Teaching safety through respect
Hope — Mike Mank is a teacher. After leaving a 14-year career in law enforcement about a decade ago, Mank has devoted his life to teaching a plethora of courses all set against the backdrop of encouraging safety. He presently teaches driver education to students and adults, motorcycle safety and — most recently — gun safety.
The afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 16, a passerby might have seen a group assembled in a sunny, peaceful field on High Street in Hope. Now and again the sound of gunfire pierced the crisp afternoon and the residual smell of gun power lingered momentarily in the air.
While Mank and his staff of certified instructors, including two devoted entirely to firearms instruction, teach beginner gun safety courses, the group of students gathered at Mank's gun range that day were not amateurs. Among Mank's offerings — home safety, hunting safety, and soon a non-lethal weapons course — is the offering of certification for those wishing to obtain a concealed carry permit, the goal of the group assembled in Hope for a day-long course.
Mank explained that his gun safety courses involve a combination of classroom work and hands-on gun range experience. On Sept. 16, the group made the pilgrimage to Hope after a morning devoted to course work at Mank's building on Route 90 in Rockland. Just as the group, six men and a woman, haled from various experience levels, they also had a variety of reasons for desiring a concealed carry permit.
A concealed carry permit allows a qualified gun owner to possess a weapon concealed from sight. Mank said Maine has a law that a gun can be carried openly if it is visible from three sides. He explained that most people who want to — or do — carry a concealed weapon do so for "self-protection and public protection."
"It's not about deception, it's not about being cool, and it's not about having the upper hand on someone," Mank explained, emphasizing that concealed weapons are about discrete personal protection.
"If they're here for the wrong reasons, I don't cater to them," Mank said.
Tom Hopkins of Union is a veteran and has had a concealed carry permit for a decade. He elected to accompany his wife Dusty to the course that Sunday. Tom Hopkins explained that Mank is one of few who offer the course, and the timing — one day, on the weekend — fit in well with his and Dusty's work schedule.
"I was always anti-gun," Dusty Hopkins explained. "And I don't think I'm going to be the type of person who has [a gun] strapped to my side everywhere I go."
She added taking the course was a way to empower herself to protect her young son if need be.
Joe Whitaker of Thomaston said he has been shooting for 26 years. He has wanted to obtain a concealed carry permit but couldn't find a course until he learned about Mank's program.
Tom Hopkins and Joe Whitaker said they both learned about respecting and safely handling firearms as boys. Both said such education has informed their desire to handle firearms in a safe, knowledgeable and respectful manner.
"You don't have that temptation when you know what [a gun] is," Whitaker explained.
Mank's years in law enforcement have rendered him a good judge of character, he said. His background lends itself to the blend of patience, authority and knowledge germane to teaching people to do dangerous things — driving a motor vehicle or motorcycle, hunting, shooting — a lot more safely.
"I'm very old school, very hands-on, I guess I'm really traditional," Mank said of his teaching style in general.
His driver education program is one of the few that offers students the ability to obtain their driving permit after a five-week intensive course, others are much longer, he explained. His teaching philosophy applies to all aspects of his instruction.
"I give respect to get respect," he explained.
After attending a firearms course taught by a friend near Augusta, Mank said he was "intrigued" by the teaching aspect. He mentioned his interest in getting certified to teach firearm safety and his friend was highly supportive. Mank enlisted his son-in-law Levi Esancy and friend Clifton Ames to take the NRA instructor certification with him. The men made the journey to New Hampshire and passed the five-day course, obtaining National NRA teaching certification. Ames and Esancy both work alongside Mank as equals and partners in his gun safety course offerings.
Mank said he hopes to pursue a higher level of certification — allowing him to teach the teachers — in the near future.
Although the students in the concealed carry course were educated in firearm safety and use, Mank said his beginner course has provided him with the challenges and rewards of working with novice shooters.
Mank recalled a recent course where a woman in her 70s brought a brand-new gun, still in the packaging, to the class. He said he has seen more interest from women wanting to learn about the safe use of a firearm, and more interest from older citizens looking to protect themselves and their homes. Mank has worked with victims of violent crime and those who have experienced crime in their immediate family. He explained that everyone has a different reason for taking his course — and those reasons are important.
"I ask every student what they are doing here," he said. "I ask 'what are you guys thinking?'"
Mank said he enjoys working with beginners, he and his instructors have the opportunity to teach them correct, safe and legal gun handling out of the gate.
"I like novice people, they ask good, genuine questions," he said.
He explained that an ego can be challenging when teaching gun safety.
"An ego is unsafe," he noted.
He said he never presents the use of deadly force as a positive thing.
"It's to protect yourself, and we believe in that, it's not to show off," he explained of gun ownership."Ignorance is not educating yourself to what you're doing and that's what gives firearms a really bad name."
In addition to teaching courses, Mank offers private lessons and home security courses. Additionally, he has a bonding license, which allows him to do private security. Mank credits his wife of 24 years, Melissa, as a huge inspiration in his diverse pursuits. She, too, is a certified motorcycle instructor at Motorcycles in Motion.
"I would see opportunities and just do it," Mank said. "[Melissa and I] have never held each other back, she doesn't say 'no,' she says 'if you want it, go get it,' we taught our kids that way, too."
Part of Mank's instruction deals with educating gun owners on how to teach awareness in their homes and to their families.
"It's getting people into positions to be safe, knowing your home and who's coming in and out. We teach those things," he said. "If you're educating yourself, educate your family."
Mank has recently delved into firearm sales as well, he obtained a Federal Firearms License and said he is selling an average of about a half-dozen guns each week. He works to the letter of the law — conducting federal background checks and working closely with his ATF agent.
"It's not like Uncle Henry's," he said.
Although Mank and his instructors put safety at the forefront, Mank said he tries to work with people to make them comfortable using their guns. The chance of a firearm-related accident is 70 percent for those who have a gun and haven't been properly trained. Still, a gun safety class is entirely optional for those wishing to possess a firearm, he said.
Mank recalled students who have posed greater-than-average challenges, he said. Protocols, such as no live ammo in the classroom and strict control of where, when and how students are able to handle their guns during his course, adds a system of checks and balances that ensures safety. He always has multiple instructors present and multiple spotters — gun-savvy people he has hired — on hand for assistance.
"I have yet to have a student leave my class and tell me they haven't gotten something out of it," he noted.
Mank offers monthly gun safety courses; he can be reached at 542-6173 for further information.
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.