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Their friends are Smith & Wesson
Concealed weapons training in Yuba County
After a hot prowler in Willa Young's home many years ago, and more recent law enforcement cutbacks and seemingly more criminals on the street, the 64-year-old Yuba City resident feels she needed a way to protect herself.
"I want more control of my own environment," she said. "We have the right to defend our own persons and our own families. It's an ingrained right as old as this country."
So, on Saturday, she joined 18 other people at a concealed weapons class at the Yuba County Republican headquarters. After the day-long instruction, students were qualified in the course and with their weapons, and they were ready to go to the Sheriff's Department for fingerprinting, a background check, and to hopefully receive a permit after submitting their applications.
Young said her education and safety precautions don't end with a one-day class. She plans to continue her training so she can feel confident carrying her .22 semiautomatic whether she's camping or riding her motorcycle on rural roads.
"It's not that I ever expect to use this against a person, but I want that choice," she said.
Instructor Chris Seale has had his concealed carry permit for more than a decade. He began teaching classes a few years ago. His lesson is a summary of the National Rifle Association's basic pistol course, with additions recommended by local law enforcement.
It addresses firearm safety, weapon anatomy, laws, use and storage, and it finishes with firearms qualifications at a private Yuba County range.
"I believe in concealed carry," Seale said. "It's your responsibility to protect you and your children. I would love to have law enforcement with me wherever I go, but that's not realistic."
He teaches about two courses a month and said his students are the opposite from misinformed stereotypes of right-wing zealots or middle-aged men looking for a little bravado. Young and old, men and women, all walks of life are represented.
"There are homemakers to doctors to skilled tradesmen," Seale said. "I have your next-door neighbor, I have the nurse down the street, I have the teachers."
He does not know of a single student who has ever fired a weapon in self-defense, but likely, he said, that is because they tend to be more informed and pay attention to what's going on around them. Seale always includes mention of alternative weapons, such as pepper spray and stun guns, that may be more appropriate for self-defense in certain situations.
Lois Taylor, 79, said a person carrying a concealed weapon must know when to use it.
"You have to have your head prepared ahead of time," she said. "I'm not gonna pick it up to tease somebody or tell them to go away."
She attended Saturday's class because her husband, a longtime concealed weapons carrier, is concerned for her safety when she is alone, whether on trips to Reno or on their 32-acre Browns Valley property.
Sitting at her desk one night many years ago, she was writing nursing notes when she heard a noise near the sliding screen door. She spotted a giant boot nudged against the door and saw a masked man, who ran away but not after giving her a scare.
"If my husband is gone and someone comes, I'm not a fearful person, but I want to protect myself," she said.
Self-protection was the overwhelming theme among Saturday's students.
"It's getting to be where you never know any more," said Bill Lowe, 63.
A few years ago, his wife, Pam, was attacked while out for a stroll on the roads near their Yuba County home. A quarter mile from any houses, no one could hear her cries for help, and though she escaped with only some cuts, she decided she would no longer walk unguarded and was the first to obtain her a concealed carry permit a few months ago.
"She said, 'I hope I never have to draw it' — and I don't know if she could — but at least it gives her that security,'" Lowe said.
When Yuba City resident Shawn Robertson, 30, was in the military, he handled his share of weapons, but he plans to take his time to get comfortable packing his 9mm Smith & Wesson before he carries it full time. He signed up for the course, he said, because with a 15-month-old daughter at home, he wants to have some personal protection.
"This world is not getting any nicer," he said. "My life is important, but not as important as my wife or child."
After filling out the 20-page applications, the students were ready to qualify their weapons. They drove from Marysville to a gun range, where they proudly showed one another their weapons, joked about "performance anxiety" and listened as Seale advised to "just relax and have fun."
Brass shells were soon flying, shots were cracking and gun smoke lingered in the air. White holes pockmarked the center mass of watermelon-shaped targets. Several students smiled at their accuracy.
"There you go," said Taylor's husband, Bob Taylor, giving her a slap on the back. "You've got holes all over him, honey."