Trigger Appi

Originally Posted on The Yale Herald - Medium via UWIRE

When I knocked on the door of Angelo Appi’s light blue split-level, the 76-year-old greeted me by name with a warm handshake. We walked up the stairs and into the dining room, past collections of roughly 50 vintage toy guns and 150 World War II model airplanes. His dining room windows are adorned with sheer pink curtains, shooting targets, and sight aids suspended from wooden hangers. The table is covered with a plastic tablecloth, and around it are four brown-leather office chairs. It’s at this table that Appi teaches his classes. He is the sole operator of Connecticut Firearms Safety, LLC, a private gun safety school based in his home in the quiet suburb of North Haven. He claims to be the “most distinguished marksman in Connecticut.”

Angelo Appi’s dining room

He teaches his pistol permit class to a maximum of three students. He gives each student a custom 25-page curriculum in a black binder, puts a revolver on the table, and begins.

Appi is one of dozens of private instructors who teach pistol permit safety courses. An individual is required to take one of these courses in order to obtain a pistol permit from local law enforcement, which allows them to carry a handgun in the state of Connecticut. The minimum requirement by law is the NRA’s Basic Pistol Course. This course requires five hours of instruction, which includes coaching on loading, unloading, cleaning, safety storage, and live firing. Appi’s course includes three additional hours of class time, culminating in a total of eight hours of instruction.

The APPI method distinguishes itself from the NRA’s Basic Pistol Course by teaching two subjects in detail: marksmanship and the use of deadly force. For the marksmanship component, APPI serves as an offbeat acronym for the Application of Positive Pressure Improves trigger control. The second fold of the APPI Method concerns the use of deadly force. Connecticut General Statute 53a-19 makes legal the use of deadly force if an individual has established a “reasonable belief” that they are being threatened with great bodily harm or deadly force, themself. 53a-19 does not define “reasonable belief,” so Appi has taken it upon himself to do so with his own name. Appi instructs his students to think through four “deadly” criteria when they find themselves standing, gun loaded and aimed: Armed, Proximity, Physically able and Intent. The NRA course does not provide any such instruction, not even covering the use of deadly force.

“Pistol Permit” page on CT-firearms-safety.com

The homepage of CT-Firearms-Safety.com features a headline in bold red text: “MY PISTOL SAFETY CLASS IS FREE.” Below, a condition appears in blue: “If you can locate a State or NRA certified instructor with credentials superior to those I have listed below with documented proof of his or her credentials and accomplishments.” The assumption is, of course, that there is no state or NRA-certified instructor whose credentials even compare. The class costs $130.

The neighbors in Appi’s cul-de-sac, Cricket Court, are unbothered by his home business. This is mostly because no loaded firearms are handled in Appi’s dining-classroom. When Appi’s pistol permit students shoot live rounds — a mandatory requirement for the state certification — they leave the classroom for the Branford Gun Club.

Appi drove me to the Branford Gun Club in his blue Nissan sedan. His adult son has put stickers on the back window: one for Trump, one for Pepe’s Pizza. On the passenger side, Appi has covered a dent with a set of bullet hole stickers. “Sometimes people take a second look,” he laughed.

The Branford Gun Club is composed of three pre-fabricated yellow buildings situated around a gravel parking lot and an outdoor shooting range, littered with the orange carcasses of shattered clay birds. The member demographic is unsurprising: mostly white, middle-aged male NRA members, many of them veterans. Appi knows them all. The largest building is the clubhouse, a hyper-masculine den with a pool table, a bar, and a persistent odor of cigarette smoke, although the club has just banned smoking. The second building is for storage, and the third is a bare indoor range. This third building smells like gunsmoke. Appi has adorned each shooting station with a number, the iron kind you would normally drill onto the front of your house to signify the address. Appi has covered the Branford Gun Club in safety posters, warning members to be careful, “vigilant.” This work is a point of pride for Appi. He recounted how his friends have questioned why he would put in so much unnecessary work: “You think people are going to read the signs?” Appi’s reply: “If they want to be safe, they will.”

Appi grew up in the Fair Haven neighborhood of New Haven in the 1940s. He remembers walking from his home to the Pequot Theater on Grand Avenue to watch the Saturday matinee Westerns. He was fascinated by cowboy adventure stories because “there wasn’t that much else to do.” He played obsessively with toy cap guns before begging his father for a BB gun. In high school, he got a 22-caliber rifle and joined the Wilbur Cross High School rifle team, and at age 17, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps “to see if [he] was tough enough.”

