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Published: Sunday, 3/21/2010

Local demand for guns rises after Toledo area carryout shootings

BY BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Dean El-Joubeily couldn't help but replay his own face-off with a gunman when he learned that a Toledo shop owner recently pulled the trigger and injured a suspected armed robber, and two days later a carryout clerk shot and killed a gunman.

"It just made me a nervous wreck," said Mr. El-Joubeily, 41, who now owns Deano's Mini Mart in Springfield Township.

Mr. El-Joubeily said that it wasn't long after he was granted a concealed carry permit in February, 2005, that he pointed the 40-caliber semiautomatic handgun hidden in the holster under his shirt at a man trying to rob his former carryout on McCord Road at Hill Avenue.

Demand for guns rises

It was a Sunday morning. The female clerk knocked on his office door. They were being robbed.

The suspect fled, and Mr. El-Joubeily shot out the tires of his get-away vehicle. The shots stopped the suspect, and he was later convicted in the case.

Mr. El-Joubeily and other business owners are among the growing number of people packing heat, with the numbers of those seeking concealed-carry permits at record levels in Ohio and Michigan.

Keeping a gun close at hand is simply the professional reality of owning a carryout, Mr. El-Joubeily said. He doesn't feel safe without one of his five firearms strapped around his waist.

"You can't take a chance anymore," he said. "It boils down to it's either your life or their life."

Last year, 56,691 Ohioans applied for permits to carry a concealed weapon - the most in the law's five-year history. Owens Community College and Cleland's Outdoor World in Monclova Township have increased instructional offerings to meet the demand.

Owens first offered monthly courses last fall for those seeking a concealed-weapon permit but now offers weekly classes, said Mike Cornell, director of the Center for Emergency Preparedness at Owens. "We quickly realized we needed more," Mr. Cornell said.

Cleland's has doubled its firearms classes in the past two years and sees more first-time gun buyers than ever before, said Theresa Cleland, who with her husband co-owns Cleland's.

"I think it's for protection. Everybody hears about the economy and [police] cutbacks, and people are scared," Ms. Cleland said. "They feel the need to be safer. They feel the need to take care of themselves."

At least half of her first-time buyers want to seek a concealed-carry permit, but Ms. Cleland said she sometimes advises against it. She steers some customers, especially the elderly, to nonlethal options such as Taser devices because the devices can be more accurate and easier to operate than firearms.

"I had a 76-year-old man come in and say, 'Is that a shotgun? I'd like to buy it,'•" Ms. Cleland said. "He didn't walk out with a shotgun."

Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said he doesn't believe that the recent events represent a newfound sense of vigilante justice. He said those interested in picking up a firearm should practice enough to become experts in safe handling of the weapon first.

"As long as they are responsible," he said. "And they have to be prepared to use it. That other person is probably going to fire."

Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said she was worried by the recent news of the shop owners and homeowner who shot suspects because the confrontations may represent the effects of the economic downturn in the community.

"I've never seen this before in my career," she said. "Criminals are getting more brazen and the times have made criminals out of people that perhaps might not have been criminals before. Of course people want to protect themselves. They have a right to do that. And perhaps people are becoming more aggressive and proactive in doing that."

Sedric Joplin, a prison guard who confronted three intruders in his North Toledo home with gunfire last month, killing one and injuring another, was not indicted by a grand jury.

Charges have not been filed against either of the shop clerks, although both cases could reach a grand jury as early as this week.

Toledo police said a would-be robber entered Bengals Food Mart, 2625 Airport Hwy., about 10:15 a.m. March 14, wearing a wig and brandishing a handgun. A clerk at the store pulled out a gun and shot him near the store entrance, police said.

Just two days earlier, Eric Bilger, the co-owner of Allied Music of Ohio, 2027 South Byrne Rd., shot and wounded a man after he allegedly tried to rob that store.

Many local carryout owners have long recognized the need to arm themselves for protection, said Nabil Shaheen, president of the Midwest Retailers Association.

Although he sold his three convenience stores in South Toledo and retired last year, Mr. Shaheen hasn't stopped carrying a handgun since 2004. He has been robbed at gunpoint at least three times in his career and recalls his "world turned upside down" in those moments. "The problem is, are they going to leave you alive? That's why most of the guys carry them," Mr. Shaheen said. "You never know nowadays."

Carryout owners and staff became even more alert after the killing of Matthew Dugan, a clerk at the former BP gas station at Dorr Street and Secor Road. Authorities said he handed over the cash, turned his back, and was fatally shot during an August, 2008, robbery.

"It put us on the edge," Joe Abdouni, 47, owner of Joe's Quick Stop in South Toledo, said of Mr. Dugan's murder. "They used to come in to rob you. Now, it's to kill and to rob."

Almost two decades ago, Mr. Abdouni used gunfire to chase an armed robber out of his former carryout on McCord Road. Now, he has a window of shatter-proof glass between the customers and his staff, necklaces with emergency buttons for his employees, firearms scattered behind the counter, and a handgun under his shirt.

Mr. Abdouni said he wouldn't hesitate to use deadly force if his life depended on it.

"A gun is to stop a robber, not kill him. But if it has to be, so be it," Mr. Abdouni said. "Better him six feet under than me."

Carryout owners aren't the only ones interested in concealed weapons for self-defense.

Dean Martin decided to keep a pistol in his pocket for protection when he started to feel the effects of his degenerative spinal disorder last year. "I've had some health problems," he said, patting the piece hidden in his inside coat pocket. "I'm not going to be fighting anyone like I used to."

Mr. Martin, 61, of Millbury, peered behind the glass at the handgun selection recently at Cleland's beside his longtime friend, Ron Saville, 61, of Moline.

"It just makes me feel more secure with the economy and everything that's all screwed up," Mr. Saville said. "You never know what's going to happen to you."

Contact Bridget Tharp at:

btharp@theblade.com

or 419-724-6086.



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