By Liz Reyes | WVUE | March 17, 2021
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – The spike in violent crimes has many more women in the metro New Orleans area worried about their safety and the safety of their families. They cite the media reports of burglaries, robberies, and carjackings; the most recent fatal scene was at the Jefferson Gun Outlet store in Metairie.
“I believe without a doubt he was looking to shoot more people until he ran out of bullets,” said Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto about the alleged gunman.
The Sheriff says it erupted when an employee told Joshua Williams he could not have his loaded gun inside the store.
It’s a standard safety rule at such stores: loaded firearms are only allowed at the firing range. But Sheriff Lopinto says Williams flipped out. Investigators say he fatally shot customer Veronica Billiot, employee Noah Fischbach and wounded two other workers. Williams died in a shoot-out with armed employees. The fatal shootings were a tragedy that left behind devastated families.
“I called my mother every day for everything; now I don’t get to do that anymore and over something so stupid,” said Billiot’s daughter, Brooke Rojas.
Billiot’s children say she was there to pick up a gun for her protection. It’s that fear over the uptick in random attacks that’s triggered a surge in local women like Billiot arming themselves.
Just days before the senseless shootings at the Jefferson Gun Outlet, we were there working on this news report. The employees told us about the crime concerns they’ve been hearing from female customers.
“Most of it is their experience they are having with either attacks, robberies, or home invasions,” said Ginger Jenne.
Jenne is the Fire Range Manager at the Jefferson Gun Outlet store. She says women of all ages and races have been filling up their weekend classes to get a Louisiana permit to carry a concealed handgun. 51-year-old Simone Johnson is one of the local women who recently signed up for the class.
“The average person is not going to expect a 51-year-old to be carrying a weapon; that’s an element of surprise that they won’t have,” said Johnson. The U.S. Military Veteran says the permit is the best way to protect herself and her children.
We also spoke to two other local mothers who took the class, but they didn’t feel comfortable revealing their names or faces to the public. But they shared their reasons on why they took the class to get their Louisiana Concealed Handgun permit.
“It just seems, that the breed of criminals is totally different now with no regard for life. It seems like its easier for them to just kill the person than just taking what they want,” said the local mother.
Another local mother expressed her concerns too about taking extra steps to defend herself, “I think I need to level the playing field. If the criminals are going to use the guns and get into womens’ faces, especially older women like me, then I need to level it.”
One of the main reasons more women say they want to pack extra protection is the carjackings in New Orleans.
In New Orleans, carjackings grew 90% in 2020 compared to the average of the previous four years according to the New Orleans Crime Watchdog, the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
“I feel like women are targets,” said 77-year-old Carolyn Rangel who recently completed the class and now has her Concealed Handgun permit. “I had a relative who would have been a victim of a carjacking, if she had not had her gun in the car, and that kind of scared me,” said Rangel who practices regularly at the Shooters’ Club firing range.
Some like 59-year-old Karla Crenshaw says they never thought they’d be a gun owner.
“I’ve been afraid of guns all my life. But I said I’m not going to get a gun unless I’m educated about it,” said Crenshaw who says she’s now more educated and comfortable with guns after taking the class.
Crenshaw says the rise in crime left her no choice.
“People breaking into cars in my neighborhood; I was like, this is getting too close to home. What would I do in a situation where someone broke into my house,” she said.
Certified instructors offer one-day classes across the state. While Louisianians can carry a gun openly, to keep the firearm concealed, they have to pass the Concealed Handgun Permit class and also pass a State Police criminal background check.
Class instructor Mark Shreve with GunSmartNola says knowing how to safely handle a gun and knowing the law are crucial for gun owners.
“People think, well, if someone is on my property I can shoot them. Well in Louisiana you cannot use deadly force to defend property. It’s all about yourself; you can defend yourself or others, but you can’t defend property,” says Shreve.
To pass the class, the students must demonstrate on the firing range that they know how to safely load a weapon and hit the required spots on a target at various distances.
“You should be the best you absolutely can be; especially because the range is going to be a safe controlled environment. That is where you have to perform your best; if you can’t perform your best here ideally, there is no way that translates into a real-life application,” said Aiden Lee, the Jefferson Gun Outlet Range Safety Officer.
Lee says only a lot of constant practicing improves your firing skills. For the local women seeking safety and security, the fatal attack at the Jefferson Gun Outlet store is a reminder that crime can strike anywhere. They say their guns are a last resort, but they will use them if necessary.
“If someone is threatening me or my kids, of course, then yeah; if I have the means then I’m going to use it,” said one of the local women who didn’t want to be identified.
“If that can’t be avoided then I’m going to stand my ground and let them know this is not the place to come,” added Simone Johnson, who is looking forward to obtaining her permit.
As for the cost of the classes, certified instructors offer classes across Louisiana; they start at a minimum of $135.00, but that does not include the gun, ammunition, protective gear, and the State Police background check.
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