Appi in his North Haven home

In the Marines, Appi learned that he was not only tough enough, but that he was a talented marksman and, by his own account, the best shooter in his class. In 1964, he returned to New Haven and joined the police department. He told me that he joined the force after witnessing a woman’s assault and murder in New York. He had watched and done nothing. He said he wanted to become a police officer to make up for it, “to make a difference.” As an officer doing car patrols, Appi passed out candy to kids. They called him “Happy.”

Today, “Happy” is retired. Connecticut Firearms Safety is a supplement to his pension. He spends most of his time doing another kind of shooting: wildlife photography. He describes his practice as “sub-amateur.” When his knees are healthy, he walks through the woods for upwards of two hours a day, looking for birds and deer. He knows the deer families at East Rock Park well. He cuts apples and feeds the deer by hand. His greatest dream is to photograph an owl. There’s a stark contrast between the Appi who shoots photos and the Appi who shoots guns. Gun Appi “will go one on one with anybody.” Photo Appi is so gentle that a doe once put her snout inside the pocket of his pants.

Appi shared stories about his legacy among New Haven police. He was shopping in a dollar store in North Haven when he heard a man yell across the store, “Angelo Appi: Master Sniper!” Appi revealed that the man was another retired police officer, and added with a coy smile, “He thinks I’m the best shot in the world.” Another time, a young married couple, both officers in New Haven, approached Appi at the Branford Gun Club and asked, “Are you Angelo Appi?”

Appi said his best shot was when his colleague, a Detective Lou, dared him to shoot a soda can with a handgun at a fifty yard distance. As the story goes, he hit the can, not just once, but twice, knocking it down and then stopping its roll. Detective Lou’s jaw dropped. But Appi kept his cool. He told me, “I never let people know what I’m thinking . . . unless I’m talking to you.” At this point, we had been together for less than three hours.

In 1966, when Appi was a firearms and tactical instructor at the New Haven Police Academy, he started participating in marksmanship competitions. Appi competed until 1993. He has two distinguished badges, the highest award authorized by the U.S. government for excellence in marksmanship competition. He says these records prove he is “the most distinguished shooter in Connecticut.” The Civilian Marksmanship Program’s Club and Competition Tracker keeps a record of shooters with distinguished badges. Currently, the list features the names of 966 shooters with distinguishment equal to or greater than Appi’s.

Appi in front of a safety sign he installed at the Branford Gun Club

Since 2004, Appi has launched a fifteen-year long campaign against North Haven public schools’ lack of adequate security. In 2007, Appi wrote a series of impassioned letters to then-Superintendent of Schools Sara-Jane Querfeld, proposing the assignment of a North Haven police officer to every elementary and middle school in the district. The school district has a full time police officer stationed at North Haven High, but Appi demands more. In his letters, he implores, “Who is protecting the children in the other five schools?” Appi’s letter is graphic, describing the wake of a school shooting: “broken and mutilated bodies of numerous children lying in their own pools of blood and in the blood of their classmates.” Querfeld never responded to Appi’s suggestions.

On Dec. 14, 2012, 20 children were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., just 45 minutes away from Appi’s home. In October 2013, Appi pushed the issue by calling a community meeting at the North Haven American Legion. He held a sign that said, “Sandy Hook: Is North Haven next? Your children’s lives are in jeopardy.” Just before the meeting, Appi’s son, Angelo Appi, Jr., was arrested for a breach of peace after various efforts to highlight what he perceives as the security failures of his daughter’s East Haven middle school: he slipped through the school’s open front doors and threatened to bring a toy gun into the school on Facebook. Appi, Sr. defends his son and has spoken about the same issues at numerous school board meetings as recently as June 2017. The school board has not changed their policies.

Appi has now been teaching for 28 years, having retired from the police force in 1991. He’s motivated by the testimonials he receives from students, and his website has an entire section dedicated to them. They’ve been copied and pasted directly from emails in the original fonts. He quoted one to me, “I also noticed you have a cheerful view of life tucked-in behind that military demeanor.” Appi has no plans to stop teaching. “I’m doing pretty good,” he said.

Correction: Angelo Appi did not actually witness the assault and murder of a woman in New York in 1964, but instead, only heard about the incident.


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