evading returned fire, exactly the kind of training needed by a citizen hoping to protect their home with a firearm. Most gun owners lack such training.
Family protection

On Friday, March 13, Los Osos resident and father Chris Saletta shot Nicole Galvez in his backyard. Though Saletta declined a request for an interview, a report by the Sheriff’s Department details the events that led to the shooting. According to the report, Galvez, 18, drove her 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser through a fence and into Saletta’s backyard, “driving over his children’s bicycles and trampoline.” Saletta called 911 and reported that he was arming himself. When he confronted Galvez and ordered her to stop, she ignored his commands “as she wildly backed her vehicle on a collision course towards his children’s bedroom.” Saletta shot through the passenger side window, striking Galvez in the arm. “The Galvez vehicle came to an abrupt stop within a few mere feet of crashing into the home,” said the report. Galvez was arrested for DUI. A preliminary investigation concluded that Saletta “lawfully discharged his firearm.”

Score one for the good guy, right?

Perhaps. First of all, aside from Steve Odom’s father Doug Odom, a District Attorney’s investigator who in the mid-‘80s famously defended his home from two assailants, local law enforcement can’t count many examples of people using firearms for family protection. Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ron Bryn can recall during his time with the SLOPD a gentleman who used the threat of a firearm against a drunk college student who broke down the door of his house wearing nothing but underwear and a tampon necklace, but no shots were fired.

Truth be told, most gun owners lack the training to effectively defend their lives with a firearm. And if the gun is stored properly, it probably won’t be accessible enough to grab during a home invasion.

“Statistically, about half the homes in America have firearms,” noted Odom, “and guns are essentially a tool. Like any other tool, they can be used correctly or improperly. If you owned a chainsaw, you wouldn’t use it without proper instruction. Think of it this way: Just because you own a guitar doesn’t make you a musician. If someone is going to own a gun, we recommend people get trained, especially if using it for self defense.”

Who’s packing?

According to the California Department of Justice (Cal DoJ), through 2007, SLO County had 387 CCW (concealed carry weapons) permits. There are currently 281 CCWs issued by the Sheriff’s Department, of which about half are for its own corrections officers. Cities SLO and Morro Bay have issued no permits, which means other SLO County cities have collectively issued about 100. Considering there are about 263,000 county residents, including minors, very few have a legal right to carry a concealed weapon. The Cal DoJ also keeps statistics on Assault Weapons Registration, noting that through 2006, 652 SLO County residents have 1,252 legally registered assault rifles. There’s no way to know how many weapons, legal or otherwise, are in SLO County, but there’s no reason to suspect there are fewer than the national average: 90 weapons for every 100 residents, making us the most armed country in the world. No wonder that in 1941, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto explained why Japan wouldn’t attempt a land invasion of America: "You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.”

So what kinds of people bear arms in SLO County? Lots! Meet two.

click to enlarge THE BADASS :  Though nearing 70, former U.S. Marine Corp Captain Jo Ann Wheatley is still deadly accurate and passes on her expertise onto other women in Pistol Safety & Handing classes. The former Cal Poly professor is also an NRA Certified Instructor. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • THE BADASS : Though nearing 70, former U.S. Marine Corp Captain Jo Ann Wheatley is still deadly accurate and passes on her expertise onto other women in Pistol Safety & Handing classes. The former Cal Poly professor is also an NRA Certified Instructor.

With four brothers, a father, and several uncles who were all avid outdoorsmen, it was natural that Jo Ann Wheatley, 69, would become a tomboy. In eight years in the U.S. Marine Corp, she quickly climbed to the rank of captain.

“I was a real hotshot,” she explained as she disassembled and cleaned a semi-automatic handgun, one of the many weapons she owns, which she stores in two large gun safes in her home. “I grew up in a small town outside of New Orleans. I got my first shotgun at 12. I had a BB gun at 6.”

