Residents flock to new gun course to defend themselves

Interest spiked after Uptown restaurants robbed by masked gunmen

Dawn Ortego isn’t willing to become a statistic.

The Destrehan woman has seen the escalating reports of violent crimes, be on the local, national or even worldwide level. Should the day come when Ortego needs to defend herself, she plans to be ready to do just that.

And to that end, the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office is lending a helping hand to Ortego and others  taking advantage of its monthly concealed handgun training course. The class takes place at the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office Shooting Range, with the next course scheduled for June 5.

The class has found an audience since its beginning late last year, often drawing a full house of students. The course is being held on one Sunday a month.

Ortego, who attended the May 22 class that was completely full, said she did so because she understands criminals often seek to prey on women.

“It’s unfortunate, but they often see women as a weak or an easy target,” she said. “I work in Metairie, and when the time changes (for Daylight Saving Time), it gets dark by the time you leave the office. Even in Metairie, it can still happen. It’s happened in broad daylight.”

The classes are taught by Louisiana P.O.S.T. certified firearms instructors, as well as Louisiana concealed carry handgun instructors. The classes are open to everyone, including those who don’t live in St. Charles Parish, and cover all the necessary criteria for an individual to apply for a concealed handgun permit in Louisiana.

Course instructor Maj. Rodney Madere said that when class begins at 8 a.m., attendees are in for a full day of education and activity. Topics covered within the in-depth course include gun safety, child safety, selection of the proper gun, how to clean a firearm properly, proper ammunition selection, shooting positions and how to carry a gun. Up to 32 people may enroll in one class.

After lunch, instructors take the class out to the shooting range for some hands-on learning.

“I like to give them a little more shooting than the state requires, just to teach them a little more while they’re there,” Madere said. “We go above and beyond.”

Madere said that instructors bring a few of the more popular firearms for the students to get a feel for.

“For some, they come to the class and want to know about what gun to buy,” Madere said.

Once a student passes the course, they receive a certificate of completion, which must be among items sent to the state for certification.

Madere said the course began, in part, as area residents expressed a dissatisfaction with the ability to find an instructor.

“Be it the quality or the availability, a lot of people weren’t finding what they needed,” he said.

Madere, an experienced instructor, offered his services to help launch the class. He got the go-ahead late last year. Madere and three other Sheriff’s Office instructors earned their certification and have turned the class into a regular occurrence.

With so many alarming reports of often violent crimes occurring in so many different areas, an understandable interest in arming and protecting one’s self has led many to inquire and often enroll in the course, Madere said.

“I think it fills a need,” Madere said. “Especially considering the things we’re seeing in society now … no matter where you are, you’re a potential victim, be it at a restaurant, a movie, in the street or even in your own home. People are seeing this and a lot of them want to be educated (on how to properly arm themselves).”

He added that interest particularly seemed to spike after an incident last summer, when three restaurants and bars in Uptown, upscale New Orleans were robbed by armed, masked men.

“It seems like criminals have expanded where they commit these acts,” Madere said. “And not just things like getting your pocket picked, but violent crimes. (Those robberies) I think caused a lot of people to wake up and understand that it can happen to anybody, anywhere.”

He estimated that about half of the students who sign up for the class intend to apply for the permit.

“Many come to the class strictly to educate themselves,” Madere said, adding he’s had students as young as 15 (with parental permission) and as old as 80 years of age.

He added that because the course is taught by experienced police officers, it adds a unique and useful element to the course.

“We’ve investigated so many of these cases and we have a lot of first-hand knowledge of what you can and can’t do in certain situations,” said Madere, who is the Sheriff’s Office’s Chief of Investigations. “People are going to carry their guns, but we do feel more confident that this course is helping the public to be better educated on how to approach these things.”

Ortego agrees.

“I feel 100 percent more safe knowing that I’m trained and equipped to defend myself,” she said.

Madere added the Sheriff’s Office is also beginning a tactical handgun course. That class will involve more live work on the shooting range and will be open to just 12 people at a time, though Madere noted that if interest is high enough, the project could be expanded to two classes a month. The next tactical handgun course is scheduled June 12.

Cost of the concealed carry course is $100. The classes run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The shooting range is located behind the St. Charles Parish Correctional Center on 5061 Highway 3127 in Killona. Cost of the tactical handgun course is $150.

For more information or to sign up for a class, one may register on the Sheriff’s Office Website at: www.stcharlesssheriff.org or contact Major Rodney Madere at 985-783-1135.

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