Gun-savvy cruiser rarely packs one

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Here are his tips on how to avoid having to use a firearm and how to use one if you have to

John Price has thought a lot about how to defend himself while cruising. A retired colonel and chaplain in the Army National Guard, the Houston resident has been an Episcopal priest for 44 years, is now a chaplain for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and has cruised for much of his adult life.

Price's shooting earned him the Top Gun award in the Houston FBI Citizen's Academy.

Soundings caught up with the reverend/colonel in mid-June while he was in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, switching out crews midway through a two-week sailing charter in the USVI and BVI on a 45-foot Jeanneau.

“I grew up in a gun culture,” says the 70-year-old Corpus Christi, Texas, native. His father was a World War I Army engineer who later explored for oil in the Gulf of Mexico out of Tampico on Mexico’s east coast. His dad carried a .45-caliber Army surplus revolver, an antique Price keeps as a showpiece.

Price is licensed in Texas to carry a concealed weapon. “I don’t carry it,” he says.

He stays out of areas he doesn’t have to be in where he might have to use it. That is the way he cruises, as well. “There are places I won’t go because of the local situation,” he says.

Price has cruised much of the Caribbean and still finds the USVI and BVI very safe for cruising. He steers clear of the Windward Islands, where reports of attacks on cruisers have increased in recent years. “I won’t go there anymore,” he says.

He sees a connection between crimes against boaters and the level of “poverty and hopelessness and desperation” in a region. “Clearly, where there’s the most grinding poverty — in a place like Somalia — is where you see the most piracy,” he says.

Violent crime is on the rise in Mexico, where drug smuggling is rampant. “The cartels are bringing in drugs, and you can get caught between rival gangs,” he says. “It’s like Chicago in the 1920s.” Only worse. “I wouldn’t go to Mexico without an Uzi,” he says, which means he won’t go at all. He advises cruisers to educate themselves in the risks of particular areas.

Price says skippers must think seriously about how to responsibly defend themselves, their guests and crew when they are on their boats. Whether he carries a firearm depends on the risks of cruising a particular area, whether those risks warrant carrying a firearm, and whether countries on the itinerary allow yachtsmen to bring firearms into their territorial waters. At a minimum, countries usually require skippers to declare firearms to customs officers and either secure them on board in a gun cabinet under a customs seal or turn them over to customs until their departure.

In a July Soundings story, Walter and Joann Dethier of Warren, Conn., told how repo agents twice tried to motor away with their Magnum 40 Sport Cruiser, the first time while the couple were below sleeping at a dock in Key Largo, Fla. The repo team had the wrong boat. Walter Dethier says the two incidents persuaded him to sleep on his boat with a semiautomatic rifle lying next to him.

Price believes there are better firearms for boaters who choose to carry them. His main complaint with the semiautomatic rifle is that a bullet can sink your boat or a neighbor’s boat, and injure other people nearby. “I don’t want to have my boat in his marina,” Price says.

If necessary, Price would carry a pump 12-gauge shotgun with a short 18-inch barrel on the boat. “The sound alone made chambering a shell will make the bad guys run away,” he says. He says the weapon is also good for home defense. He recommends heavy birdshot, not double-ought buckshot, in close quarters like a marina to prevent collateral damage to your boat and other boats nearby.

Price says rushing an intruder is a bad idea. He would drop back to a defensive position and wait, discharge a load of bird shot into a couch he didn’t mind losing to scare the unwelcome visitor, and quickly chamber another round. “He’ll run,” Price says.

“Too many people think a pistol is the right weapon for home defense,” he says. “If your door is smashed open, your adrenalin is going to be raging, and you won’t be able to fire accurately … The only pistol to use is an unusual one, the ‘Judge’s Special.’ It is a revolver with an unusual cylinder which holds .410-gauge shotgun shells or a .45 caliber bullet. The 4-inch barrel makes it desirable in short range, and many judges keep it under their robes in court on the occasion of someone going berserk,” Price wrote in a letter to Soundings.

He advises practicing with any gun before taking it aboard. “You don’t want to be learning as the guy is coming down the steps,” he says.

Price cautions boaters to be wary of hysteria after all the media reports about piracy in Somalia. There is a rising tide of piracy in some regions but certainly not everywhere. Price tells of a dramatic uptick in home invasions in Houston recently that put many homeowners on edge. Closer analysis revealed that most of the home invasions were gang-related — one gang attacking another to steal caches of drugs and money — or attacks on Asian-Americans, who were reputed to keep caches of cash in their home. Typical homeowners were not targets.

While he does think seriously about self-defense and arms himself accordingly, simply being prudent and staying out of harm’s way has paid off for Price. “I’ve never shot a gun in anger,” he says.

This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue.