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The Final Blog

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You’re Not Safe With A Gun

Some things are just kismet. Like Tamara Keel posting this blog this morning after my husband and I had just spent a couple of hours talking about the issue. The blog is about safety and people thinking of it as binary. You are either safe or you are not. There’s either risk of injury or no risk of injury. The truth–like with many other things–is somewhere in the middle. There are “safer” ways to do things, but nothing comes without risk. It’s accepting the risks for what we do that keeps us honest and actually helps mitigate those risks through our preparation for them.

A Good Example of a Bad Example

When I came into guns in my early twenties I thought I was safe. I’d grown up like many others who assume that just because a gun has been unloaded it is therefore safe. I cringe when I look back at the things I used to do with unloaded guns. If you look hard enough you might even find evidence of those things.

Then, someone told me I was being unsafe. I was schooled on the four rules of safe gun handling and I had a decision to make. Did I reject those rules under the impression that I knew better? After all, I’d made it twenty-one years without shooting myself or anyone else. Or did I admit that I was being unsafe and adopt new rules.

A Third Option

The problem here is that most people see this as Tamara suggested, a binary problem–safe or unsafe.

The fact of the matter is I’m not going to shoot myself with an unloaded gun. I know this. You know this. But I run the risk of shooting myself with a gun I think is unloaded. Therefore, it is safer if I don’t point guns at myself.

I changed my practices and I don’t point guns at my own appendages any more.

I do, however, accept the risks that having guns in my home and carrying them around with me is an acceptable risk.

When people say things like, “I’m safe” or “it’s safe.” What they are attempting to convey is that they are in a state of safety and there is no risk. When we accept that there is always a risk by the nature of the activity we are participating in (in our case, gun play) we stop deluding ourselves and start protecting ourselves through safer practices.

Thank You, Stanley Fanelli

Ten years ago I was newlywed woman working a pretty awesome job at an education center managing a science and mathematics testing database and spending hundreds of thousands of tax-payers dollars in regards to continued education for teachers and curriculum for the great state of Pennsylvania. I had just finished writing my first (and to date, only) novel and I was seriously considering pursuing a career as a secondary mathematics teacher. I showed promise to that end and had people who were encouraging me to follow that direction.

I carried a gun but I didn’t work in firearms and really never intended to do so. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my future but, to date, the most I’d done with a gun was go to the range and shoot. I hadn’t even taken any official classes (PA did not have a training requirement to carry) and had been carrying for less than a year.

I was, and still am, a logical person. I knew that getting a gun for self-defense did not mean that I was suddenly a master and I determined I would only carry it if I got professional training, continued to get training, practiced regularly and was given the freedom to purchase my own gun.

Having purchased my own gun, with my first class scheduled, I found myself taking frequent trips to an indoor range to practice. They had a lady’s night where the range fee was waived for women and because my husband traveled frequently in our early marriage there wasn’t much to do with my time but wander the local grocery store looking for oddball cheese (I love cheese) go to the movies or go shoot. I had to conquer my fear of going to the range by myself, but after that was done I was off to the range every week by myself.

The staff there was respectful, knowledgeable and kind and I enjoyed talking to and learning from all of them. I enjoyed engaging in conversation with them and got to know all of them, well.

One of the managers was a skinny, young guy named Stanley Fanelli. And on a particular night on my way out of the range he asked me a question that changed the course of my future.

“Do you want a job?”

I didn’t want a job. I didn’t need a job. I was making more money part-time with more flexibility and benefits than a many make full time.

I was happy and I was woefully under-qualified for the job. My firearms experience was limited to weekly range sessions with no real instruction. My only credential was my carry permit. I struggled with my shooting and outside of the 1911 knew almost nothing about guns.

I told him as much and his response was, “Don’t worry about that. If you’re willing to learn, we’ll teach you. But you’re here all the time and seem to have a passion for it and we could use a woman like you.”

So I took home an application, filled it out and took it back to the range with me a few days later. I got free range time for myself and my husband, free targets and a few boxes of free ammo as long as I was shooting rental guns. And I got paid hourly to do it. There was no downside.

