By Guy Page
Five women sit in the Woodbury living room of Major Ted Tedesco, USMC (Ret). He’s teaching them to shoot a handgun, at no cost to the participants.
These women are not hunters, sharpshooting enthusiasts, or gun nut Dirty Harriet wannabes. The stories that brought them to Tedesco are as different as the women themselves. But their purpose is the same: to defend themselves and their loved ones from some bigger, stronger threat just yards away and moving towards them with violent intent.
Every Marine is a rifleman. But some shoot better than others. On active duty, Tedesco consistently ranked among the top shooters in rifle and handgun. Today he distills a lifetime of training and experience to help women safely and responsibly handle, load, aim and fire a handgun. He’s fond of the quote involving gunmaker Samuel Colt: “God created man, but Samuel Colt made them equal.” Ted interprets ‘man’ in this context to mean both sexes. God created the right to equality. The Constitution recognizes it. Samuel Colt provided the means. But someone needs to teach Americans to do it correctly. This afternoon, that’s Ted’s job.
“I do this to promote the cause of the Second Amendment,” Tedesco says. “I can’t think of a better way to do it than to bring women into the shooting sports. We maintain that we have God-given rights that are natural law. You have a right to self defense. You do not have to stand there to be destroyed.”
Firearms self-defense isn’t just about shooting someone else. First the student learns about safety, respect for the firearm and the rights of others, and when NOT to shoot.
He shows them a .22 magnum hammerless revolver, the model favored by most of the women present. First question: is it loaded? Answer: “a firearm is always treated as if it is loaded even when you have just unloaded it.” He points to the muzzle. “You’ve got to know that death comes out of the end of the barrel.”
Which gives one woman pause. “I’ve been told by women that they wouldn’t kill, even to save the life of their child.” She shudders. “I would kill to save my child.” But still, she wonders – can’t you just shoot someone to wound?
There’s no 100% kill-proof way to shoot someone, Tedesco responds. Big arteries run through the human body. Then there’s the cold reality when someone is rushing you in a darkened room, you won’t have the luxury of time to do anything except to shoot at the center of mass.
He also teaches students to shoot only in case of an immediate threat to life. “Vermont doesn’t have a castle doctrine – where you can do almost anything [in your own home] and it’s assumed to be self-defense. If someone is an immediate threat to your life you’re justified. If they’re carrying out your TV set, it’s not an immediate threat. It has to represent an immediate threat to your life or others.
Some imminent threats occur outside the home. For example, a young woman he knows jogs on a rural road. At his advice she carries a firearm in a waist holster. If a car stops and a man gets out and approaches her, she will unholster and have the firearm down along her leg pointing at the ground, and loudly declare “I feel threatened by your presence, I have a firearm, please come no closer. Leave me alone.”
After that clear warning, anyone reckless enough to continue to approach is a serious threat, Tedesco teaches.
Soon everyone troops out to the firing range in Tedesco’s backyard. On the firing range, Major Tedesco is the Head Man In Charge, and safety is strictly observed by shooter and onlookers alike. He teaches his shooters BRASS – Breathe, Relax, Aim, Sight, Squeeze. While each woman takes her turn shooting five rounds at targets five yards away – remember, this isn’t marksmanship, this is close-range self-defense – the others tell this reporter their “why I’m here” stories.
Pat McDonald – concern about violent protests
“When we see what’s going on in the nation, and even the little we see that is happening in Vermont, I feel I need to learn how to protect myself,” says Pat McDonald of Berlin, a former legislator and Secretary of the VT Agency of Transportation and host of Vote for Vermont, a cable access TV program. “I was at the rally to support police (July 25 at the State House) and the protesters showed up. They were very demonstrative, very loud, and very threatening. I was asked to speak. I stood at the podium and spoke, but it was a very uncomfortable position for me. What if something had happened? How could I protect myself and the others around me?
“At my age, I am not physically able to protect myself. I’m a little beyond Kung Fu and Karate,” she laughs. “But I can learn how to shoot a gun so that I would use it only under certain circumstances, and when warranted. Taking this course I have learned a lot about Vermont’s laws, what is and isn’t acceptable.
“Watching TV, watching a group of protesters going to neighborhoods, shining lights in windows, calling them out, verbally attacking….. When they’re against the police, against the flag, against the Constitution, things I’ve held dear all my life – they seem to be gone with many of these people,” McDonald says. “It’s frightening.”
It’s not just what she sees on TV or experienced at the rally. The veteran lawmaker, public official and journalist says Vermont has changed. “I can see it. When I came here [in 1989] I was so impressed by the work ethic. The way they treated each other, the Legislature would respect everybody’s views. ….that’s all gone now. Or it’s headed that way to being gone.”
Also changing and not for the better is Vermont government’s attitude towards gun ownership. “There are a lot of people who are going to actively put restrictions on gun ownership,” she says. (For example, the daily Vermont Senate calendar includes an agenda item to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of a bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period.) “That’s a right that needs to be maintained. Having this course teaches women how to handle a gun, how to keep it safely, what the rules and regulations are.”
