Self-defense guns discussed at luncheon

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Former Baton Rouge Chief Greg Phares displays a handgun that could be used for personal protection while speaking at  the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish's Ronald Reagan Newsmaker monthly luncheon Tuesday.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Former Baton Rouge Chief Greg Phares displays a handgun that could be used for personal protection while speaking at the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish's Ronald Reagan Newsmaker monthly luncheon Tuesday.

As gun sales soar in the wake of last month’s school shooting massacre in Connecticut, fueled in large part by the specter of new gun control measures, East Baton Rouge Parish Republicans hosted a luncheon Tuesday to advise people on the best weapons to buy for self-defense and home protection.

The suggestions included the Glock pistol, 2-inch revolver, short-barrel shotgun and the AR-15, the semiautomatic rifle used in the Newtown, Conn., shooting that has been in high demand amid calls by gun control advocates to ban assault-style weapons.

In a program the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish had touted as “one of our best and most interesting programs ever,” local GOP leaders also heard about mental health issues, and they vowed to oppose any efforts to restrict their Second Amendment rights.

“For the Republican Party, this is a litmus-test issue,” said Woody Jenkins, the former state legislator who serves as the party’s local chairman. “This is something that Republicans are going to unite on and that the party is going to take a strong stance on.”

Greg Phares, a former Baton Rouge police chief and former parish sheriff, discussed four types of firearms he said are best suited for home and self-defense, identifying the Glock pistol, 2-inch revolver, short-barrel shotgun and AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

Phares, a proponent of gun rights, described the advantages and disadvantages of each weapon and displayed two handguns — a Glock and a revolver — to Republicans gathered at CafĂ© Americain in Baton Rouge.

“I can’t tell you how many times in my police career at the PD and the Sheriff’s Office I have investigated and or talked to citizens, ordinary citizens, who were confronted with violence, violent criminals, and who used a firearm to defend themselves and defeat that criminal,” Phares said.

In response to the gathering, Holley Haymaker, a local gun control advocate, questioned the need for homeowners to have any type of firearm.

“What we know is that a gun in the home is far more likely to lead to an injury to an adolescent or child than it is to be effective for self-defense,” she said in a telephone interview.

During the luncheon, Phares praised the reliability of the 2-inch revolver and the light weight of the Glock, long a favorite among law enforcement agencies. He said the short-barrel shotgun is a “terrific home defense weapon.”

“It’s very intimidating,” Phares said. “It’s pretty easy to operate and, at a short range, it is very, very effective.”

A disadvantage for some users of the shotgun, Phares added, is that it’s “fairly heavy and takes some strength to operate.”

Shane Evans, a veteran law enforcement officer who works for the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office, addressed the “strengths” of the AR-15, such as its capacity to accommodate accessories like a mounted light.

“If someone’s kicking in the front door of our house, we don’t want to hurt our kids,” Evans told the Republican gathering, adding jokingly that he also would not want to strike his wife or dog with an errant round.

Efforts to restrict sales of the AR-15 — the semiautomatic rifle used to slaughter 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn. — could have the unintended consequence of depriving law enforcement officers of the weapon, Evans said.

“I’m here to tell y’all that the vast majority of police who use an AR-15 type weapon in this country on duty privately own it,” Evans said. “If you see a police officer in this town, or especially when you get into smaller jurisdictions, the odds are he took his own money and purchased it and is using it on duty because his department can’t afford it.

“So when you start taking (away) the ability to own that, in a lot of instances across the country, you’re going to be disarming the police that are there to protect us,” Evans added.

East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark spoke of a “fifth weapon” in addition to those identified at the GOP luncheon: keeping a vigilant eye out for people suffering from mental health issues and helping them get treatment.

Clark explained the role Louisiana coroners play in issuing orders of protective custody after finding probable cause that a person is a danger to himself or others or is “gravely disabled.” Citizens can swear an affidavit in front of the coroner saying they have witnessed this unusual behavior, which Clark said allows his office to take the person to a hospital for further evaluation.

Elizabeth Dent, 72, said she supports gun rights and found Tuesday’s luncheon to be “very informative,” as she is in the market for a new handgun.

“I want one that I’m going to be comfortable with that I can use if that need occurs,” said Dent, who is an executive committee member of the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Parish.

Haymaker, the local gun control advocate, said Tuesday’s luncheon missed the point “that none of (the firearms) are effective in self-defense.”

Haymaker hosted a Japanese exchange student, Yoshihiro “Yoshi” Hattori, who was mistaken as an intruder and fatally shot in 1992 after stopping at the wrong house trying to find a Halloween party. She contends there is “no definitive literature” to support the effectiveness of using guns for home protection.

“The effective way to defend yourself against crime would be to act safely between your neighborhood and your car, and to have decent lighting and call the police if you feel threatened,” Haymaker said.