The lowercase i in “Hire” is toppled over like a felled human form, with blood pooling around the dot.“It’s politically incorrect,” Colandro says, “and people like that.” He says that since he adopted the logo nearly four years ago, hundreds of people have called because they saw the truck; half of them have become clients, doubling his business. He says his website, gunforhire.com, has received 30,000, um, hits.
Recently, the 6-foot-2-inch, 290-pound instructor was standing beside his truck outside the Bullet Hole, a Belleville shooting range and gun shop where he teaches the safe use of firearms. A middle-aged man walking by noticed the truck. “Gun for hire?” the man joked. “I got someone you can knock off.” “We don’t do wet work,” responded Colandro with a sly smile—using the Mob term for assassination.Colandro, 47, is no wise guy, but he likes to cultivate a provocative image while staunchly promoting responsible and law-abiding gun use. “A lot of people buy firearms, and they have no knowledge of how to use them,” says Sergeant Charles Padula of the Belleville Police Department, who has known Colandro since junior high school and is now his partner in teaching state certification classes for security guards. “Anthony trains people in the proper way to handle, store, and maintain firearms.” Tony Wieners, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association and a veteran Belleville police officer who has known Colandro since he was a teen, says, “I know his character, and he’s always been a gentleman and always respectful to law enforcement.” Wieners says that when he hears of an accidental shooting, he wishes that Colandro had trained the person involved.Most of Colandro’s clients hire him out of a desire to protect themselves against a potential home invader. But a number of them start off a bit trigger-happy.
“Almost everybody says the same thing at first: ‘Oh, I would just shoot them,’” Colandro says. “But ignorance of the law is no excuse. It’s very, very important that they know when you can and cannot use deadly force.” Pulling the trigger, Colandro emphasizes, must be the last resort. New Jersey law permits a licensed gun owner to shoot an intruder only under narrowly defined circumstances. The intruder must be on the premises illegally. You can shoot only if the intruder continues to threaten after being warned or if you have a reasonable belief that you or others in the home are in clear and imminent danger.
To this Colandro adds another caveat: no warning shots. “You’re liable for every bullet that exits the muzzle of that gun, and if that warning shot goes through a Sheetrock wall and kills an innocent bystander, now you’re in more trouble.”
For that reason, Colandro recommends hollow-point bullets, which mushroom on contact. (Hollow-points cause more tissue damage but are less likely to go through walls.) Aim at the middle of the torso, not at the head, which presents too small a target. Speaking of small targets, if the intruder is carrying a weapon, don’t even think about trying to shoot it out of his hand.
“That’s strictly Hollywood stuff,” Colandro says.
If you do kill or wound an intruder, Colandro says, be prepared for your life to be turned upside down. Your friends and neighbors will most likely turn against you. Your legal predicament will be messy and expensive. And even if you acted within your rights, the psychological consequences are severe.
Colandro calls these “the mark of Cain, where someone who’s killed another human being thinks everyone can tell that just by looking at him. Using deadly force has to be a last-ditch effort because, whatever happens, they’re gonna carry it with them for the rest of their life.
”It’s a Sunday afternoon and the Bullet Hole is bustling. The retail shop up front bristles with pistols, rifles, and shotguns in glass cases and wall racks, alongside accessories such as laser aiming systems, trigger locks, and gun safes. The mounted heads of buffalo, bears, and deer loom as customers with gun bags and rolled-up targets in hand peruse the merchandise, chat about current events, and sip coffee while waiting their turn to shoot in the ten-port indoor range in back.Standing in a corner of the shop, Colandro is working with Steven, an advanced pupil, and his wife, Miriam, who is receiving her first lesson. (The fortyish couple did not want their last name or hometown mentioned in this article.) Colandro lays out the three fundamental rules of gun safety: Never point a firearm at another person except in self-defense; keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire; and treat all guns as if they’re loaded.