From day one, I loved that job. Because I was still working in education during the day I was limited to working evenings and weekends at the gun store and range which meant a lot of dealing with customers. Any free time we had usually started with Stan asking, “Hey, do you want to learn something?”

My answer was always, “Yes!”

He taught me how to mount a scope and about checking the timing on a revolver. He taught me how to take apart almost every gun on the shelves and gave me hours on range duty so that I could watch shooters and clean range guns–a valuable time to learn about how the innards of many handguns functioned. Any used firearm that was bought was tested and he allowed me to do the test firing. When it was particularly dead he would allow me to duck into the range for a little trigger time and gave me pointers when I came out as did the other instructors on staff. Stan was also deliberate in making sure I was present for any and all learning experiences with all manner of firearms. He was also the first person who suggested I go on to get some sort of instructor credentials.

Eventually, he asked me if I would be willing to go full time.

Long story made short, I left the path of education, dived head first into guns and training and never really looked back. There have been some distractions through the years, particularly when the babies started coming along but no matter what I do or get interested in I always find myself coming back to guns and self defense. The work is challenging, fun and meaningful, the people are great and toys are cool. And I owe a majority of my little part of it to Stan.

I was fortunate to run across a man who was willing to take me on as his project but knowledgeable enough not to fill my head with crap information, secure enough in his own ego not to try to make me his fan girl and encouraging enough to remind me there was nothing I couldn’t do if I was willing to learn and work hard.

If the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step Stan was the person who asked me to start moving my feet. Thank you, Stan. I’m still traveling.

Personal Security and Security Cameras

Personal Security and Security Cameras

Security cameras have never been high on my list of priorities for our home. I simply never saw the need for them. We live in a low-crime area, there is someone at our home a vast majority of the time and security cameras are expensive. They are a pain. They are unnecessary.


Well, now we have them. And I can’t see myself going back to not having them any time soon.

The decision to get cameras was mine and mine alone. I have been traveling a lot of late and my children are spending more time with sitters. Not more time than what they spend with me or their father but more time in general. I am uncomfortable being away from my children and not being able to see or hear them or even know if something is happening to them.

I’ve also watched way too many videos of people finding out their pets or children are being abused via security camera to dismiss the idea that people can seem perfectly reasonable and trustworthy until they think you aren’t watching them.

I have trust issues.

So, I bought and installed security cameras in our home primarily for the purpose of being able to check in on my children and home at any time, day or night, when I’m not there.

When I started looking for cameras I was both unsurprised but amazed at how far the technology has come. Of course, like anything else, I could have gone super cheap and limited such as limited, low-quality video only to super expensive and sophisticated with pan and zoom, HD video with sound and recording capabilities. For less than $100 I got two cameras that have the capability of taking video and sound, day or night (via IR) that transmits via our wireless network in our home.

I got the cameras on a Friday and had them set up in a few hours. I also learned these puppies have some cool features I wasn’t expecting such as motion and sound detection that can be set by sensitivity and location. I also learned that with an app on my cell phone I could get notifications of movement and sound anywhere I had a cell signal.

Figuring out where to put the cameras was an interesting chore.

My poor husband had exceptional patience with me as I took each camera, connected to an extra-long extension cord and had him follow me around the house with my laptop so I could see at what angles I had the most coverage of the most lived rooms in the house.

We got them set and I started fiddling with the features.

Since we have pets, motion detection, I thought, was going to be a drag. Until I learned that I could narrow the scope of the area to report motion detection to select areas of the camera’s view including up, off the floor. I narrowed in the motion to areas of entrance to our house so that I wouldn’t get notifications for my cat jumping on the couch or the kids watching tv. For the most part it works very well.

I do get false motion detection notifications from time to time but not on such a regular basis that it keeps me from checking them.

For sound detection, I was able to set the decibel level to be alerted to for each camera but I eventually turned that off because, with kids, the decibels are all over the place. I can remotely turn it on and off if we are out of the house or schedule it for certain hours.

Which leads me to the moment I realized that these camera things have a lot more potential for home and personal security than just checking in on my kids and home while I’m away.

