St. Helens resident Gabe Caso is an NRA certified instructor who has taught firearms classes for a little more than two years. After the Florida high school shooting in mid-February, he reached out on social media offering to instruct and sponsor concealed handgun licensing (CHL) classes for teachers.
For Caso, teaching gun safety is a part-time business.
“I enjoy volunteering, and when this recent shooting took place it popped into my mind that I could volunteer through my business,” Caso said. “Supporting teachers and protecting the children is important to me.”
The main part of Oregon law for certification is handgun safety, according to Caso.
“I’m on the entry level of training, teaching from the ground up to where people are comfortable and can move on and take more advanced courses,” Caso said.
Something Caso stressed is that his class is a beginning step, and potentially an eye-opening moment for students to figure out if CHL is for them or not.
“Many people get the certification and choose not to get the license,” he said.
Caso supports both people who want a CHL and people who are against it.
“It’s an individual’s choice,” he said. Caso is in support of any employee to have a CHL as long as the workplace has policies in place and the employee who has a CHL has the proper training. “No matter what, where you work,” he said. Caso said that if people are allowed to carry on the job it could eliminate the chances of a school becoming targeted.
Time is critical, if for example an active shooter event takes place, according to Jeromy Hasenkamp who is the owner and lead trainer of Pacific Tactical LLC. Hasenkamp said according to FBI reports, over half of the incidents only ended when the shooters decided to end it.
“I want folks to understand, the quicker there is intervention, fewer lives are lost. The closest police response is still going to take between three to four minutes, unless that officer is right there on scene,” he said.
In Columbia County, when you examine law enforcement resources, that is a realistic response time to most of the schools, according to Hasenkamp. In St. Helens, getting across from the opposite side of the highway to the high school, where a majority of the recent police response was needed, could be delayed for a multitude of reasons. There could even be complications when trying to get a person to Lewis & Clark, according to Hasenkamp.
“The St. Helens Police Department is a few blocks away … How quickly can they get from their office to the closest school, Lewis & Clark, what’s that time frame? Besides thinking about the actual drive time, we have to consider the 911 call going out, potential confusion of multiple callers overwhelming 911, and the time for 911 to receive then dispatch the call. It’s not just an officer driving to the school from a set location. Multiple considerations go into response time,” he said.
Hasenkamp brought in his experiences as a former state police officer to training. He worked in law enforcement for more than 18 years, and spent around 10 of those years on the Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T) team. With his company, he travels the country teaching law enforcement how to train In-Situ (as close to the real situation as possible) for different situations.
“I encourage agencies to do as much Reality Based Training as possible. Officers need to experience real movement and discern between violent intent and innocent intent. What does it look like when a person is making a move for a gun versus reaching for their wallet?” Hasenkamp said. He also conducts similar trainings for civilians training for self-defense situations.
Last week, Hasenkamp held a free two-hour active threat seminar at the Meriwether Place in St. Helens for more than 20 people. While many people are focusing on deadly force tools, this event focused on the ability to successfully stop an active threat with proper preparation, overwhelming odds and non-lethal tools as well as defensive firearm use.
“The other thing that I really wanted folks to consider is there’s always indicators or signs and symptoms these events are going to occur or there’s a high likelihood it’s going to occur,” Hasenkamp said. He said that if you look back after the active threat there is usually a triggering event. “A series of triggering events don’t just happen overnight and someone wakes up and says, ‘I’m going to go kill a bunch of people,’” he said. “I want people to identify these potential situations and report them to the authorities long before it becomes an actual event. Hopefully we can stop more of these events in the planning stage.”
Hasenkamp said many people have never been in a situation where they’ve hit someone or been hit. “They don’t participate in combat sports; people don’t know what it’s like to be in a real situation or are aware of what they are capable of. They have never faced a situation where they may face bodily harm so they are fearful of the unknown,” he said. According to Hasenkamp, they overreact or they under react because they have this idea of what the event is going to be like. “They don’t have a realistic expectation of the situation. Another common problem is they believe because they’re facing a firearm, they will die and cannot stop the inevitable, which is not the case,” he said.
