Serving an 'underserved' community
If you have ever walked around Spring Garden Street in the past two years, there is a small store that may have caught your attention. An orange sign, which says “Firearms Training,” is the way which José D. Morales announces his services to the city.
Morales is a certified firearms instructor and the owner of Philly Firearms Academy, where for the last two years he’s been teaching Philadelphians about gun safety. He has more than 20 years of experience in gun safety training.
"I grew up in New York, probably one of the most anti-gun cities, where miraculously my mother was able to get a gun because she was a single mother,” said Morales. "I’ve never been afraid of guns. I went into the military and when out of the military one of the things I did was hear about people who wanted to go shooting so I what I said to them was ‘Hey, if you want shooting, no problem, I will take you to the range. But you have to sit with me, we have to go over safety —how to handle a gun properly— before even taking you to the range to shoot.”
A few years ago he found out that the National Rifle Association (NRA) offers certifications for gun safety. He became certified to use different types of firearms. And that’s how his hobby eventually became a profession.
"I’ve been doing this for over 20 years unofficially, I opened my LLC in 2011, where I trained all over Philadelphia and I opened an actual physical location two years ago,” he said.
To him it’s a matter of educating the population in gun safety and respect.
"The problem is guns are being used in crimes but those guns come from homes and cars where they are stolen and by taking a class we will teach you how to secure your gun properly. That glove compartment is not a gun compartment,” Morales said. "The root cause is ignorance but the result is violence and that’s what a lot of people don’t understand and what the politicians in Philadelphia don’t realize.”
For that reason, when the North Philly activist and hip hop artist, Maj Toure, proposed to him to organize the first Philadelphia Solutionary License to Carry Drive event, he said "yes."
"I can’t take credit for that. It was Maj’s idea,” he said. "Maj actually walked into my shop about a year ago. We just started to talk, he was looking for information and a casual conversation became an hour plus conversation. He understood what responsible gun ownership was. He went his way and I continued teaching. […] He approached me about two months ago with this idea. The idea is to empower and teach a segment of the population that is ignored. And I know they are ignored because I have a fired guns academy across the street from the busiest gun permit unit in Pennsylvania.”
The event, Black Guns Matter, will take place Saturday May 21, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Philly Firearms Academy (933 Spring Garden St.)
"The event is going to be focused on education,” said Morales. "Maj has a huge following, which is also an underserved population, underserved in terms of education and training. But is a population that is interested in firing guns and getting a license to carry.”
Black Guns Matter will offer workshops on firearm safety and safe gun handling. It will also talk about firearm owners rights and responsibilities and a lawyer will give information on firearm legal issues.
"Philadelphia doesn’t require formal training and Pennsylvania doesn’t require a formal training,” he said. "I think it is the responsibility of the firearm owner and educator to be more responsible to promote training and to promote education.”
The event will also offer information and assistance with filling out paperwork for a license to carry.
"If you are thinking about buying a gun, owning a gun or in the future potentially buying one or owning one, get a license to carry,” said Morales. "You don’t have to carry. It’s like getting a driver license, you don’t have to own a car. But you have the option to buy one if you want to. Now, the moment that you decide to own a firearm and you’ve made the commitment to that, the moment that you decided mentally is the moment that you start safety training. Even before you buy the gun.”
According to the organizers, the conversation will culminate in a panel discussion with experts on firearm training and state firearms laws.