She teaches classes on personal protection for women only, and she noted, “It’s very easy to teach women to shoot well. Maybe their bodies are more geared to fine movement, or maybe it’s because they have no pressure from the macho thing. I feel like I have a responsibility to other women to teach them self-protection in the extreme. I’ve had some students who were abused as children, who were threatened with a gun, or they’ve experienced an attempted carjacking. Another lady, her boy had been molested, and after the guy was released [from prison], he contacted her and told her he was coming after her and her son.”

Such stories as these, as well as two of her own close encounters, have led Wheatley to advocate for greater access to CCWs. When told the sheriff had only issued 281, she exclaimed, “That’s not nearly enough. There’s a saying, ‘An armed society is a polite society,’ and I think that’s true. I know when I’m armed I’m sweet, because I don’t want to have to pull a gun. I had a guy try to break into my car while I was in it. This was in the old days when I was in the Marines. I happened to have been shooting that day and had my shotgun sitting next to me on the front seat. My window was cracked a little, and this guy—he looked like something out of Deliverance, scraggly dirty hair—grabbed the window and tried to yank it down. I stuck my double barrel through the window about an inch from his face. I’ve never seen a man jump backwards so fast in my life. Another time I had a guy try to break into my apartment. I called the police and said, ‘You better hurry because if he gets in here I’m going to shoot him.’”

When asked about whether Chris Saletta’s shooting of Nicole Galvez was justified, she said cryptically, “If it ever went to a jury trial, I’d like to be on the jury.”

In short, Wheatley supports gun ownership and self protection. “The Second Amendment gives us the right to carry and bear arms,” she claimed, “a right that shall not be infringed. I don’t think you should have to have a CCW to carry a concealed weapon. I’m a 70-year-old lady with a bad back, and I like to come and go as I please. Why should I have to be worried about my safety? I should be able to protect myself and the people I’m with. I like to go fishing, and if it’s 10 p.m. and I’m out on the Carizzo Plains, why should my life be at risk if I get a flat tire?”

Of course, Wheatley recognizes that not all people could follow through and actually pull the trigger.

“There’s a lot of liability and responsibility regarding safety to yourself and others, and storage of the weapon,” she said. “If you don’t have the frame of mind, don’t have a gun because there are too many disadvantages.

“I have high regard for law enforcement,” she continued, “but I’ve heard people say, ‘I carry a gun because I can’t carry a police officer.’ I don’t advocate that people get guns—that’s a personal decision—but I do advocate that people think about personal protection. Ultimately, people are responsible for their own safety, and the sooner they realize that, the sooner they’ll take steps to protect themselves, their home, their car, and their personal possessions.”  Take note that California law does not allow the use of a gun to protect against anything except imminent physical harm.

Not everyone who owns and carries guns has had the sort of training law enforcement and military personnel have, and yet they’re on the street packing lethal force just the same.

click to enlarge AND THE SCARY :  Carbine (not his real name) has been fascinated by guns since childhood and frequently goes around armed even though he doesn’t have a CCW (concealed carry weapon) permit. In his early teens, he made a silencer for a handgun and used it to kill neighborhood cats, something he deeply regrets now. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • AND THE SCARY : Carbine (not his real name) has been fascinated by guns since childhood and frequently goes around armed even though he doesn’t have a CCW (concealed carry weapon) permit. In his early teens, he made a silencer for a handgun and used it to kill neighborhood cats, something he deeply regrets now.
Let’s call our second example Carbine. The 31-year-old San Luis Obispo resident requested anonymity because he sometimes carries a concealed weapon illegally.

“I haven’t carried a loaded gun for the last two weeks,” he bragged.

Carbine has a conventional job, a professional position, though if you saw him shirtless, his extensive tattoos might worry you. You’d probably be even more concerned if you heard about his background.

“The first time I shot a gun I was 10 years old. I had my own BB gun by 11, then a 22 caliber. I got my hunting license and my first shotgun, a 20 gauge, when I was 12. I fired my first pistol, a Walther P-38, at 14. My grandfather taught my brothers and I how to shoot.”

