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Chronologically Gifted Folk Protect Themselves    by Lyn Bates

Neither arthritis, nor a wheelchair, nor heart surgery, nor impaired mobility, nor gloom of night keeps senior citizens from defending themselves. Normally in this series I interview women who have used guns for self-protection, because their stories are compelling and there is always something for responsibly armed women to learn from their experiences. This column is a little different. In the last issue, I showed how chronologically gifted folk (senior citizens) might make various adaptations so that they can keep shooting, and having guns for defense. For this column, I wanted a powerful story of a woman over the age of 50 who actually protected herself with a gun. I dug through the resources I use to find stories for possible inclusion in this Lessons in Reality series, and easily found more than 70. So, instead of the usual in depth interview of just one person, I'm going to briefly summarize just a small number of these women's stories. If anyone tries to tell you that defense guns and seniors are incompatible, here's the proof that it isn't so.

In June, 2007, the Cleveland Ohio Plain Dealer published a story about senior citizens and guns. A 69-year old man was quoted as saying, "Having a concealed weapon today is more to my advantage than it perhaps would've been when I was 30 years old." About 12 percent of all concealed-carry licenses issued since 2005 in Cuyahoga County have been to people 60 and older. Seniors make up nearly 50% of students in one man's license certification class, "An 87-year-old woman with a gun is equal to anybody," he said. A 64-year old man said he carries a gun because, "I've had two heart surgeries. I literally can't run, can't fight." With headlines like "Granny Gets Her Gun", "Elderly Women Send Rapist Running", "80-yr old Woman Uses Shotgun On Intruder", "Go Grandma!", "Woman in Wheelchair Shoots Mugger," "Wife Uses Gun To Save Husband", "Woman Blasts Intruder Dead", "Armed Grandma Captures Two Escapees", and "Granny Bar Owner Chases Off Armed Robber", you can see that there are many amazing stories here. We start with one that is under my initial age limit, but is included because it is both dramatic and revealing.

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Charmaine Dunbar, 42

Charmaine Dunbar, 42, was determined to walk 2 hours a day near her Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home. She didn't have the energy to walk after work, so she went out at 3:30 every morning with her dog and her gun, a properly licensed.38-caliber revolver. In October, 2002, she was walking when she encountered a man who pointed a .22 caliber rifle at her. He didn't fire; she ran away and reported the incident to the police. Then that intrepid woman decided to finish her walk. She saw the same man again, on a different street. She walked faster, getting her gun ready, looked behind her and saw him leaning over, pulling the rifle out of his pants. Charmaine waited no longer. She fired twice, hitting him in the abdomen. Police identified him as Charles Wesley, responsible for a long string of sexual assaults. He had at least 6 other victims, and clearly intended Charmaine to be the 7th. His raped a 14-year-old girl and stole her money. He choked one of his victims unconscious, beat up another, and threatened to hunt down and kill others if they reported the attacks. Charmaine single-handedly brought this serial rapist's career to a full stop.

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Sandra Suter, 53

Sandra Suter, a 53-year-old, 5-ft-3-inch grandmother of two, carried a .40 caliber handgun in her purse for self-protection. But at the Wal-Mart store in Spring Hill, Florida in May, 2000, she didn't need it for herself. She saw several employees wrestling with a man who was attempting to steal a VCR. The thief, knife in hand, lunged at the workers, cutting them. Sandra, rushed to help, saying, "I have a concealed weapons permit. Either drop the knife, or I'll shoot you!" She had to repeat the threat, but she convinced the knife-wielder to give himself up to store security.

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Sena Lauritsen, 55

Two teens escaped from a residential school near Wood, South Dakota, in June, 2002. They went on a 12-hour crime binge, stealing multiple vehicles and causing havoc. But when they rattled the patio door of Sena Lauritsen, 55, their fun came to an abrupt end. This determined woman grabbed her 20-gauge semi-automatic shotgun loaded with four shells. She pointed it at the boys through the closed glass door and ordered them to stay. "I called 911 and said we have the fugitives," said Sena, "I asked (the police) if I could hold a gun on them and they said yes, if I wasn't afraid to. I wasn't afraid." Sena held them for 20 minutes until police arrived.

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Janet Grammer, 64

Janet Grammer is a 64-year old great-great-grandmother who works in a convenience store in Jacksonville, Florida. She was filling in for the regular clerk in April, 2005, when a man came into the store with a gun and fired two shots, missing Janet but hitting the wall of the store. "I think he thought I was an old woman and would just give him the money," Janet said," but my life was at stake. I thought he was going to kill me." She pulled a pistol out from under the cash register and fired once, hitting the man in the chest. She fired twice more as he ran out. He went to a nearby hospital, claimed to have shot himself accidentally, and was arrested.