“An unarmed person can prevail over an armed attacker if they maintain their composure and think through the situation and act in the right manner given most circumstances.”
There are other options to carrying a concealed weapon. “Any civilian who is not a felon can purchase a taser and carry it wherever. Same thing with pepper spray,” Hasenkamp said.
Jen Massey attended the seminar and wrote a lengthy review on Facebook to spread the word. The Chronicle obtained permission from Massey to print some quotes.
“Despite what I initially thought it would be, it was very insightful to defending yourself against an active threat while armed and unarmed. It also provided additional options/thoughts for individuals that would like to be armed but does not want to have a firearm, like a taser,” Massey said. “I appreciated not only the passion and knowledge that he brought to this training, but also the understanding that there are several different levels of comfort that people have in regards to weapons. I love the fact that he went through defense mechanisms for those that were not comfortable carrying, so they did not have to be helpless victims.”
Massey further wrote that she thinks all Columbia County School District employees should go through the same training.
“It doesn’t matter if you have a concealed weapon or not, the education and knowledge of preventive planning could potentially save a teacher’s life or those students within the classroom, not about just having a firearm. It’s about having the forethought on how to react to a threat,” she said.
Someone else who has also been very active in stating his opinions about CHL’s among teachers on Facebook is Adam St. Pierre from Scappoose. Right after the mass shooting in Florida, he offered to sponsor six CHL licenses for interested teachers after getting into an argument with someone else who meant only cops should carry guns and do the job for citizens, according to St. Pierre. “I’ll put my money where my mouth is, I’ll pay for the first five teachers who want to get a concealed carry permit,” he said he answered the other person online. Only a couple of people have taken him on his offer so far.
St. Pierre said he always has been a pro-Second Amendment guy, but also he think it should be up to the individual if he or she wants to carry. St. Pierre feels like he has taken upon a role in the local Facebook community to figure out the answers that people ask. Having already been in arguments with several people online he does not mind the criticism and name calling for stating his opinions.
“I don’t care who you are. I’ll help you out and you know, I’ll do what I can do. I’ll push the issue. I don’t mind ruffling feathers obviously,” St. Pierre said. He said that if teachers come to him and say they have their concealed carry but that there’s not a place to practice around here, he would pursue the issue of finding a place so they could get the opportunity for a proper amount of practice to feel comfortable carrying.
St. Pierre is for teachers carrying. If an officer freezes because he is facing somebody with an‘assault rifle’ and asks for backup because he is outgunned, who is going to protect your family, St. Pierre asked.
This past weekend, he also started a fundraiser for people to donate $1,600 per school district to offer Hasenkamp’s active threat seminar for free to educators and supporting staff members. As of Monday, $970 had been donated on a GoFundMe page under St. Pierre’s name.
Understanding your tools and surroundings
“You have to understand that people committing heinous crimes [an active shooting for example] are chemically altered or mentally altered most of the time. You have to ask yourself, do they feel pain?” Hasenkamp said, meaning a taser or other less-lethal tools may not always be the right tool for the situation you are in.
“People need to understand the limitations of their tools,” he said. ”People need to know, being unarmed does not mean they’re helpless.”
Hasenkamp said he want students to experience a multitude of situations in training. “Then, if they find themselves in the middle of an incident they will experience to draw from to formulate a plan. They can think to themselves, ‘I already went through this, I know exactly how this is going to run and what to do’,” he said.
“I equate it to the first time you drove down a windy road. You misread corners, had to brake hard, and went too slow around some corners fearing you might not make the corner. Now fast forward to the 10th time, the 20th time so on and so forth. Now you drive it all the time, you effortlessly navigate the road and forecast before the next corner long before you get to it. Finally you start seeing patterns in other roads and you see clues that tell you what the corner is like even if you’ve never driven a road before.”
Local school district’s stand on CHL
Public information officer with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, Lieutenant Brian Pixley, said there is no law against people carrying concealed on school properties. “Individual school boards can regulate against it, and trespass those who go against their policies,” Lt. Pixley said. “As far as tracking who has CHL’s, we know who we issue CHL’s to, but if they receive the CHL from another county, we don’t track those.”