It all started while I was at swimming lessons with my kids. My phone alerted me that one of the cameras had detected movement. I touched the notification while sitting beside the pool and was immediately shown live video feed of my home where I saw the figure of a man entering my house. I looked at the time and noticed it was early to be my husband but within moments the man came into view and I saw that it was, indeed, my husband.

“How cool!” I thought. I sent my husband a text message, “Welcome home!” to which he responded by telling me how creepy it was to know I was watching him.

Knowing that I would be alerted to anyone being in my home before they could even get through my door was a pretty cool feeling which led me to my next big personal security revelation.

A few days later, after parking in the garage, I picked up my phone and did a quick remote scan of the house before deciding to go in. While there are certainly blind spots that the cameras don’t see I liked the idea of being able to visually check where I was going before I went there, a luxury we rarely get.

When the time came to leave our children with a sitter, with the help of the sound and motion alerts I was able to check in from time to time and see them being played with, fed and kindly cared for in my absence. Everything a concerned parent wants.

I admit to being a total feed-viewing junkie for the first few days which lead to my husband’s sigh and a hopeful, “When the novelty wears off, I hope you stop going all NSA on us.”

My remote viewing has certainly died down quite a bit, but I still enjoy watching him scurry around the house to clean when I message him to tell him I’m on my way home (not that it’s required of him, but that he does that out of love for me) or even getting short bursts of play that I’m missing while at a class or an event.

I go back and forth between feeling paranoid and relieved and even though my husband doesn’t particularly like the cameras he’s been happy with my reports of feeling positive for buying them.

“$100 is a small price to pay for peace of mind,” he tells me and he’s right. There is a certain amount of peace-of-mind that comes with them where a big question mark was before.

We’ve even decided to add a few more and to enable recording to eliminate the few blind spots we have.

So far, all we’ve caught is a lot of play, love, some jumping on the couches and cat baths. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Thank You, John Lauer

Thank You, John Lauer

John Lauer is my husband.

If I made enough money to put someone on payroll, he would be my first employee. Not in the “I’m your boss” sense of the word either, more like, “You’re a valuable asset that deserves payment for your services.”

Point of fact, I could not do what I do without John.

I would not be who I am without John.

He started this whole thing with asking me two of the most important questions of my life:
1. “What do you think of getting your concealed carry permit”
2. “Are you ready to kill another human being to save your own life?”

He’s asked me some other really important questions (like, “Will you marry me?” and “Have you ever seen ‘Big Trouble In Little China?'”) but we’ll keep this relevant to self defense.

John doesn’t like attention.

He’s a quiet man who, when pressed to take a more open role in how instrumental he is to this operation, responds with, “That’s your thing.” But its not just my thing. It’s our thing and he needs to be recognized for his part.

Like when I’m in the middle of writing an article and almost inaudibly say, “Hmm, who’s the guy who makes those holsters that we bought for my 1911 like 5 years ago?” and before I can even begin to research to that end he puts a tablet on my desk next to me with the website open and model of holster selected and while I’m reading up he goes and digs it out of the holster bin and puts it on the other side of my desk or reminds me that we sold it to that one guy we met four years ago.

I can say, “I want to take a class on room clearing,” and in the morning I will have a list of four instructors who do room clearing work, why they are worth considering and their schedules and his schedule so I can cross reference and decide when I want to go.

Every. Single. Day. Without fail, he is there, supporting me. ALWAYS two steps ahead of me and anticipating what he can do to help me.

Even though we have a very honest and communicative relationship and he’s well versed in the complexities of my past, he still has to read about them from time to time as I share them and as uncomfortable as it is for outsiders to read about some of the sordid details of my past, I know it’s harder for him. He never tells me to stop and he never tries to sensor what I write. He’s also been there in the darkest times, supporting me, loving me and helping me through sorting out how to heal, forgive and love as a survivor.

John’s knowledge about firearms, in general, astounds me.

He has a memory for all things firearms that I could only dream of and he is my first resource when I have a question or I’m confused about a make or model of anything with a trigger. He’s just as good with knives, training classes or anything else self defense related as well.

