Micha Juma has good reason to want to learn how to safely handle and shoot a handgun.
Juma is a single mother of three. Her grandmother lives with them in a rural area, where Juma’s home has been vandalized twice in broad daylight. The thieves made off with a riding lawnmower, a generator and even the fruit plants on her porch. Pretty brazen.
Where she lives, she said, it takes emergency responders 10-15 minutes to get to her home. So, Juma has a concealed weapons permit.
“A lot can happen in that amount of time. I want to be smart with my firearm and be able to protect my family,” she said. “They’re my life.”
Juma brought her EEA Witness, an Italian-made .45-caliber handgun to the basic women’s handgun class at the Issaquah Police Department on Nov. 15, the second night of a two-part class.
“I understood the laws for the most part, but they teach us several options,” she said. “This is your last resort.”
Detective Paul Fairbanks leads the class, and indeed, he said it is not intended to be an all-inclusive class on shooting. He encourages the women who are interested to get more intense training at a private facility.
The students bring their own guns and ammunition. All students must pass a background check and live or work in Issaquah to participate.
“Most of them are here because someone has encouraged them to take the class,” Fairbanks said. “Some are repeat students, some have never touched a gun in their lives.”
He said husbands and boyfriends often encourage their wife or girlfriend to take the class if they own a gun and want their partner to know how to use it.
Fairbanks said the program is an extension of a class no longer offered, which was called the citizen’s academy – a watered-down civilian police academy. The women’s class continued, and has been offered for the past eight years.
On the first night of the class, Fairbanks talks about firearm rules, concealed weapons permits, use of force and self-protection. He said he stresses personal awareness, being safe and not putting one’s self in a dangerous situation.
“This is just a small slice of learning to protect yourself,” Fairbanks said.
One of the largest groups of women who take the class are horseback riders, Fairbanks said, due to the danger of running into aggressive wildlife when riding in the back-country.
Debbie Randall of Issaquah is one of those horseback riders, but she said she’s more concerned about the two-legged variety she could run into when riding. She is no stranger to guns.
“I grew up believing in protecting myself,” Randall said, adding that her dad was the Chief of Police in Omak. “I grew up with guns in eastern Washington.”
Her daughter, Kim Schumacher, grew up in western Washington so she hadn’t had much exposure to guns even though her father is retired from the King County Sheriff’s Office.
In addition to Juma, Randall and Schumacher, there were eight others in the class, four of them school bus drivers.
Cristina Fenesan was taking the class more out of curiosity, and to get more comfortable with handling a gun. Her husband went out and bought her a Glock 23. She said he was in the army for 20 years, so he was no stranger to guns.
Once on the range, the women first were given hard plastic guns with lasers, for practice. Once they had the target in their sites, they pulled the “trigger” and when the laser turned green, that meant they had fired.
Fairbanks instructed them to take an athletic stance, leaning forward at the hips with their weight on the front of their feet and shoulders slightly rolled. The hand positioning is also critical, with thumbs right on top of each other on the left side of the gun (for the right handed).
“I can’t see anything with both eyes open,” said Kathy Garrison, one of the bus drivers.
Officer Dustin Huberdeau, one of three other officers assisting Fairbanks, said it takes a lot of practice to shoot with both eyes open.
Kathy Nilsen joked that she wanted to stick with the plastic gun.
But then it was time to bring out the real deal. Fairbanks laid out the ground rules.
“The line is hot, means you’re shooting,” he said. “Cease fire means put your weapon down.”
Garrison, a small woman, had a hard time because she had a revolver which was harder to pull. But once she got into a rhythm she was a kick to watch. Schumacher was a bit nervous, but once she got her turn, she agreed with Garrison that it was a pretty awesome experience.
The women started out shooting from the 5-yard line, eventually increasing to 10-yards.
Fairbanks said the class is offered on an as-needed basis, about twice a year.
Kathy Garrison proudly shows off her target after shooting.
Kim Schumacher shoots at her target, with officer Dave Turner standing by. Each shooter had an officer standing by them for tips and moral support.