HOW ONE JERSEY GUY BREAKS STEREOTYPES ON GUNS IN A DEEP BLUE STATE

Recently, I wrote for the New York Post about an experience at a local gun range in my home state of New Jersey. In the piece, I noted the diverse participants learning with me in a class on basic pistol safety and classes. I am a stay-at-home mother, and in the class alongside me were three men interested in becoming law enforcement officers and an optometrist. Walking into the range, I noticed men, women, teens and even children walking around ready to shoot. This is not your average shooting range, which, I learned, is due to the fact that its owner is anything but average.

Anthony Colandro is a 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound Italian-American. So far, he fits the profile for a gun enthusiast, but his physical attributes are where it ends. Colandro doesn’t consider himself a Republican or a Democrat, but a political free agent. He’s a self-described health nut, dedicated to maintaining good nutrition and rigorous exercise. Colandro’s determination in the gym and in the kitchen has helped him lose over 160 pounds while also working through a painful divorce. That same determination helped him open a gun range in Northern New Jersey, one of the bluest parts of the country.

Colandro started his own business as a firearms trainer in 1992 after receiving certification from the National Rifle Association. He would travel around the tri-state area, training people in the safe use of guns from as far south as Philadelphia to as far north as Westchester. In that time, he became familiar with every single gun range in the area, its positive attributes and, in his mind, many of the negatives.

What led Colandro to open his range, Gun For Hire, was his frustration with other local gun ranges. He would watch women and minorities come to shoot and be made to feel intimidated and sometimes harassed by the clientele and staff. Women’s bathrooms were dirty, and there was often no one on hand to train green trigger fingers on the finer points of shooting, let alone the basics. Whenever he saw a woman walk into a range and be asked if she wanted a gift certificate instead of a .38, he promised himself that one day, he would open a “gun-try club,” (a gun country club) where everyone would feel comfortable.

Anthony Colandro and a young student at his gun range in New Jersey. | Photo: Guns For Hire

Initially, Colandro faced a great deal of opposition from local residents at the prospect of a gun range opening in their neighborhood. They objected to his logo (which includes a pool of blood) and refused to allow the logo and even the name of his business on outdoors signage.

When the mayor and local officials first stopped by, Colandro said they anticipated only two kinds of customers walking around: the Bloods and the Crips (two notorious gangs). Colandro laughed.

“They couldn’t afford to shoot here,” he told me. “If they have an illegal gun, they’re not walking through my doors showing their ID to shoot an illegal gun. No. If they want practice doing that, they’re going out to the woods or in a basement. They’re not coming here.”

Since Colandro opened the business three years ago, more than 100,000 visitors have walked through his doors. Apart from unrelated medical emergencies like diabetic shock, the ambulance corps hasn’t stopped by. Visitors to Gun for Hire include celebrities, media personalities and a large number of minorities and women.

Colandro makes a point to make his female guests as comfortable as possible. His instructors are told not to touch a woman, even on the hand, without permission. Female receptionists work the front desk, and women are talked to, not down to.

Despite a rough start with local politicians and authorities, things are slowly improving. Colandro has made a point to give back to the community, even if he wasn’t welcomed into it warmly. Last year he donated new guns to the police department, and this year he plans to donate $20,000 to the volunteer fire department.

While many expected his clientele to be criminals, they have instead been mostly white-collar workers like judges, doctors, realtors, and lawyers. Just as Colandro doesn’t fit the stereotype for a gun range owner, neither do his customers.

“If they have an illegal gun, they’re not walking through my doors showing their ID to shoot an illegal gun. No.”

Colandro views his range as a kind of public relations operation for the Second Amendment. He hopes that if after a tragedy folks are gathered around a water cooler at work deploring the right to bear arms, one of his customers can enlighten them and share his experiences with guns at the range. He hopes they’ll say “They aren’t all gun-nuts in camouflage. There’s a lot of normal people that go there to learn how to defend themselves; like me.”

If a gun range can attract 100,000 customers in deep blue northern New Jersey in such a short amount of time, supporters of the Second Amendment should take heart and take note. Defenders of gun rights could learn from the way Colandro reaches out to his community. He met his diverse customers where they were, happily and openly, instead of perpetuating the stereotype of gun owners by opening a range like the rest.

Bethany Mandel is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @bethanyshondark.