He’s pretty much the guy I hope I can one-day be… except I don’t really want to be a guy. You know what I mean.

John loves guns and training just as much as I do yet these days you won’t often see him at the same training events I’m attending. This isn’t because he doesn’t want to be there, it’s because he’s at home, taking care of our children so that I can attend. His sacrifices to take off work and stay home with the kids so that I can go and do something he would love to do always moves me and moves me deeply.

john4No sentiment on any card or any gift can ever show him how much I appreciate him for that. I could also go on about what a great Dad he is but that’s getting too personal. It should be said though because my comfort in leaving my children to train and instruct is only founded in a deep trust and confidence in who is caring for them. He has the hearts and respect of his children and wife and that says so much about the character of a man.

Most of all, the key to magic of our marriage is his patience with me. I’m erratic and a little too adventurous at times. I get ideas and want to act on them immediately and he neither hampers my creativity or lets me run too wild.

He understands passion but also restraint and he’s really good at gently helping me find balance between the two. He’s really good at grounding me or welcoming me home when I’ve been somewhere on cloud nine a little too long. He’s also really good at letting me go with a smile when I want another adventure, hobby or skill. He’s never judged me for who I am, what I want, how I feel or where I want to go.

Our honesty policy is unlike any relationship I’ve never experienced and that has made for a unique personal and working relationship. He’s never been afraid to tell me the hard things. He stands up for himself and never lets me make him feel bad for his honesty, even though I sometimes fight him on his opinions.

I think of myself as very independent. Sometimes, I want to believe a partnership was not for me at all. My honesty makes me admit, however, that I’d be a wreck without him because I desperately want a man like him in my life. And it’s the people you want in your life that you also seem to need the most.

For every gun under the Christmas tree; for every holster, knife, bag, or random piece of gear that showed up unexpected with my name on it; for every, “You need to register for this class,” “I’ll get off work so you can go,” and “Tell me how I can help you,” … Thank you, John.

I love you.

The Year I Put My Gun Away

If you could put my blog into a category it would be “self defense.”

To me, however, it’s a little more than that. It’s my story–my unique journey. If others can glean a little from my experiences and thoughts I’m honored, if not, it’s no big deal. There have been times, however, when I’ve purposely withheld parts of this journey from my readers because I wasn’t sure how what I had to say would be received. Or I may not have been ready to put it out into the virtual void. This is one of those times.

I’ve been hanging on to this post for almost two years and it feels like a good time to get it off my chest.

I want to tell you about my biggest “break-through” year in self defense. It was a year I learned more about how to defend myself, increased my confidence, improved my overall skills and expanded my horizons. I learned how to manage fear and angst and to trust my instincts. I learned how to manage medical emergencies, have fun and express myself in many other ways. This was one of the best years of my life.

It was the year I put my gun away.

My journey, my work, my goals have all been a means to build confidence in myself, not a tool. I chose a tool to aide in my journey, not to define it. I sought to be well-trained with a tool, not ruled by it. Guns, to me, are tools to master in a long list of other tools to master (including my sewing machine).

I have always wanted real self-defense solutions, not crutches or bandaids, platitudes or false security. So when I felt my gun was becoming a crutch I decided it was time to get rid of it–or, at least put it away for awhile.

I want to tell you about why I felt compelled to put it down and why I picked it up again and why I always knew it would find a place on my belt again, when I was ready.

While my husband and I were packing for a much-needed vacation to a place without reciprocity I felt nervous at the prospect of having to leave my gun behind. I started thinking about all the “what if” situations and wanting my gun.

I hated the feeling.

It exposed everything I’d wanted to avoid about carrying a gun in the first place. It exposed my weaknesses and my fears, my shortcomings and false security. I showed me I wasn’t confident that I could protect myself without my gun. I was using that gun as a means to “feel” safer, but that didn’t make me safer. It was becoming a cliche I wanted to avoid.

I honestly evaluated myself and decided it was time to rip off that bandaid, throw out the crutch and walk on my own.

I left on that trip without a gun and left it off for a year.

