Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Though Joe Sellmer always had a long-term goal to open up a gun shop, it was his wife, Terry, who urged him to do it. Six years ago, when she was working for the Avon Police Department, civilians frequently came into the station requesting information on where to buy a gun and get training to use it.
“Back then, Indianapolis was behind the curve in the gun market compared to a lot of cities,” Sellmer says. In May 2014, he opened Parabellum Firearms & Indoor Range in Avon — a shop that not only rents and sells guns but also has 14 shooting stalls that are 25 yards long. In addition, Parabellum offers both beginner and developmental classes, including Intro to Firearms, Gun Handling 101, Defensive Pistol, Ladies Guided Shoot, Ladies Developmental Shooting, Shotgun, Self-Defense and classes for kids (ages 10 and up).
Though their clientele consists of slightly more males than females, the most popular classes are those that are geared toward women.
“Since we opened three years ago, we’ve introduced 4,000 women to shooting firearms,” says Sellmer, observing that the Friday night classes are particularly popular with the ladies.
“Women come in and take a class with their girlfriends, then go out for margaritas afterwards,” says Sellmer, adding that women typically make better students because they listen intently and are not focused on their egos.
“We have several couples who incorporate the range into their date night,” Sellmer says. “In fact, we’re thinking of putting together a special package that includes both a lane and a dinner reservation.”
People are initially drawn to the range for multiple reasons. Some wish to learn how to operate a firearm because they live in a bad neighborhood or work late at night. Others want a gun in the house in the event of a home invasion.
Sellmer had an elderly woman come into the shop and tell him that she keeps a pistol beneath empty Kleenex boxes in every room of her house.
“No one’s going to think twice about an old lady having tissues,” she said. “This way I have protection no matter what room I’m in.”
A good portion of Sellmer’s students are people who are timid around guns and want to conquer that fear.
“Our main goal during your first time out is to make you feel comfortable and get you past that fear,” Sellmer says.
Parabellum differs from other ranges in that they offer advanced classes, including low-light shooting, shooting and moving and engaging in multiple adversaries. They also have a class for home defense.
Most classes intermix safety instruction with gun handling. After introducing the “four basics”— grip, stance, posture and trigger control — students go out to the range to work on marksmanship using laser pistols and plastic mockups.
Parabellum offers self-defense gun-oriented classes as well as a more physical self-defense class, which covers situational awareness, date rape and how to handle aggressive personalities. Students also learn how to react if they are grabbed while standing up and what to do if they are pinned down.
In addition to classes, Parabellum hosts several competitions a year. A typical competition consists of high-round count drills where competitors shoot 92-96 rounds, broken down into three stages each (30-32 shots per stage). Each competition starts out differently. Some begin with holster draw, others with the competitor’s back to the target or with the gun on the table.
Competitors are expected to shoot weak-handed and strong-handed. Some require participants to move. Other times, they’re presented with a shoot or no-shoot scenario to simulate a hostage situation.
“We put up painted targets, and if you accidentally shoot a no-shoot target, you lose points for that round,” Sellmer says. “We have young teens who have been at it for years and can now beat their parents in competitions.”
Nick McInnes, 14, started shooting at Parabellum on opening day.
“As a junior competitive shooter, it’s nice to be able to shoot year-round so I can work on my accuracy and safe gun handling skills,” McInnes says. “This keeps me ready for match season.”
Several years ago, Rachel Mazzio, 13, attended a newbie class and enjoyed it so much that her mother, Amy, decided to join her. Now, it’s something they do together.
“Rachel wasn’t a fan the first time she fired a gun, but she quickly changed her mind,” her mom says.
The change in attitude is something Sellmer has seen many times. He tells the story of two 19-year old cousins who came in because their grandparents purchased them private lessons.
“When those girls first arrived, they were scared to death to touch a pistol, but by the end of the day, they were saying, ‘We’ll get Grandpa to buy us guns. We just have to figure out what we want!’”
Their concern was replaced with confidence. Their apprehension replaced by excitement. Their dread replaced by determination. It’s a pretty typical response, according to Sellmer.
“After getting some instruction and gun handling experience, a lot of folks say, ‘Huh, that wasn’t so bad,’ or ‘Hey, that was a lot easier than I thought,’” Sellmer says.
The phrase heard most frequently?
“Wow, that was fun!”
Parabellum Firearms & Indoor Range is located at 8217 Kingston St., behind Godby Furniture. For more information, visit parabellumfirearms.com or e-mail Parabellum.firstname.lastname@example.org.