Washoe abuse victims seek out gun training

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Washoe abuse victims seek out gun training

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In any given year, about 1,400 domestic violence victims in Northern Nevada apply for a protection order against their abuser. For many, the journey to feeling safe often does not end with that piece of paper.

"Fire!"

Half a dozen women, of all ages, line up in front of their targets at the Washoe County Shooting Range. They're in the desert, firing revolvers at the command of Women's Shooting Academy Instructor Carol Morrell.

"I want you to visualize your bedroom door. Visualize your hallway. And when you look at these targets, you're going to see the biggest, baddest, meanest criminal you've ever seen in your life. And when you bring those sites up, you're looking at center mass."

Academy Owner Vicki Kawelmacher watches from the sidelines, offering pointers and encouragement. She started the company back in 2008.

"It was after the attempted abduction of my then-ten-year-old daughter. Two men, sitting in a parked car on my street attempted to abduct my daughter."

Some students want to learn gun safety or explore recreational interests. But more and more, women are taking classes after getting a protection order for issues like harassment, stalking, and domestic violence.

The orders can require an abuser to vacate a shared home and quit all modes of communication with their victim.

But even with an order in place, Kawelmacher says many women tell her they still don't feel safe.

"A signed protective order of custody means nothing. That is not going to save her life. It was not designed to save her life. If the perpetrator is intent on harming her, then he's going to harm her."

Judy Buckman's office in Reno handles protection orders, which victims can apply for if they have a domestic relationship with their abuser, who is perhaps a relative or former partner. She agrees that a protection order does not automatically ensure one's safety:

"Relying on a piece of paper to keep you safe, is not the best way to handle life in general. It's a tool. It's not a security blanket. It's not a bullet-proof vest."

Buckman says the orders may not save lives, but they do serve an important purpose:

"If you have an abuser who does not want to become involved with the law-they have something to lose, they have a good job, they don't want their boss to know about this-they're going to leave you alone and this is going to work for you like a charm. If you have an abuser who doesn't care, who's going to walk right over the order, you need to make other plans."

The majority of protection orders are violated in some way, big or small, so Marisol Perez with Reno Police advises victims to have safety plans. This can mean checking your car for tampering, having an evacuation strategy, and training up on self-defense.

Perez says taking a concealed carry class offers more than a sense of security.

"We get a lot of cases where people don't have that high self-esteem. They've had it stepped all over, and they feel like they can't do anything. And I think it's a really great opportunity for people to feel empowered and to feel like they can actually protect themselves and they don't have to feel vulnerable."

Lindsay Nichols, an attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, says despite feeling more secure, having a gun in the home actually makes the owner less safe.

"It increases the chances that the person will commit suicide. And it increases the chances that the person will be injured or killed in an accidental shooting.

Unsure of what to do, victims will frequently ask Marisol Perez with Reno Police if they should get a gun.

Sometimes, she'll ask a victim to hold off on the purchase if they're emotionally unstable from the abuse they've endured. But if someone is intent on buying a fire arm, she encourages them to at least take a safety course, especially if there are children in the home.

Back at the range, instructor Carol Morrell is wrapping up an emotional day with one last exercise.

"Now, you're going to fire once, but first I want you to yell, 'Get out of my house.'"

The Women's Shooting Academy is based in Reno but receives calls from victims across the country searching for help. Owner Vicki Kawelmacher says it's her mission to provide these women with a line of defense they can always depend on: themselves.