By Bianca Prieto, Digital First Media
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Jen Anesi stands in her home in Rochester Hills, Mich. (David Freid/Digital First Media)
There’s no need to ask Jen Anesi her views on gun ownership — a glance will do.
A small pistol nestled inside a pink paddle holster is secured on her right hip and “Protected By Ruger” is emblazoned on the rear window of her lime green Ford Fiesta.
The gun-toting 30-year-old southeastern Michigan single mom believes it’s important to teach her young son the value of shooting, self-protection and the Second Amendment.
On a late summer evening Anesi loaded up her 7-year-old son Ethan Williams and headed out to the Bald Mountain Shooting range, a 15-minute drive from her home in Rochester Hills, a suburb north of Detroit.
Moments after she arrived, Anesi’s boyfriend, Ken Herman, and his 7-year-old daughter Haley pulled up in a Ford Mustang. Herman also carried a gun on his hip.
Anesi and Herman are part of the “open carry” movement — Americans who exercise their Second Amendment rights by keeping guns with them at all times while they’re in public, and make sure they’re visible to people around them. Forty-five states allow for some form of open carry, with only Texas, South Carolina, Illinois, New York and Washington, D.C., having outright bans, according to OpenCarry.org.
And both Anesi and Herman strongly believe that guns should play an important role in their children’s lives, too.
It cost $10 each for the couple to enter the large outdoor shooting range, but the youngsters shoot for free. Within minutes, Anesi and Herman have arranged several long-barrel weapons on a partially covered seating area where the children will practice their shooting skills.
Meanwhile, Haley and Ethan chased each other in small circles, poking at each other and playing a short-distance game of tag. Occasionally, Ethan made loud noises, amused that he can hear himself over the din of the other shooters while wearing protective earmuffs. Basically, the two acted like any pair of 7-year-olds would act after spending their first day at school — a little bit wound up.
But that behavior soon stopped cold. In a flash, Ethan and Haley are transformed into perfect pupils. Quiet, attentive and focused. It was time to shoot.
Coached by his mother, Ethan methodically loaded the .22 caliber bullets into an antique firearm. He’s committed to memory the three basic safety rules of shooting: always assume the gun is loaded; never point the barrel at anything you don’t intend to shoot; and look at your target and beyond it.
Ethan pressed his cheek against the rifle, lined up the iron sights and slowly pulled the trigger. His small body jostled slightly from the recoil.
“It’s like a water balloon splashing on your stomach,” Ethan said, describing the moment he pulls the trigger on the rifle.
The gun he shot was a gift from his great-grandfather. It’s a family gun that is 10-times Ethan’s age.
Peering over his shoulder, Anesi encouraged her son.
“Good job,” she said. “Two more left.”
A few seats away, Haley concentrated on the target several dozen feet in front of her. Wearing bright pink shooting earmuffs and pink safety goggles, the small-framed second grader peered through the scope and gently pulled the trigger.
Bang! The bullet fired and Haley rocked backward slightly.
“It’s almost a bull’s-eye!” she announced to her dad, who earlier promised her a chocolate-vanilla ice cream if she hit the center of the target.
“Good shot Haley! Do it again,” said Herman, who was crouched behind her for support and direction.
Haley knows that shooting is not a game and a gun is not a toy. Her father made sure she memorized safety rules and was comfortable with an unloaded firearm before she was allowed to go to the shooting range.
“I like shooting because it makes me feel kind of proud,” Haley said during a short break. “When I get a bull’s-eye it makes me happy.”
‘My pistol is on me’
Anesi and Herman met during a rally for a man who was wrongfully arrested for openly carrying a gun in nearby Birmingham, Mich.
“If I’m not drinking a beer, in the shower or at work, my pistol is on me,” Herman said, as he touched the firearm strapped to his hip.
He works as a paramedic in a neighboring county and isn’t allowed to carry a firearm while on duty, he said.
While most of the time the pistol doesn’t present a problem for Herman, the day he took Haley shooting, it did. As he checked her out of her elementary school a little early that day, he wore the gun on his hip. School officials noticed and asked him to leave, he said.
When he refused, Herman said, school administrators called the local sheriff’s office for assistance. A Michigan law allows properly licensed gun owners to openly carry firearms inside school buildings. A Michigan politician is now working to change that law.
Herman said he recorded the entire incident on a personal security camera he wears on his belt.
In the end, he said, deputies allowed him to leave the school without incident. Herman thought it was over, but later that night he received a voicemail with an automated call from the school.
On the recording, the principal announced that a parent had entered the school that day with a gun. Deputies were called to “gain compliance” and the event ended peacefully, she said.
Herman said he felt like the situation was blown out of proportion. Calls to the Edgerton Elementary School and Clio County School District were not immediately returned.
Teaching their children to shoot and respect guns came naturally to Anesi and Herman, who were taught to shoot as kids.
It’s like teaching them anything else about safety, Herman said: You teach children not to touch a stove because it’s hot; you teach them to wear a seatbelt in the car; and you teach them about guns because they can be deadly if mishandled.
“Education is extremely important” to defeat the fear of an inanimate object, like a gun, Herman said.
Herman taught Haley to shoot “in case I die before she starts dating,” he said.
“She’s an incredibly good shot,” Herman said, later admitting his freckle-faced daughter is better at shooting than he was at her age.
Herman sees teaching Haley to use a gun as a chance to bond and create memories that she can cherish as an adult.
He also sees it as a skill, for himself and Haley, for self protection.
“I know there is evil in this world, and I want to give myself a fighting chance,” he said.
Focus on safety
Anesi grew up around firearms because her father is an avid collector. She was 8 the first time she shot a gun and has enjoyed shooting since then. It’s both a pastime and a skill she wants Ethan to have.
Anesi trusts that she will keep her son safe from guns while in their home, because she keeps them locked up. She’s more concerned with what could happen if he encounters a gun outside of their home.
“What are you supposed to do if you find a gun at a friend’s house, Ethan?” Anesi asked.
“Mom,” Ethan groaned. “You ask me this all the time.”
But the boy answers his mother: “You don’t touch it and you tell an adult.”
His exposure to guns may have sparked a future career for Ethan.
“When I’m older, I can protect myself,” he said. “I can be a police officer and protect the city.”