Sounds like your typical gun enthusiast upbringing, but Carbine and his brothers didn’t have enough supervision, and by age 14 he began playing with a High Standard Model B handgun.

“It looked like a Luger P-08, and my brothers and I got this book, The Silencer Cookbook, and read how to make a hushpuppy for it,” recalled Carbine. “We used to go around and kill cats with it. We shot up buildings, shot cars. We were mean little fuckers. I love cats now and feel like a total jerk for doing that, but I never owned an animal until I was 19. If I saw someone hurting an animal now, I’d go over and punch them in the face.”

Though his childhood sounds like that of a budding serial killer, Carbine grew up and out of his reckless ways.

“I’m older and wiser, and I realize I’m not invincible. When I was a kid, I didn’t really think I’d get in trouble because I was a juvenile.”

 Though Carbine has grown up, his obsession with weapons hasn’t wavered; when a guy he’d sold a car to on Craig’s List started stalking him, he said, he was already armed.

“When I lived in San Jose awhile ago, I sold this guy a car, an old Mercedes for $800,” said Carbine. “I guess he felt like he got ripped off, so he threatened me. I returned his money, but he just fixated on me, calling me, coming by my house, contacting me by email. I accidentally left my immunization record with my social security number on it in the car, and he threatened to sell my SS number. I had to change my phone number twice. I went to the police and requested a CCW, but they wouldn’t let me have one. I’d call the police when he harassed me and it’d be months before they even called me back! What was I supposed to do? Even when I moved down here there was evidence that he may have followed me down. No matter what, he was out to get me.”

Carbine felt justified in carrying a loaded, concealed weapon. He believes CCWs should be easier to get, at least on a temporary basis.
“Look, I’ve never wanted to shoot anyone, but I have feared for my life. And this waiting period that California has, a lot of states don’t have that.”

California shares an A- rating—the highest—with five other states from gun-control advocates. We have some of the most stringent gun laws in America. Many states score Ds or Cs. But those laws don’t deter everyone from carrying a gun.

Knowing Carbine’s background and seeing his edgy appearance, people might be forgiven for wondering if he’s the kind of person society would tolerate walking the streets armed.

Guns by the number

Local law enforcement isn’t worried about law-abiding citizens owning guns, but they are concerned about gun theft. According to SLOPD Public Information Officer Dan Blanke, in the last five years, 52 firearms were reported stolen in SLO Town.

“Obviously, the fact that they were stolen means that they fell into the hands of criminals, likely to be used for criminal purposes,” said Blanke. “This perhaps highlights another angle on the points you and I discussed about gun safety. If people choose to possess firearms for hunting or self-protection, it is wise to secure them in gun safes or in some other manner that would make them less vulnerable to theft.”

Another risk of owning guns is suicide.

“In the five-year period between January of ‘04 and December of ’08, we investigated 28 suicides and suicide attempts,” said Blanke. “Ten of those involved guns and the suicide was successful in all of the incidents involving guns. Of those, nine involved handguns and one involved a shotgun. One of the cases was the Rivard homicide/suicide where Mr. Rivard murdered his wife and daughter with a gun and then shot himself. That happened on Oct. 3, 2007.”

According to Rob Bryn at the Sheriff’s Department, in 2004, 15 of 30 suicides involved guns; in 2005, 21 of 44; in 2006, 10 of 32; in 2007, 25 of 48; and in 2008, 11 of 38 were suicides involving guns.

In Morro Bay, Public Information Officer Tim Olivas noted that they’d had two gun suicides in the past five years and two accidental gun discharges.

“There was one example of a firearm to defend a home two years ago, during a party,” explained Olivas. “Some partygoers thought there was some inappropriate behavior going on between a guy and gal, and they threw the guy out. He didn’t want to leave, and they threatened the guy with shotgun. The shotgun was seized and charges were filed.”

Without question, America is armed to the teeth. Despite statistics for fatalities, injuries, and crimes related to firearms, some people staunchly advocate gun ownership for defense.

Glen Starkey is armed and dangerous. Contact him at your own risk, at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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