By ALLEY COWGILL
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
It’s midnight. There’s a stillness in the air that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. Your senses are heightened as the gravel beneath your feet crackle as you near your car. The smell of beer and tequila invade your nose – too close for comfort. There’s someone behind you, close enough to touch. Your steps quicken; theirs mimics yours. Their hand captures your arm. Tight. Too tight for a simple inquiry of directions then . . . black; the epitome of emptiness.
Similar stories fill the room of Barrels and Bullets Gun store on South Padre Island. The owners Bob and Betty Vanzant will tell you that we should not live in fear. We live in the greatest state in the greatest nation, and we can be prepared to protect ourselves from ‘those’ situations.
The Vanzants opened their doors in 2008, and haven’t regretted the decision since. Bob Vanzant takes pride in the relationships he and his wife have built, “the greatest joy is the friendships we’ve built, and the relief we’ve seen when people experience a relief from fear, the confidence they gain in realizing they can do something to protect themselves.”
Bob Vanzant explained why he opened a gun shop, “ Every five years you have to go and get your concealed carry license renewed, and when I went to get mine I realized that the teachers weren’t doing a very good job. There was something lacking, and I had a lot of time on my hands. So I told Betty that I was going to get an instructor license.”
“I began teaching classes once every 2-3 weeks. Then I realized that the only gun stores were in Brownsville and Harlingen. So we opened one up on the Island,” he said. Vanzant confessed, “It’s really a hobby that got out of hand but I really enjoy it. If you can find something fun and make money – do it!”
Barrels and Bullets is best known for their concealed carry class, emphasizing home defense and personal protection. Other classes such as Hunter Safety are important, as well. Any hunter born after 1971 is required to take a hunter safety course which focuses on responsibility, ethics and integrity.
Vanzant explained the classes are an important part of the business. “Anyone can sell guns. There’s not enough mark up to remain in business just being a gun store. It’s the service, the education process, which makes the business. There are a lot of gun stores, but we get people from McAllen, Raymondville, even Corpus Christi,” Vanzant said.
“We focus on the service after sale and the relationship. We even have some jewelry for sale as kind of a guilt purchase if a husband comes in to buy a gun or take a class he can get his wife something shiny, too!” he said.
Vanzant shared his business philosophy, “providing quality products and standing behind them, taking care of the customers and having a good time! If I’m not having a good time doing it then I’m not going to do it!”
The Vanzants are not only the owners but also the only employees. They team up and build lifelong friendships with their customers. However, it’s not always a happily-ever-after story. “The stories, the stories we hear from clients about criminal activities committed against family members and individuals who are living in fear are devastating,” he explained.
“We get the opportunity to change people’s lives by teaching and explaining to people that the gun laws are for our protection, when the police or help are a long way off. We try to help them understand that they do not have to be a victim,” he said.
“A lot of our training is awareness. Not just grab a gun and use it. Muscle memory and awareness of your surroundings will keep you alive in a confrontational situation,” he said.
Vanzant expressed great passion in the service they provide. “It is not about getting into a gun fight. It’s an educational process so you don’t have to live in fear. It’s about being able to take care of yourself and your loved ones,” he stressed.
However, in light of recent tragedies, gun control is on the rise. Vanzant shared how he deals with controversial encounters. “We try to educate them. Most people do not realize that the bad guys are not getting guns from a gun store, they are getting them from the black market.”
He further expanded, “ I can put a gun in the middle of the street but it’s not going to kill someone. It’s the person who picks it up that is going to do the right or wrong thing. A gun is a tool, similar to a knife. You’re not going to let your child get to a knife without teaching them what it is and how to use it. A gun is the same thing. It’s a tool,” he said.
Vanzant explained the logistics, “background checks are happening. Every time a gun is bought I have to run a federal background check. If I receive a proceed verification then they can leave. If I get a denial then they cannot buy the gun,” he said. “I’ve only had one denial since we’ve opened.”
The Vanzants are very active in the local community. Betty has served on the Board of Directors of the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce and various committees. The active couple also gives back to the community through various local groups and organizations, as well as local churches.
The Vanzants offer advice to other entrepreneurs, “ Remember making money is not the important thing. Get involved in something you love!” Barrels and Bullets Gun Store is opened Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m.
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