Colandro is not above playing to the fears that lead clients like Steven and Miriam to him. He mentions two recent home invasions in neighboring Nutley and also talks about a Wall Street Journal article about how criminals, deterred by heightened bank and store security, are increasingly targeting private homes.
“They find a house in a suburban area,” Colandro says in a smooth, dispassionate voice. “Three guys go in with masks, smash your front door in, terrorize your whole family, take everything out of the house, and hopefully leave with you guys still intact.”
“Horrible,” says Miriam. “Horrible.”
Like most of Colandro’s students, Steven, a computer consultant, and Miriam, a translator and housewife, are white-collar residents of the North Jersey suburbs. A few years ago, Steven says, he decided to buy a handgun to protect his wife and three children (who now range in age from four to ten) in the event someone ever tried to break into their house when they were at home. Miriam was initially opposed but acquiesced after learning that the couple’s good friends down the street owned a gun. Steven, who had competed on his college rifle team, filed the necessary paperwork and fingerprints for a New Jersey firearms identification card, which is required to purchase any type of gun in the state. (In addition, to buy a handgun requires a separate handgun purchaser’s permit.) The applications were vetted by the New Jersey State Police and the FBI, as well as by the police department of the town where Steven lives. The process took a year to complete. The permits grant Steven the right to keep loaded guns in his home and to carry unloaded guns to and from a target range, provided they are properly secured. (In New Jersey, as compared to many other states, a “concealed carry” permit, required to carry a loaded gun outside the home, is practically impossible for an average citizen to obtain.)
Steven bought a total of four handguns and a twelve-gauge shotgun. He started going to the Bullet Hole to shoot as often as he could. Miriam came along a few times but was overwhelmed by the cacophony.
“It feels like your body is going to explode,” she recalls.
Nonetheless, she felt that if they were going to have guns in the house, she wanted to learn to use them properly.In a corner of the store, Colandro shows Miriam how to hold and aim a gun. He then talks the couple through a scenario in which someone has broken into the house.
First, call 911. Then get your gun, which should be kept in a safe in the master bedroom. (He recommends a weapons safe, sold at the Bullet Hole, which has four large thumb pads on top. It’s simple to unlock in the dark but keeps guns out of the hands of children and burglars.)
Pointing a revolver at the wall, Colandro demonstrates what he calls the vulture stance—shoulders hunched up, arms thrust forward, confronting the intruder.
“Don’t move!” he shouts. “I got a gun! I’ll blow your head off!”
In a crisis, Colandro explains, an authoritative voice and body language are as important as the gun itself. Even if the intruder is standing right in front of you, announce that you have a gun—it might be dark, the intruder could be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and in any case, the warning puts you in a better legal position.
“The best thing you could ever hope for is that the perpetrator breaks and flees,” he says. “Nobody wants to use a firearm.”
If the intruder doesn’t flee, the next step is to bark out commands: “Sit on the ground! Lock your hands behind your head and stay there!”
Startled by Colandro’s booming voice, a few customers turn to look. Colandro tells the couple, “It’s gonna be very hard to [get the intruder to comply], especially if he’s crazed.”
“So just shoot them,” says Steven, a man of medium build with a few days of dirty-blonde stubble.
“No,” Colandro says, with the barest hint of exasperation.
“Why not? They’re in your house. You have every right to.”
“But you’re not in clear and imminent danger,” Colandro says patiently.
“That’s ridiculous,” says Miriam. “If there’s a stranger in my house, I’m gonna have to shoot them.”
“I’m just telling you the law,” Colandro says. “Prosecutor’s gonna say, ‘Why didn’t you hit him with something? Why did you have to use deadly force?’”
Steven is unfazed. “I’m not a lawyer,” he says after the lesson, “but if someone breaks into my home, they’re getting shot. Period.”
Gun for Hire is not Colandro’s primary source of income. For the last ten years he has been co-owner and chief operating officer of Premium Shapes, a Belleville company that manufactures promotional materials for the pharmaceutical industry.
“You go to your doctor’s office,” he says. “The clock says Zoloft, the clipboard says Viagra. I make all that crap.”
