BEAUMONT, Texas -- As gunfire echoed through the woods along a remote road on the outskirts of Orange, a man of God preached the gospel of good shooting.
“My name is James McAbee,” said the firearms instructor. “And I’m known as the pistol packing pastor.”
McAbee, a good-natured guy who loves God and loves guns, runs the Lighthouse Worship Center near Lamar University in Beaumont. But he also runs a business on the side teaching people who want to obtain concealed handgun permits.
Sure, he says, maybe twenty percent of the people he talks with have a problem with that. But in southeast Texas, they’re very much in the minority.
“God in the Bible led his children out to war using many types of weaponry,” he explains. “And so, being a man of God and ordained minister, my conscience is totally at peace with it.”
He’s so proud of his low rates, he’s printed up T-shirts offering concealed weapon training for a mere fifty bucks. But a few weeks ago, after the Sandy Hook shootings, he hit upon an idea: Why not offer free concealed weapons permit training to teachers and school administrators?
“I figured I’d have 20 or 30,” he said. “Never realized I’d have the response I’ve had.”
Saturday morning, about 150 school teachers and principals and even home school volunteers flocked to the firing line for McAbee’s free training. The shooting range out in the woods quickly ran out of parking spaces, forcing a church aide to stand out in the asphalt on FM 105 and tell drivers they had to join the line of pick-up trucks and cars parked alongside the road.
Many of the teachers brought their own weapons, but others borrowed pistols from friends and relatives. Some were very experienced and accomplished marksmen while others had gone through their whole lives without firing a weapon.
“I teach pre-K and music at Kountze Elementary in Kountze, Texas,” said Niesy Bevilacqua, who’s quite comfortable with firearms. “And it’s a small rural town. I feel like it’s a safe place. But I also feel like I should learn how to do this.”
A number of educators expressed ambivalence about the notion of teachers carrying firearms, but they decided to take the class anyway.
“The Sandy Hook shooting frightened me,” said Anna Riley, a high school drama teacher. “It had my heart broken. I’m not sure if guns on campus is a good idea. But I do know that students need protection.”
That’s a lesson McAbee preaches, too. His inspiration for becoming a concealed weapons permit instructor came not from the Lord, but from an encounter with a couple of burglars.
“I had two men break into my church and immediately tried to stab me through with a 2x4,” he said. “It was broke in half with a spike on it. And they immediately started charging and tried to plunge me through. And I had to pull a firearm and stop them and hold them until the police got there.”
The incident convinced him he could launch a successful side business teaching people how to protect themselves with concealed weapons. He’s taught one free class for educators in February and expects to open another next month.
His star pupil in Saturday’s class was a white-haired home school volunteer named Jackie Boyd. McAbee says her target practice won her a perfect score, even though she’d never before fired a gun.
“Bad guys have guns,” she said. “I think the good guys need to be able to protect themselves.”