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Margaret Summey, 64

It was mid-day when someone rang the doorbell of Margaret Summey, a 64-year-old widow and great-grandmother in Duncan, South Carolina. She didn't answer it, but then she heard someone jiggling the back door, and moving the trash can behind her house. "I want straight and got the .357 Magnum," she said, "I would have used a shotgun, but I just had new countertops done and I didn't want to tear up the kitchen." Margaret had learned to shoot from her first husband, a hunter, so she was comfortable with guns. The intruder climbed on the trashcan, broke the window with a brick, and crawled in. Margaret could see his shadow through a gap under the kitchen door. She shot through the door, hitting him in the leg. He ran away, and Margaret called 911. The blood trail led police to the wounded man.

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Janice McNair, 65

Home intruders aren't the only victims of justified lethal force. Janice McNair, a 65-year-old Coquille, Oregon woman had to shoot her 78-year-old husband, Theodore, when he was assaulting her. She called 911 immediately to report the situation. Police said it was self-defense.

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Unknown, 68

This was posted by the woman's son, Terry Nixon, on a newsgroup, and has been edited for length. "My mother was 68 years old, a widow living alone in North Carolina. She has carried a handgun in her purse for years. One night in October, 1996 my mother came home from work around 11:00pm. She lives in a secluded area and has an automatic garage door opener. She opened the door, drove her car into the garage, and pressed the button for the door to go down. Then she saw a man run behind her car and get down behind the rear bumper and wait for her to get out of her car. She calmly cranked the car and pressed the garage door button for it to open. Her plan was to just drive away. In the mean time she took out her Charter Arms Bulldog .44 revolver and put it on her lap. The burglar/rapist had other plans. He ran around and broke the passenger door window and was reaching into the car when she unloaded two slugs into his chest. Then she calmly got out of the car, went into the house and called the police. He was dead as yesterday. She went to a hearing and it was ruled justifiable. The burglar/rapist had recently been released from prison. I get chills thinking what would have happened had she not been armed. She is 70 now but still sleeps next to the Bulldog revolver my father left her when he passed away in 1978."

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Patricia Avery, 70

Dr. David Avery and his wife, Patricia, married 51 years, were driving home in Dallas, Texas in September, 2002. Two men pulled into their driveway after them. The robbers obviously thought that David was more dangerous, because they forced him to lie face down on his driveway and aimed their submachine gun at the back of his head. But 70-year-old Patricia wasn't helpless. She grabbed the .38 caliber revolver she always carries, and started shooting, using the passenger side door of her truck as cover. She fired five shots. The assailants fired back, hitting the truck a few times as they ran to their own car to get away. The men were never found. Both Averys were uninjured.

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Bethan Scutchfield, 71

Jennifer Scutchfield, 28, was granted a domestic-violence protection order against Brian Swiger in September of 2001. In March, 2002, Swiger got drunk and invaded the home of Jennier's grandmother, 71-year-old Bethan Scutchfield. Bethan is invalid who needs a caregiver in her home near Colville, Washington, but she didn't let her disabilities hold her back. Swiger entered Bethan's home uninvited, struck her repeatedly in the face and pushed her to the floor, threatening to break her neck. Bethan got a handgun and, when Swiger approached her again, she fired a single shot that struck him in the chest, killing him.

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Lillian Allen, 71

Lillian Allen has used a wheelchair for nearly 20 years, but the 71-year-old woman was tougher than the burglar who broke into her home near Richmond, Virginia in October, 1994. Lillian keeps a .32 semi-auto handy, and used it on the burglar, who carried a tire iron. She fired several times, chasing him away.

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Jean Zamarripa, 72

Was the humidifier making noises in the back of the house, Jean Zamarripa wondered one evening in her Colorado Springs home. No, it was an intruder, Anthony Allen Peralez, who had already committed a long string of burglaries, beatings, kidnappings and rapes of women in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Jean was 72, and she kept a loaded revolver under her bed. She grabbed the gun, pointed it toward the locked bedroom door, and waited. Peralez broke through the door, and was only eight feet away when Jean fired four shots, hitting him once in the abdomen and twice in the arm. He ran out of the house, but the blood trail led police to him. "I knew if I didn't shoot him, he would have raped me," Jean testified at his trial.

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Rosemarie O'Keeffe, 75

It was an ordinary day in May, 2007 day at O'Keeffe's Package Store, a family business in Lawton, Oklahoma, with 75-year-old Rosemarie O'Keeffe working behind the counter. She noticed two young men walking toward the store wearing hoodies, with gauze bandages over their faces. She immediately knew that they intended to rob the store. She grabbed a pistol and had it at the ready when they walked in. "Get out or I'll shoot," was all she had to say to make them flee.

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Unnamed, 78

A 78-year-old widow in Franklin, Indiana was wakened by an intruder at 1 a.m. on a Sunday morning in October, 2001. She found a man kicking in the wall next to her back door. She picked up a gun and called 911, but before the police could arrive, she fired a shot at him. He backed out of the hole and was met by police and arrested.

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2 unnamed women, 80's

It was a bad, bad day in October 2004 for the young man in Elbert County, Georgia who decided to kick in the door of a house. The elderly woman living there told him she had a gun, so he took off running. Minutes later he tried a second home invasion on a nearby street. He got inside intending to rape the 80-year-old woman who lived there, but she had a gun, too, and she shot him! The sheriff said that having the guns kept those women alive, and wanted other elderly folk to learn how to use guns safely to protect themselves.