He and his wife, Pilar, live in a four-bedroom, split-level house in Morris County with Pilar’s two teenage sons from a previous marriage. Colandro keeps an arsenal of several dozen pistols, shotguns, and rifles in a large safe in the garage and two loaded revolvers in a small safe in the master bedroom closet.
“It doesn’t matter where you go,” he says. “You can buy ten thousand acres in Montana, and some transient can break in and do damage.”
Colandro grew up in Newark’s North Ward, the son of a truck driver and a housewife. He remembers the neighborhood as an idyllic place where everyone got along. His memory of the 1967 riots, which occurred when he was six and brought the National Guard to the streets, is atypical.
“Having tanks and guys like GI Joe in uniform going up and down your block, how could that not be cool?” he says.
By the time he was twelve, though, his family had decamped a few miles north to Belleville to escape the deteriorating neighborhood.In his early twenties, Colandro worked as a manufacturing manager at a defense contractor in Whippany and made a couple of attempts at college. When a fellow student introduced him to shooting, Colandro quickly caught what he calls “the fever” and bought a gun of his own. Before long, he was spending every Saturday at a private range in Passaic County.
Guns were “such a taboo growing up in the inner city,” he says. “Being able to own my own firearms and shoot them—that was really the allure.”Colandro joined the National Rifle Association and began to feel part of a broader community of gun owners.
“We’re not paranoid,” he says. “We walk around in condition yellow. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If you walk around in condition white, it’s akin to having your head up your butt.”
In the early nineties, Colandro attended the Lethal Force Institute in New Hampshire, where he undertook two arduous, 40-hour courses covering topics like basic handgun defense, returning fire while wounded, and hostage retrieval. LFI, run by a part-time Grantham, New Hampshire police officer named Massad Ayoob, is renowned in the gun world for the intensity of its training as well as the emphasis placed on the dire consequences of shooting someone in self defense.
“During lunch,” Colandro says, “he shows autopsy videos.”
While working at the Bullet Hole as a range safety officer, responsible for enforcing safety rules, Colandro offered impromptu advice to shooters and began to give lessons. He soon had a thriving sideline. He estimates that in the last fifteen years he’s taught about 2,500 students. He now employs two other instructors, both former Marines. (Colandro was never drawn to the military himself and wouldn’t have qualified in any case due to a congenital defect in his left femur.)
He also runs NRA safety classes and state certification courses for security guards. Colandro recently rented a 6,000-square-foot space, across the street from the Bullet Hole, in which to hold all his classes.
For the first decade or so, Colandro called his gun business Firearms Training Center, but he was always on the lookout for a catchier name. In 2002 he dreamed up Gun for Hire, but a film production company already owned the domain name. Two years later, he learned that the license on the URL was set to expire. He and Pilar were on vacation in Boston when the expiration date rolled around. He had brought his laptop and insisted they return to their hotel room around 11 pm so he would be ready to pounce at the stroke of midnight, when gunforhire.com became available. A few minutes after midnight, he got an e-mail confirming his bid had been accepted.
“We finally could enjoy our vacation,” says Pilar.
In more than two decades of owning guns, Colandro has never had to use one in self-defense. As far as he knows, none of his students has, either. But a week or so after Miriam’s first lesson, she and Steven were rousted out of bed at 5 am by the blaring of their burglar alarm. They followed the steps Colandro had taught them: They called the police on a cell phone, and Steven retrieved a loaded .38 revolver from the small safe with the rubber thumb pads that Colandro had recommended. He announced from the top of the stairs that he had a gun and was ready to use it.
“I was totally ready to put a bullet in somebody,” he says. “If I turned the corner and they were there, I would shoot. Shoot first and ask questions later.”
The police showed up after a few minutes, and it turned out there was no intruder. It was a false alarm caused by a faulty temperature sensor.“It’s a little scary,” Miriam says. “But what would have been more scary is if we would have had an intruder and we wouldn’t have been able to protect ourselves.”Click here to leave a comment