I still wrote about guns. I still attended firearms training. I competed in pistol matches. I just stopped carrying my gun with me in public. Almost no one but my husband knew I’d stopped carrying.

The experience wasn’t all that dramatic. I mean, really, millions of people don’t carry guns. They survive. I won’t pretend to tell you it was some eye-opening, melodramatic test of my ability to stoically face life unarmed. If I tried that crap I hope someone close to me would throw my slippers at me.

The truth is, life went on. And it went on very well.

I started EMT school and built a custom salt-water aquarium (complete with a kick-ass sump). I was raising two kids and taking Krav Maga. I started lifting weights. My husband and I took time to focus on our marriage and took something wonderful and made it amazing. I started reading more and enjoyed my family. I felt the healthiest and happiest I’d probably ever felt and I did it all without a gun.

I didn’t close my eyes to the realities of the world. I understood the risks of crime as much as I ever did. Instead of potentially ignoring those risks because, “Well, I have a gun,” instead, I worked on developing the awareness, confidence and other skills I felt would be effective in defending myself. I wrote a lot about those things at the time, too, and how I felt about them.

EMT school and training taught me a lot about chaos management and built a huge amount of confidence in myself and my abilities to take care of myself and others under stress. New hobbies and interests kept me, me–always expanding and learning and wanting to experience new wonders of the world. Krav gave me more confidence and fewer feelings of being intimidated in general (an easy thing to feel when you are my size). Lifting simply made me feel stronger and healthier.

I stopped attributing unrealistic expectations on my firearm and found confidence, skill and enjoyment from living my life. Fear, enjoyment, preparedness, skill were found in myself, not in what I had on my belt.

I felt great about myself and how I’d grown.

And the day came to get my gun out of the safe, again.

Once again, I won’t let you believe this was some sort of dramatic, ominous or otherwise emotional affair. It happened with all of the fanfare of someone putting a piece of toast into a toaster oven. There was no foreboding music or deep sigh for effect. It wasn’t some set date on a calendar or due to meeting some arbitrary goal. I didn’t feel threatened.

I simply felt ready, again.

I went to the safe, took out my Glock, checked it over, wiped it down, loaded it and put it on my belt.

And life stayed exactly the same. Better. Richer. Fuller. Happier. And, now, armed. Not because of the gun but in spite of it.

Why did I pick it back up again? After all, I made it a whole year without being mauled by bears or violently raped in a cellar.

I armed myself again because despite everything–the additional training, the confidence, the skills, techniques, knowledge and health–I am, above all, a realist. The reality is I’m still the primary individual responsible for my own safety and the safety of my children and a gun fills a self-defense void that cannot be filled with any other tool or technique in certain circumstances.

It’s compact, lightweight, can be carried with you, concealed and deployed in an instant. It fires projectiles that have the capacity to stop even the most determined of attackers at a vast variety of distances. It’s capacity to continue doing the above is only as limited as your ammo supply which is relatively cheap and also compact. It’s an affordable, available defensive system that is effective and accessible.

It has a viable place in self defense provided it is used within the constraints of skill, the law and with respect to its limitations.

If there’s a downside it’s that it requires skill and understanding to use effectively and many people mistake merely having a firearm for the both skill and understanding. That delusion can be devastating.

It’s been a few years of carrying regularly again and I’m happy to say that my firearm remains put in it’s place, not only on my belt but also in my mind and emotions.

I enjoy firearms. I enjoy shooting them, training with them and competing with them. I don’t particularly enjoy carrying them but the gun and holster choices I’ve made have made carrying them an easy addition to my daily life. They have a legitimate and powerful roll to play in self defense and so I carry them. If I ever feel that balance getting skewed again or something better than a firearm comes unto life’s scene I will put my guns away again.

Whether I was right or wrong in putting my gun away, I don’t know. It’s simply my journey. It’s something I felt was important for me and my life. I felt it was necessary for me to get rid of the distraction to my personal growth and that my firearm was that distraction. I did what was necessary and therefore it felt right to me.

It felt just as right to start carrying again.

