Guns Offer Feeling Of Security To Seniors

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Jim Thomas refuses to be a "willing" victim of a random crime or attack at any age.

Thomas is one of the many seniors who carry a concealed weapon, which, he said, gives him a little security and protection.

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Arizona Department of Public Safety offers an eight-hour concealed weapons basic class. Interested seniors can learn about current gun laws and how to handle a weapon safely.

At 66, he has thankfully never had to use it. He has never pointed a gun at anyone, but just knowing it's there makes all the difference.

Thomas is no stranger to having or owning a weapon he could lawfully conceal. He first took a

concealed weapon course when he was 21 years old while living in Indiana.

When he moved to Arizona, he had to get a permit for this state. In order to keep the permit, he must prove that he can still hit a target.

His renewal test was Monday morning.

Thomas carries a handgun at all times when out of the house. He keeps it secured in a holster that is covered by his shirt.

He carries the gun as he walks two to three miles a day, five days a week, in the forest where he has spotted mountain lions and black bears.

Recently, he said, an 82-year-old neighbor was attacked by a bobcat while out walking.

"I refuse to be a willing victim," he repeated.

Thomas is not alone.

In 2004, according to the Department of Public Safety, more than 37,000 seniors or people older than 50 in Arizona carried concealed weapons.

While Thomas has never had to pull or point his gun at anyone, on three occasions he has told a person he was arguing with that he had a firearm in his possession.

"Three times I told a person I had a gun and the argument was over with," he said. "I have never had to use one, don't want to use it, but the fact is I have one."

He recalled a time when he thought two men were getting ready to rob him. He said all he had to do was flip up his shirt to show he was armed.

He said one of the men yelled, "He's got a gun," and both took off running.

Getting trained

DPS offers an eight-hour concealed weapons basic class.

Hank Marquardt, a concealed weapons instructor for three years, said the average age of his students ranges from 50 to 59 years old.

"I think we all realize that when we reach a certain age we are not able to defend ourselves as easily," he said.

He said seniors as well as others in his class want to know what the laws are and are willing to train in order to use their weapon safely.

The gun he carries

Thomas has four handguns. He normally carries a 357-magnum revolver, and his primary backup is .38 Plus P.

The 66-year-old senior said he is not in the same condition he was in 25 years ago when he was more able to defend himself.

He said 90 percent of the people he knows carry concealed weapons, and most of them, he added, are senior citizens.

Thomas said he competes in tournaments in competitions five times a month, and the majority of participants are also senior citizens.

In a recent competition in Winslow with 25 contestants, seven were older than 60-years-old, and another six were older than 50.

He said carrying a concealed weapon does not keep anyone safe because trouble can creep up on a person at any time. He said awareness of one's surroundings is still what people need to remember.

Thomas said if he ever came home to find someone in his house that he did not know, he would give him or her the opportunity to leave or lie down.

"If your name is not Jim Thomas, you better get out of here," he would tell a burglar or trespasser.

"If it came down to it, I would give him a chance to get out. He does have a chance if he lies down on the floor."

Thomas said he keeps a loaded shotgun by his bedside in case something were to happen at night.

Last resort

The firearm is a tool of last resort, Marquardt said. People need to be aware and, when possible, stay away from potential problems.

"You do have it as that last ditch measure if you have no other choice," he said.

Dave Ross, a concealed weapons instructor in Payson for the past 10 years, said a normal class is 10 people, and more than 70 percent of the students in a class are seniors.

"I think they need a way to protect themselves," Ross said.

Payson Police Commander Don Engler said he doesn't know the exact figure, but there are quite a few seniors in Payson who have concealed weapon permits.

"I think the goal of it is to give citizens the right to protect themselves," he said.

To learn more about concealed weapons permits or available classes, call Ross at (928) 472-6780, or Marquardt at (928) 472-4444.

-- To reach Michael Maresh call 474-5251 ext. 112 or e-mail mmaresh@payson.com.

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