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Edna Songer, 81

81-year old Edna Songer probably wasn't suspicious when a man knocked on her Hugo, OK. door claiming to be looking for his lost dog. But when the same man came back later in the day asking for a glass of water, that was odd. The third time he knocked, Songer had her .25 caliber pistol with her when she went to the door. That man and another were jerking on her screen door until the latch broke. They were dressed in camo and one had a role of duct tape. Songer shot through the screen door, forcing the men to run away.

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Unnamed, 82

How old is too old to wield a shotgun? Not 82, apparently. In January 2003, an 82-year-old woman pulled a shotgun on two burglars who had gotten inside her Tyler, Texas home pretending to be roofing inspectors. They fled when she confronted them with her shotgun, and were not caught. In the newspaper article describing the situation, a firearms instructor was quoted as saying that he noticed a sudden upsurge in the number of people seeking firearms for personal protection, "I had a 72-year-old lady last week getting a concealed handgun permit. She's not the only one."

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Venus Ramsey, 82

What do retired Miss Americas do? Sometimes, they stop crimes with their guns. In May, 2007, 82-year-old Venus Ramey, who was Miss America in 1944, confronted a man up to no good on her farm in Waynesburg, Kentucky. To keep him from just driving away, Venus carefully balanced on her walker as she pulled out a snub-nosed .38-caliber handgun, shot the tires of his truck, and then called 911. "I didn't even think twice. I just went and did it," she said. "If they'd even dared come close to me, they'd be six feet under by now."

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Josephine Slater, 82

It was a quiet Wednesday September evening at Josephine's Bar in Midland, Pennsylvania, until a man walked in with a sawed-off shotgun. The bar's owner, 82-year-old Josephine Slater, pulled her own gun, drew herself up to her full 5-feet-2-inches, and ordered him out. It worked. "I don't take anything from anybody," she said, "I'm not taking anything from these druggies. I try to run a decent place."

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Nina Sloan, 87

Three boys tried to break into the East St. Louis, Illinois home of Nina Sloan. The 87-year-old woman has arthritis and trouble walking, but not shooting. Nina fired two shots from her .38 Special revolver, chasing the boys away. The next day, the boys were caught breaking into another home nearby. The deputy chief said, I've seen scenarios where people have preyed on the elderly and burglarized their homes and left them dead, so she did the right thing."

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Jacksie Mae King, 87

Larry Tillman pulled the telephone wires from the side of the house in St. Louis that he was about to enter at 2 A.M., so the occupant couldn't call 911. The owner, an 87-year-old woman named Jacksie Mae King, fired several shots through the door, hitting him in the chest. The .32-caliber Colt revolver had been given to Jacksie by her daughter after someone had broken into her house a few months earlier. Jacksie was afraid to open the door to find out what happened to the man, and could not phone for help, so she stayed inside, clutching her gun, until her daughter arrived at 6 A.M., bringing breakfast for her mother and found Tillman dead on the porch. Although the gun was technically illegal, no charges were filed against her. The state's attorney said, "She was justified in using deadly force to defend herself against the threat of deadly force."

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Two of the oldest women here did not have guns when they were attacked, but their stories are wonderful, nonetheless.

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Juanita Burke, 93

Juanita Burke, of Des Moines, Iowa, was 93 years old, blind in one eye and walked with the aid of a cane, so she must have seemed defenseless to the pair of young men who attacked her in her home in September, 2000. They threw her on the floor, and thought she would stay there while they helped themselves to her belongings, but she jumped up, grabbed her cane, and started beating the men until they ran off. The wooden cane broke under her efforts.

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Katherine Woodworth, 91

91-year old Katherine Woodworth, was approached by a would-be robber in a department store parking lot on a Saturday afternoon in June, 2005, in Toledo, Ohio. Katherine was angry at the attempted crime, and started hitting the robber. She hit him hard enough to drive him away. When a police officer said that women her age shouldn't try to fight off attackers, she said, "I'll be 92 in August and I've got more nerve now than when I was younger."

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That attitude, "more nerve now," is one we can all aspire to as we age!

Age, even when accompanied by physical impairment, is generally no barrier to shooting a gun. That can't be said of most of the other methods of self-protection such as impact weapons, unarmed fighting, and running away. Most of the situations described here involved a home intruder, though workplaces and shopping areas were crime venues, too. In many cases, the threat was neutralized without shooting, but when these chronologically gifted women did have to pull the trigger, they usually hit what they were aiming at; nobody hit an innocent person. Though the women were clearly smaller, lighter, and weaker than their attackers, none of the criminals attempted to take the woman's gun away. Their situations were all so clearly self-defense that there was little trouble with the legal system afterward.

With "more nerve now," an available gun, and proper training, chronologically gifted folk can protect themselves just as well as others decades younger. May these stories inspire you as you mature!


This article was reprinted from Women&Guns Nov-Dec, 2007, Copyright ©2007, Lyn Bates