HARRISVILLE- In rural Northeast Michigan, residents must think on their feet and use common sense when a violent crime occurs.
Still, Alcona County resident Ross Botha knows how safe the region is compared to his native land of South Africa, where he was born, raised and educated.
So he was surprised when 17 people signed up for his 12-hour, $195 defensive handgun class Friday and Saturday at the Alpena Sportsmen's Club on M-32.
"I really didn't think we were going to get all that much interest because of the economy," Botha said. "But obviously there are people here who take gun ownership seriously and want additional training."
Some are law enforcement officers. Others are regular citizens authorized to carry handguns, organizers said.
"This is the poorer side of the state so what struck me was the need," Botha said. "In other areas of the country I typically get 11 or 12 students."
Botha said he was educated at the University of South Africa, mastering advanced levels of technical training and an understanding of how human beings work. He also has a military background and was on a team that wrote South Africa's gun laws.
In 1997, Botha combined those skills and started training instructors in everything from VIP protection, counter insurgency warfare and ballistics to crowd control. In 2010 Botha made his home in Alcona County, working for an Oscoda security products company. These days, he's on the road with his own company teaching police, military and government trainers how to use everything from stun grenades to tear gas.
"The biggest mistake civilians make is that they look at one way or another of protecting themselves against a bogeyman," the 44-year-old said. "So they go to a store and they buy a baseball bat, a chainsaw or whatever, and the most they do is get someone to show them how the thing works."
Botha said one of his first tasks is to train people not to freeze when faced with danger. This is done with extensive, if not ferocious repetition, he said, so the muscles of the body develop an automatic memory about what to do.
"The CCW gives you the legal right to carry a concealed weapon. But that's all it does," he said. "It teaches you some background to the laws, but as far as surviving a violent encounter, you're probably not going to be very successful."
Instead the gun probably will lay in a drawer, and the owner has about a 50-50 chance of being able to use it effectively, he said.
A bigger objective, and the hardest to master, is to train the brain to respond, Botha said.
"The difficult thing to teach people is not only the will to survive, but the will to be victorious," he said.
Part of that intellectual solution is to understand criminals, he said.
"Predators out there are not fighters. They prey on the weak," Botha said. "Any predator will rather go for the weak in the herd, because they want to grab the spoils. So if you show that you have skill in resisting they will back off. They will go after someone, who is weaker."
Gun owners also need to get over a fear of inanimate objects, including the weapons they choose to use, he said. Then they need set aside "the dogma that someone is going to rescue them" and develop the will to win in an encounter.
"Then, you combine that with the mechanical skills of handling a handgun, and only then do you have a human being capable of looking after himself," Botha said.
Situations that appear dangerous vary widely, he said.
"You're in bed at night asleep. All of a sudden you hear glass break. You get up, get a flash light and go to see what happened. It can be as innocent as you cat, who knocked over your grandmother's vase," he said.
"Same scenario, you take your gun to investigate and there is a big hole in the sliding door and the curtains are blowing into your house," he said. "If you see an intruder standing across from you and he is looking at you startled, and he decides to pull out a knife or starts charging toward you, you may very well have enough time to say, 'Stop. I'm armed.' "
Nine out of 10 times, Botha said, the intruder is going to turn and run away.
Other scenarios are worse, such as when you wake up and find an intruder inches away from your face, he said.
"You have a split second to be able to produce some sort of response to stop his violent intention," Botha said. "The response has to be so automatic. It has to be memorized by your muscles. If you have not taught yourself the skills needed to resist right then, you have a problem. And no concealed carry weapons certificate is going to help you.
"It's just a sad fact. It happens all the time."
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.