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Citizens learn about guns from professionals

Residents get lesson in guns from police

Posted: September 22, 2015 - 11:02pm  |  Updated: September 23, 2015 - 9:31am
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Sgt. Daniel Massey marks shots by resident Heather Mobley. Police are offering the one-day class eight times this year.  Valerie Rowell
Valerie Rowell
Sgt. Daniel Massey marks shots by resident Heather Mobley. Police are offering the one-day class eight times this year.

Rose Ayres is scared of firearms, but she lined up on the Columbia County Sheriff's Office firing range Saturday and took aim.

She was one of 17 people participating in the office's Citizens Firearms Class.

"I'm a complete newbie," Ayres said as she held the weapon, dry-firing it several times before adding live ammunition. "I'm terrified, so I'm trying to learn more so I'm not so scared."

The Evans woman said she's not ready to own a handgun, but she and her husband, Eric, are considering purchasing one eventually.

No one could tell it was Ayres' first time, as her shots were clustered in a softball-sized area in the center chest of her target, earning her a score of 294 out of a possible 300. She said learning about handguns and pulling the trigger took the edge off her anxiety about them.

"Still, there's a fear," Ayres said. "At some point, there will be more of a respect."

The course is designed with such people in mind.

"It is designed for anyone who wants to know the basics of handguns," sheriff's Maj. John Wheeler said. "It's open to anybody. It's designed for somebody who doesn't know anything about handguns."

The course is free, but there are more than 100 people on the waiting list to take the class.

"I've been doing it for years and there's never been a shortage of people in class," Wheeler said.

Vanice Cahoon, a Hephzibah resident who works in Columbia County, said she's lived with her late husband's .38-caliber revolver in her home for years but has fired it only a few times.

"I never had a safety class," Cahoon said. "It's opening my
eyes."

The one-day class lasts from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and includes lunch. Those in the class learn all the basics of handguns, including the law regarding carrying weapons, permitting and use of force, handgun safety and how they work, loading and unloading, malfunctions and the basics of marksmanship. The students then get to test their skills on the firing range.

Each participant is paired with a sheriff's office employee who trains them.

"Everybody up here is here on their own time," Wheeler said. "There's no money being spent. There's no sheriff's office or
government money being spent."

Wheeler said a lot of people will listen to a store clerk when they buy a handgun, then take it home, put it in a dresser drawer and never fire it. Knowledge and practice will allow those people to handle a weapon safely and be confident if they need to use it.

The number of Georgia Weapons Carry Licenses is significant. Columbia County Probate Court issued 3,226 in 2013 and 3,013 in 2014. So far this year, 2,097 have been issued.

Capt. Clay Smith, who oversees the Community Services Division at the sheriff's office, said the firearms class began in 1993 with one class annually. Interest quickly showed a need for a second class, and the program has continued to grow.

"Now, this year, we have eight classes," Smith said, adding that the class started being held eight times a year in 2014. "We have people in here who know how to shoot, but they still learn something. Even we learn stuff."

Anyone interested in the class can bring their own firearm or the sheriff's office can supply one to be used for the class.

To sign up for the class, call (706) 541-2856.

 

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