Residents aim to get gun-savvy

Monday, May 9, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:04 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

They are your neighbors, your friends; they are residents of Columbia. They are people you see at work, in the library and at church. They are lawyers, security guards, MU employees and Rotarians. And they are armed with HK Universal Self-loading Pistols.

About 15 Columbia residents practiced shooting handguns Saturday morning at the Green Valley Rifle and Pistol Club Range near Hallsville. The class was part of the Columbia and MU police departments’ spring Citizens’ Police Academy. Members were directed by five firearms instructors from the Columbia Police Department’s Special Tactics and Response team.

The gravel surface of the target range was littered with shell casings. Footsteps don’t merely crunch but clink as well, reminiscent of the

sound of spurs in a Western movie. But lead firearms instructor Sgt. Scott Young wanted the members of the Citizens’ Police Academy to understand that when police are required to shoot, it’s nothing like the Wild West.

“When police have to make the decision to shoot, it is like a sensory overload,” he said. “We don’t stand out in the middle of the road all calm at high noon.”

In order to demonstrate this assault on the senses, Young put the class through a series of drills that escalated in difficulty, but not before Capt. Tom Dresner, team commander, gave an intensive review of gun safety. Dresner demonstrated the parts and functions of the guns, showing the class how to load and unload the very same weapons carried by Columbia police.

Dresner and Young were joined by Sgt. Bryan Piester, Det. Ron Hall and Sgt. Gerry Green in instructing the class.

“Citizens are a lot more fun for the instructors,” said Officer Jessie Haden Pitman, who organizes the 10-week academy along with MU police Officer Jenna Redel. “Usually they are running an in-service for guys who have to be here on their day off.”

The class was divided into two teams for drills. The first was a simple exercise in shooting cardboard torso-shaped targets about 25 feet away from where the class stood, wearing earplugs and protective glasses.

Lisa Fountain-Tipton, who works on the security staff at MU’s Ellis Library, was faced with a unique challenge. Tipton wore bib overalls to the range. As an unexpected result, she kept catching the ejected shell casings inside her overalls, and they rolled down and out her pant leg.

She laughed it off.

“Those suckers are hot!” she said.

The drills were the brainchild of Young, who tried to simulate the complex thought process that officers face in the field. The drills represent only the tip of an iceberg of challenges that an officer might face when deciding whether to shoot. The presence of others, lighting, the availability of cover and the legal circumstances of the situation all play a part in an officer’s decision whether to use his or her weapon.

“You get a whole new appreciation of the police,” said Raymond Plue, who attended the academy and is a team leader for Rotary International.

The academy class seemed to gain confidence throughout the day. Even those who were wary of the weapons in the morning were hitting the center of the target by noon.

“I was kind of nervous at first,” said Janet Wheeler, a Jefferson City lawyer and flight attendant for American Airlines. “But it’s like my mom asking me, ‘What if you had an emergency and you didn’t know how to drive a stick-shift and that was the only car?’ If I was in a situation where I had a gun, I don’t want it to be that I didn’t know how to use it.”

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