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Self-defense business holds steady, true

Subheadline: 
Coastal Empire firearms vendors combine sales with lessons in safety, responsibility

While sales can collide with community fears, proprietors of self-defense businesses say their missions are more about personal safety, responsibility and awareness.

“We try not to capitalize on the negatives,” said Thunderbolt Guns’ manager, Luther Loughridge. “But we want everyone to be safe.”

In a local and national climate where media coverage of criminal activity is increasing, the business of self-defense is booming. But operating self-defense companies and gun shops can be a sensitive business, as many of these business owners don’t want to capitalize on others’ fear or misfortune.

Thunderbolt Guns, located on Victory Drive, was founded a decade ago.

“People understand that a firearm is a good way to defend themselves, and that crime is through the roof here (in Savannah). We don’t have to push that issue,” Loughridge said. “Owning a firearm is a constitutional right, so we don’t feel the need to sell it.”

Loughridge said that customers come into Thunderbolt Guns seeking weapons for self-defense. “We market and advertise ourselves as a local gun store. With all the home invasions, we’re seeing more people than ever.”

Thunderbolt Guns encourages its customers to take its two-day defensive handgun class.

“One of the most important parts of the class is the drills; our goal by the end of the day is to encourage our customers to be comfortable with their firearms. We want them to want to go to the range so they can get better with their weapons. We want them to benefit from instruction and gun range classes, so that they will benefit in any kind of real life scenarios.”

Self-defense classes are a large part of local gun shops’ business models. A primary goal of the classes it to teach people how to safely use a weapon and to learn to respect a gun.

Husband-and-wife team Rick and Pat Grace founded Patrick’s Uniforms and Indoor Gun Range in 1985, launching their first store as a uniform shop. The Graces since expanded their shop to be an indoor shooting range, gun, and uniform store, with locations in Savannah, Tampa, Fla., and Jacksonville, Fla.

“People have to understand guns before they criticize them; I find most people who are against guns have never used one before,” said Rick Grace, who grew up in the Midwest using guns. “We had a healthy respect for guns growing up. We were taught to believe a gun is always loaded.”

Rick Grace was in the Marine Corps in aviation, where he was trained in rifle and pistol and worked with Special Operations teams. “I wanted people to have a good healthy experience with handguns and rifles like I did.”

The Graces developed their self-defense program, Hand Gun Fundamentals, through the National Rifle Association, where their instructors teach participants to have a respect for guns.

“We teach people to use their weapons in self-defense, not offense,” Mr. Grace said. “Guns can be used for sport, as a family activity, and so on. We have students starting at 12 years old, who are accompanied by a guardian. I recommend everyone take a beginners’ gun course if they’ve never used a gun before.”

Patrick’s Uniforms and Indoor Gun Range, Grace said, doesn’t advertise its safety course.

“Ninety percent of our courses are attended by people who come into the store and want to buy a weapon for the first time,” he said. “We make a point to strongly urge them to take a course. We don’t like selling a weapon with a handful of bullets, without the customers having knowledge about their guns. Most customers are very open to it.”

If customers don’t like the Hand Gun Fundamentals course, Patrick’s Uniforms and Indoor Gun Range will refund their money. “The courses are not a money-making thing for us. It’s about safety. We break even on the courses,” he said.

Patrick’s Hand Gun Fundamentals course typically has 20 students at a time and teaches revolvers, pistols, hand positioning, eye coordination, among other safety measures. Three hours are spent in a classroom and one hour is taught on the range. The classes are the first and middle Saturday every month.

“We have personal contact with everyone who buys weapons from us,” Mr. Grace continued. “We’re not on the Internet; we’re here to help you to have a very healthy attitude towards guns and weapons and respect what they can do. If used the correct way, weapons will compel you to feel comfortable.”

Ortiz Guns was founded in 2009 by Pedro Ortiz and is the largest gun store in Savannah. They recently began offering free self-defense classes.

“We felt as a store we needed to give back to the community and provide a free class who people who need it,” said Ortiz.

In the last 12 months, Ortiz said he’s seen new people are coming into the store.

“Conservatives and liberals are buying guns because they’re scared. They’re coming in here to get educated and learn everything they can about their guns,” he said. “When they’re done, their gun should feel like their cellphone. And if we don’t feel like the person is capable, then we won’t sell to them. It’s our responsibility as a license holder to make wise decisions about who we sell to.”

Ortiz Guns partnered with Gary Glemboski, founder of Global Tactical Training Group, to offer free courses every Saturday.

“We teamed up with Gary because he is the most experienced instructor in the county,” said Ortiz. “He has an extensive background in karate and self-defense. He led the SWAT team in Savannah and was in Special Forces.”

Glemboski started his company in 1986, which stemmed from his experience in martial arts. His company offers personal protection and threat education. The company teaches military, law enforcement, and civilians.

“Our target market is everybody,” Glemboski said. “From a personal protection standpoint, everyone should be educated on what they need to do to be safe. It’s their choice though. But they need to have relevant information so they can make decisions on how to best protect themselves. We want to give them the information.”

Brian Garrett is the founder of Telluric Group in Brunswick, which has a significant amount of clients coming from Savannah to train with his instructors. He explained Telluric’s Group’s approach to self-defense.

“Central to Telluric Group’s message is compassion. Things can get twisted in our media and our society; it can be hard to see through a lens of compassion. But it’s about protecting innocent lives, which I think is compassion in action,” Garrett said.

The second component of Telluric Group’s message is individual responsibility.

“We can’t expect the police to be right there to come to our rescue,” he said. “We’re fortunate in this country to have the ability to defend ourselves — we have the Second Amendment and other rights — but this comes with significant responsibility. We try to resource people to equip them to safely operate a firearm.”

Telluric Group opened up its self-defense classes to civilians 18 months ago.

“The world is getting more dangerous and people can sense that,” Garrett said. We decided at Telluric Group we have a moral obligation to make people feel more comfortable, less fearful, and legitimately safe.”   

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