If there’s something to take away from this story, maybe it’s to be honest with yourself. Perform a self evaluation, honestly admit what roll your firearm in playing in your life and defense and whether or not you have the skill and understanding and mindset required to carry a firearm on a daily basis. Make adjustments accordingly.

What role is your gun playing in your life?

Thank You, Kathy Jackson

Thank You, Kathy Jackson

I don’t remember the first time I heard of Kathy Jackson but I’m sure I know the context. When I started looking at the possibility of carrying a gun for self defense I joined a gun forum my husband frequented called Combat Carry (later morphed into Defensive Carry). Any woman who joins any gun forum could ask the color of the sky and as a response get, “Have you been to”

Men, in an attempts to be helpful and sometimes feeling intimidated by the prospect of dealing with female issues routinely shoo women over to Kathy’s website and for good reason.

In addition to be the woman to literally wrote the book on concealed carry for women, she’s wise, articulate, and has the experience to back up her opinions.

Over the years, Kathy and I exchanged the occasional email and maybe ran across each other on forums but it wasn’t until 2014 that I really got to know this woman that I can now call my good friend.

In 2013 I had decided that I wanted to take all of this gun knowledge and training and do something with it. My goal shifted from being a consumer of training to a producer but I wasn’t sure how to do that and do it in a professional way. My husband pointed me toward Rangemaster and their programs and on the list of “must attend” events was a Rangemaster Tactical Conference. Kathy Jackson would be there and speaking on women’s issues.

Very selfishly, I determined I must get some one-on-one time with her. Weeks before the conference I emailed her asking for a dinner date. She agreed. I felt like I’d nabbed a coveted gold nugget and I’m pretty sure I annoyed my husband for the next few weeks leading up to the conference by dancing around the house and randomly breaking into song to the tune of “na-na-na-na-boo-boo” with lyrics like, “I’m having dinner with Kathy! I’m having dinner with Kathy.”

The conference arrived and less than a few minutes into it I met one of my many idols face to face. Not only was she adorable–dressed in the cutest hat, blazer and blouse, with a gentle, wise face and ready smile–but she was about my height! Instead of pressing her hand out for a traditional greeting, she wrapped her arms around me and pulled me in for a hug like an old friend who was truly happy to see me.

I loved this woman, immediately.

Then I sat in on her “What Women Want” lecture and whatever respect I already had for the woman multiplied itself by ten. I had honestly considered not attending her lecture because I thought, “Well, I’m a woman and I know what I want so do I really need to hear about it from Kathy?”

I’m so glad I sometimes don’t listen to myself.

Her lecture was exceptionally well-researched, direct and insightful. She drew parallels from other industries where women are commonly under-represented and the whole time I kept taking notes feeling a little creeped out that this woman got inside my head without so much as a phone call.

I was putting arrows next to her points that especially resonated with me until I realized my page was filling up with arrows!

That evening we met for barbeque and for the next two hours I felt honored to get to know her on a personal and professional level. She laid down some real practical steps for me to take on my journey to becoming a professional-level instructor and we parted ways as friends.

That conference and meeting changed our relationship and I am honored to call Kathy my friend.

We’ve spent hours and hours and hours (and hours) on the phone since that day and I always take notes. She’s a fountain of wisdom who is both understanding and kind but uplifting. She’s also a natural teacher who never lets me get away from a conversation without teaching me a lesson through a phrase that starts something like, “Now, Melody, let me ask you this…”

When I have a strange or interesting day teaching, she’s the first person I want to call because I know she’ll have been there before and can give me insight. When I’m not sure about a particular way I handled a student or staff of a range personnel, I find myself shooting a message to Kathy asking her opinion. Not only does she have the experience working those scenarios before but she has the experience working them as a woman. And we women instructors have some interesting hurtles even some male instructors may not understand.

On top of all of that, when I reached out to my fellow instructors for guidance on the Families With Firearms Conference she was one of the first to throw her full support behind it.

Her generosity with her wisdom, knowledge and time continue to touch me on an almost daily basis.

I cannot thank her enough and I will never be able to repay her. Which, when I told her as much, in her very honest and blunt way (which I LOVE) she said, “So pay it forward.

Yes, ma’am.

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