Kerri Smith – protection against human and animal attackers
Not long ago Kerri Smith, a self-employed house cleaner raised in Holbrook, MA, was living in a tent in a field in northern Vermont with her elderly, incontinent dog. One night she heard the coyotes yipping and moving nearby. She realized they were moving in for the kill on her beloved, defenseless Heidi.
“When my dog was younger, she could protect me. It got to where I would have to protect her,” Smith says. But all she had for a weapon was a cast iron skillet. Not liking the idea of waving it at a pack of coyotes at midnight, she bought a Mossgrove Shockwave .410 tactical shotgun. Soon she moved into an apartment. She noticed that nationwide “things started getting weird with home invasions, theft and robbery on the uprise.”
Today she lives alone and works alone much of the time. “We [housecleaners] are at a high risk from criminals casing houses,” Kerri said. “I decided to get a handgun, something I could carry with me.” She carries a Ruger LCP2 Autoloader.
For Smith, gun ownership isn’t about politics or ideology. “It’s mostly my specific life situation. But what’s going on in the world impacts that. When I see someone taking away a right….I want mine first.” Like many new gun owners, she won’t wait until the government limits her ability to legally own the gun of her choice.
The website Agirlandagun.org noted that U.S. gun sales in March 2020 were up 85% and that 40% of first-time gun owners were women. Vermont is the 14th least gun-friendly state, according to a survey by Guns & Ammo: “Though Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed a significant anti-gun bill in 2018, he vetoed legislation this year that would have placed a 24-hour waiting period on handguns. Vermont has allowed for permitless carry for more than a century, but the state does not issue permits, which costs it a point. Vermont is one of the safest places in the U.S. to live and boasts the second-lowest violent crime rate in the nation. Roughly one third of Vermonters are gun owners. (2018 rank: 37).”
Kathi Tarrant – concerned about pandemic, riots, anarchy
Kathi Tarrant wears pink ear protectors when she shoots. The Waterbury resident teaches piano and vocals and performs, too: “show tunes, jazz standards, American songbook.” That morning she had performed at St. Andrew’s (Roman Catholic) Church in Waterbury.
A sometime hunter with her dad growing up, she looks at the riots of 2020 and has no illusions about how bad it could get. And what she needs to do in response.
“The whole thing with the pandemic and the rioting that’s been going on, it made me think that I needed to defend myself,” Tarrant says. “The police might not be there quick enough. [According to some protester/rioters] it’s not supposed to work out. I think their aim is anarchy. They want to recreate society in the way that they think it should be. A supposed utopia. A supposed, godless utopia.”
Like many first-time gun-owners, it took Tarrant more than one try to find the right firearm.
“I went to the local gun shop [Parro’s Gun Shop in Waterbury], got my first gun, a Ruger 38 Special. $600 and change. Somebody overhead me in the gun shop, that I had not shot for years. His wife is a new gun person. He said he could help to teach me and his wife would have another person to learn with. After that first time I realized my wrist hurt with that .38, and ended up trading that in for a Smith and Wesson autofeeder. But there were so many steps to it. And it jammed. It wasn’t going to work for me.” A shooting buddy, Shannara Johnson of Morrisville, recommended a 22 magnum. It works for her: “Hammerless. Less to get caught on if you have to pull out. A really good size. It’s a magnum, more power than a .22 but won’t hurt my hand like a 38 special.”
Tarrant lives alone, but even if she were living under the same roof as a gunowner, “in this day and age, I would still want a gun. Because I feel that our world is different now. I would encourage any woman to take up shooting.”
She warms to her subject. “These are intense times we’re living in. It’s important to know that as an American I can and will defend myself at all costs. Especially as women, they think they can just get over on us. I’m fortunate that I live in Vermont because I can own a gun, and I don’t have to jump through hoops to do it – yet.”
That’s why I’m here,” Tarrant concludes. “It’s a new thing for me to be shooting. When I do something I want to do it really well, and be comforable and secure.”
Jude Piser – survivor of violent crime
“I was a peace-loving hippy and wanted nothing to do with guns when I was younger,” Jude Piser of South Walden says.
That all changed after she became the victim of a violent crime. “That’s why I carried, for years.”
You’ll never see her out in the woods hunting big game. “I’ve never had an animal hurt me,” she explains. “I’ve had a human hurt me. I think that being a survivor of a violent crime, I’m aware of the evilness people can have.”
She doesn’t have the ‘hunter mentality’ and doesn’t want to have it. She came to Ted Tedesco because she knew that – despite carrying – she wasn’t confident to use it wisely and well in a crisis. She trains so “I can feel confident with my weapon.”
“Ted’s a great instructor,” Jude says. “He doesn’t yell, but you can tell he is a retired Marine major. And he’s a stickler for safety.”
Tedesco deflects the praise back to the women who are seizing with both hands their Constitutional right to bear arms. “This is driven by them,” he says. “I am the tool they are choosing to use.”
Read more of Guy Page’s reports. Vermont Daily is sponsored by True North Media.