80 years old – and she’s learned how to defend herself

       Eighty-year-old Midland resident Audrey Ward doesn't want to sound like she's bragging, but she's proud about completing a Westside gun shop's safety course… not to mention gaining knowledge that could help her defend her home if necessary.

Wearing protective glasses and ear protection, Audrey Ward demonstrates her shooting form.
Westside Pioneer photo

       “Halfway through the class, I thought I wouldn't finish,” she recalled. “But I asked myself, 'Do I want to be here with nothing?' There are a lot of people in this situation.”
       She took the 26-hour course (cost: $125) at Paradise Sales, 605 W. Colorado Ave. Owner Paul Paradis, who has been offering the monthly “Paradise Pistol Course” for 28 years, said Ward's case is not that unusual. Out of about 7,000 students in that time, “I've had a couple hundred like Mrs. Ward,” he said. They realize that police cannot always respond fast enough and that an intruder might be physically stronger - especially in the case of older citizens - but having a gun and knowing how to use it properly “more than equalizes” the odds, according to Paradis.
       The idea is not to encourage vigilantes. “I oppose the use of guns,” he said. “I just want people to be safe when they do use them and to know the skills. A gun is the last resort, not the first. But when the situation requires it, you do what you have to do.” An example in recent years was a 72-year-old woman who took the course and later shot a rapist who had previously attacked other women and then broke into her house.
       With Audrey Ward, “when she came in, she didn't know enough to be safe,” Paradis said. “But when she walked out of here, she was empowered.”
       Ward wound up in the course in a somewhat roundabout way. In nearly 30 years on the Westside, working as a teacher and a real estate agent, she recalled many times driving by Paradise Sales (which has been in three locations along the avenue), “but it never crossed my mind to walk in that door.” Then one day at a local bank, she observed a transaction involving a Paradise employee that she thought reflected significant honesty. Later, this spring, inquiring about a volunteer cleanup day at the Rampart Range shooting area, she was referred to Paradise Sales when she revealed to the contact person that “I didn't know anything about guns.”
       Notes that Ward jotted down indicate her early struggle with the pistol course: “I sign up on a lark. [Class is] like learning a foreign language. Chamber… release latch… grip… lands… caliber, etc. Then I find I am weak and clumsy. Back to studying a manual. What now? This is new territory!”
       She thanked the store's volunteer class instructors - Paradis has about 60 in all, many of them course graduates themselves - for “thorough” instruction and providing her with “monumental assistance.” Coming in, she had already bought a pistol, but had made the uneducated mistake of thinking that lighter meant more manageable. In reality, a lighter gun can have a fiercer kick than a heavier one, Paradis explained.
       Eventually, Ward said she wound up with a .38 caliber handgun, its trigger adapted by a Paradise gunsmith to her needs. And as the course continued, she started feeling more comfortable, she said.
       In an interview afterward, Paradis asked if Ward had brought out her targets, showing her shot patterns from the shooting portion of the course. No, she had not. She should have, Paradis said. “She shot as well as the young men did.”
       For Ward there is a “big satisfaction of actually completing and saying I did it! And I'm not weak and clumsy or a novice anymore… By the way, did I mention that I am 80 years old and now hold a certificate… Amazing!”
       Added Paradis: “I wouldn't want to break into that little old lady's house.”

Westside Pioneer article