VIDEO/PHOTOS: Gun savvy on Marco Island

Learning how to shoot a gun

Studio 55's Carrie Wise gets a lesson ...

Do you remember anything about June 28, 2002? Sabine Scholz sure does. Scholz, a former Marco Islander, recalls that Friday in vivid color and surround-sound, because it’s the day a bank robber shot her.

Leaving for the weekend from her job at a Royal Palm Bank branch in North Naples, the armed robber came in and demanded money. As Scholz moved to obey him, his gun went off, wounding her in the leg. She made a full recovery, but Scholz believes that if she had a gun that day, she probably wouldn’t have been able to use it.

Now, jump ahead to a sunny day several years ago. Scholz was at work at the Royal Palm Bank branch on Marco when a customer, Mike Christoff, told her he was planning to open a mobile gun range on the Island.

“I wanted to learn from scratch, so I took the classes and really loved it,” she recalls. “Mike was great and knows how to teach. When I saw myself getting better at shooting, I went more often and have been shooting there ever since.”

Christoff’s Mobile Tactics indoor range and gun store/training facility opened in April 2006 and still is the only indoor range in Collier County.

Today, Mobile Tactics is a busy place, as people from Marco and elsewhere are signing up in record numbers to get what Christoff offers: lessons on the proper and safe training for firearms, plus the sales of guns and accessories.

National statistics show that Americans are increasingly interested in guns. Newsmax magazine reports that in the week after President Obama’s election, more than 350,000 Americans bought guns.

Another statistic: “Last November, there was a 42 percent increase in background checks for gun purchases over November 2007,” reports Ted Novin, of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade association.

Christoff’s business has increased as well, because people apparently worry about possible efforts by the Obama administration to toughen anti-gun laws. The slumping economy may be a factor, too.

“Business has been brisk, a combination of a change in the political atmosphere and also, the economy is not doing well right now,” says Christoff.

“I went from being anti-gun to pro-gun,” says Becky Pomaville, a former long-time Marco resident, now living in Naples. “Before, I didn’t want to touch a gun, didn’t want a gun in the house. But the way the world has become, I thought it would be a good idea to be protected, but I knew I needed to learn how to shoot. I really enjoy it now and shoot at Mobile Tactics twice a week.”

Pomaville is learning self-defense and has several weapons with which she’s becoming proficient. She has applied for a concealed carry permit, as well.

Christoff says that about two-thirds of his new shooters at Mobile Tactics are women.

“Women are excellent students. Most of them have no firearms experience, which is great, because they don’t have any bad habits like some of the guys do. I don’t have to retrain them.”

He gently notes that some men who decide to take up shooting for sport or protection think they know all about it, having seen John Wayne and the “Miami Vice” guys in action.

Christoff’s instruction for everyone is all about essential gun knowledge, and his coaching is usually individualized.

“That way, you don’t have be nervous or intimidated because somebody is watching you,” Christoff says. “That’s one reason women love training here. There are no people gawking. It’s very intense individualized and what we get done in a short time is very beneficial.”

Christoff teaches how to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon in Florida. He also does the mandatory fingerprinting and paperwork for the application, which goes to the state.

“In this state, you may have a loaded weapon in your home, business or occupied vehicle without a permit. But to carry a weapon concealed on your person, you must have a Florida Conceal Carry Permit.”

The gun in the car thing is tricky.

“The state says the gun in your car must be securely encased, that is in a container into which you must reach to grab the gun,” Christoff explains. “Let’s say you have a shoebox on the passenger seat and you put the gun in the shoebox. If there’s a lid on it, that’s considered securely encased, because you have to remove the lid to operate the weapon. But, if there’s no lid on the shoebox with the gun in it, you’re illegal and you could go to jail.”

Christoff says the number one reason people buy guns is for sport, “But a lot of people do come in to buy weapons for home self-defense, no question.”

Whatever the motivations of his clients, Christoff insists his students learn gun safety, first and foremost.

“We teach fundamentals — how to grip the gun, how to stand, how to line up the sight and then pull the trigger to put those rounds on target.”

That may seem obvious, but some people first have to unlearn some misconceptions about guns and shootings. Americans get some wacky ideas about guns from TV shows and movies.

“A big thing is to learn to keep your finger off the trigger until you’re on sight, on target and willing to destroy whatever is in front of that weapon, because that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Something will be destroyed and someone possibly may lose his or her life.

“Newcomers are astonished by how much concentration it takes to shoot from a stationary position and get the rounds on target in a tight group.”

Christoff, a former police officer on Marco Island and in Michigan, says anyone with a gun in the home should learn how it works.

“Even if you don’t enjoy shooting, you need to at least take the training if you’re going to be in that household with a gun present.”

Firearms are a family affair for some Islanders, including retired entrepreneur, Buddy Whitney.

“I grew up in a rural area where shotguns and rifles were part of the furniture,” Whitney explains. He also had firearms training in the U.S. Army.

Whitney began shooting at Mobile Tactics soon after it opened. His granddaughters and son-in-law go there to shoot as well and, as Whitney says, “They love it.”

Last month his wife Barbara, never before a gun enthusiast, surprised Buddy saying she wanted to learn to shoot for protection.

“She was surprised how much she enjoyed shooting and the targets she brought home prove she paid attention to Mike’s instructions,” says Buddy.

Whatever the reasons, more Islanders than ever seem interested in learning about and shooting weapons. Christoff notes that in a recent two-week period he trained 25 women, many in their 60s and 70s.

Perhaps, as one observer puts it, “I guess you just can’t play golf every day.”

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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