ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — The ongoing gun control debate and the rising rate of violent crime across the country and the Commonwealth are actually causing a boom in business for some gun shops, with one Roanoke gun range seeing an increase in people wanting to learn how to protect themselves.

According to Roanoke Range & Training, business has doubled in the past two to three months.

“I would say middle age and senior citizens that are absolutely all about defending themselves,” said Dwayne Shepherd, supervisor with Professional Security Service, which offers classes at Roanoke Range & Training.

He says that a lot of people in that age range feel unprotected in the Star City, so learning how to carry and use a firearm makes them feel safer.

“Nobody is out here taking care of our senior citizens,” Shepherd told WFXR News.

Shepherd says there are multiple reasons behind the rise in people wanting to learn self-defense.

One big concern he’s hearing from customers is that they worry police won’t get there quickly enough.

“If you’re understaffed in the police department, you’re not getting what you need at the judicial system, it does make security and everything else a whole lot more meaningful,” said Shepherd.

According to Shepherd, another concern is that customers believe criminals are being let off too easily and getting back on the streets too quickly.

“If you do something, you spend enough time that maybe you get rehabilitated,” said Shepherd.

He says he believes that learning how to protect yourself is key because you never know when you will end up in a dangerous situation.

However, it is important to gain enough knowledge about how to carry a gun if you choose that as your defensive weapon.

Shepherd told WFXR News that when he teaches security trainees, he tells them to “keep their head on a swivel,” meaning they should always being alert and paying attention.

“If you see something that doesn’t look right, then see what is going on and how to stop it,” said Shepherd.

A good rule of thumb for noticing weird behavior outside is if a person is holding a duffle bag away from their body, or if they are walking with their arm close to their body because they are holding something that is hidden.

(Photo: Kelsey Jean-Baptiste/WFXR News)

When it comes to protecting yourself, Rodrigo Contreras — a shooting instructor at the Roanoke Range & Training — says it starts with the fundamentals.

“Why are we here? What are we looking for? What is your desired end state?” he explained.

According to Contreras, it’s important to understand why someone would want to carry a gun because this kind of weapon is used to cause serious harm to someone.

In addition, he says it tells him what type of weapon he should advise someone to carry.

Next up: learning to shoot.

“We want to get our most hits possible seven to 15 [meters], get them comfortable at 25 [meters], dial it back in,” said Contreras.

He says many of his new customers are initially frustrated with their progress, but he tells them that speed comes with repetition.

Contreras also teaches first-comers that a firearm is a tool of last resort, saying that just because you can use it doesn’t mean you should.

Contreras was in the Army for 10 years, during which time he was a light infantryman, he became an instructor in land navigation, and more. He then went to Radford University and ended up on the criminal justice track. Later, he became a security guard, where he piqued his interest in teaching people how to protect themselves.

Now, he is a certified Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) trainer, allowing him to teach people how to use firearms, handcuffs, batons, and more.

Contreras believes it’s important to protect yourself because people have forgotten how to de-escalate situations, instead reacting based on emotion.

“If you are going to invest in yourself before even looking at the firearm, look into how we deal with each other as human beings. We react with what is given to us,” said Contreras.

He says you cannot choose when bad things can happen to you, but you can choose how to protect yourself.