I write, often harshly, about The People of the Gun. I harbor a dim view of Second Amendment advocates.
With each new shooting in Chicago, I have become more terrified of guns and the people who carry them.
It’s time I actually met one.
Alfreda Keith Keller did not fit my cynical view of a gun lover. She doesn’t wear horns. She doesn’t drive a pickup truck.
Keller, 63, is an African American, retired Cook County juvenile probation officer. The south suburban resident is hyper busy, tutoring school children, substitute teaching, volunteering with at-risk youth.
And, as she proudly asserts, “a Certified Instructor with the Illinois State Police to teach the Conceal Carry Classes for Illinois.”
We met for coffee in Bronzeville on a recent Saturday morning. Keller arrived wearing a black beret and a winsome smile.
Her gun was in the car.
What’s a nice lady like you doing teaching people how to shoot?
It was an urge deeply rooted in her girlhood, in downstate in Springfield. Dad had served in the military. He “would take me to the state fair every year and to the shooting arcade, so it was like a skill thing, shoot the duck and win the prize. He kinda guided me in techniques,” she recalled. “I didn’t realize he was kind of preparing me then, for guns later on.”
In 2005, as she was preparing to retire, she started taking self-defense classes, then classes to get a gun permit, then learning conceal carry laws, eventually qualifying as an instructor.
Now other black women seek her out for lessons. Some have inherited guns from fathers or husbands, she said. “A lot of women are fearful. They’re fearful of like, now, the shootings on the Dan Ryan. Of being in the car, going out.”
Keller is a zealous evangelist for making them feel safe, by using guns responsibly. Her wallet is packed with gun permits, licenses, certifications. She totes a black leather portfolio is stuffed with detailed lesson plans, rules, study guides.
She owns six guns, which she keeps in a safe at home. Her favorite: her “357.” She practices shooting every day.
Keller loves to hit the road on her on her Honda VTX, another later-in-life acquisition. She keeps her gun in the saddlebag. “I have a patch on my motorcycle vest that says, ‘I may look cute and cuddly, but I’m locked and loaded.’ ”
Look at the headlines about street crime. Don’t we need fewer guns, and more gun control?
“Those are illegal guns,” she replied. “Most of those, you know, 90 percent of those are illegal guns. You can’t fault the people who have honestly gone and taken safety classes.
“They don’t run around shooting up people, but it’s the gang-bangers, it’s the people who aren’t versed in firearm safety.”
I connected with Keller via Chicago Guns Matter, a group of African Americans who, their web site declares, “are here to share with the urban community how to exercise their fundamental constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”
She rejects the “stigma” that guns are associated with bad guys. “We have doctors, lawyers, eye doctors, all kinds of professional people that have been shooting for years. Who now are embracing the fact that they can conceal carry. And that they maybe can reduce the bad actions that happen in their neighborhoods.”
Keller is a delightful and passionate advocate for legal gun responsibility and safety. We need that in our neighborhoods.
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