A rookie on the range
I have never fired a gun.
That is, I had not until recently. I credit this mostly to the fact that my gun knowledge is very limited.
When I was little, the only guns I was around were the ones kids filled with water and squirted menacingly at their enemies.
Even when I grew older, my knowledge only extended to Nerf guns which fired foam “bullets” when you pulled the trigger.
And I never messed with BB guns because every time I saw one my thoughts were filled with the familiar chant, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
Nor do I come from a big hunting or gun collecting family. My older brother is a hunter, but I never saw his guns. Which in retrospect was a great thing that the guns were stored so safely and securely from my curious little hands.
Throughout the years I have made friends with individuals who enjoy hunting, who work in law enforcement or who are part of a military branch. And they all use guns.
I was therefore introduced to guns, yet never shot one. I will also give some credit to television, which at a young age often intimidated me by frequently equating guns with violence.
As I matured I became more concerned about gun knowledge and safety. Guns intimidate me because many people think they know how to use them properly and safely — but tragically they do not.
A few months ago, I found myself in the challenging position of covering a story on concealed carry handgun classes. I figured as long as I did not need to fire a gun, I would be fine.
During my reporting I met Mitchell Kirkland and Toby Jenkins, law enforcement officers who are also certified firearms instructors. They have taught their Will 2 Conceal class for more than 15 years, a concealed carry handgun and firearms safety training class, which North Carolina requires in order for individuals to obtain a concealed carry permit.
Mitch and Toby explain to students the aspects of the North Carolina concealed carry handgun law and teach the fundamentals of safety and basic marksmanship. When they inquired if I would like to actually participate in the class, I sheepishly admitted to never having fired a gun.
To my surprise, expressions of shock did not cross Mitch or Toby’s face, nor did I hear any sounds of laughter. Instead, they were excited at the opportunity to teach me about firearms.
And so from that moment on they were determined to expand my knowledge of guns — from pertinent safety measures to necessary state laws to proper handling techniques — with the ultimate goal of getting me out on the shooting range.
During the class Mitch and Toby spent several required hours going over handgun instruction, which helped to ease my nerves. I also was able to relax when Toby said their biggest concern during the class is safety. They do not allow any ammunition in class and if they see anyone mishandling a gun, they ask them to leave.
By the end of the instructional period, I learned how to demonstrate proficiency in safe handling of a handgun to include loading, unloading, storing and securing, what the major parts of a revolver or semiautomatic pistol include and the provisions under North Carolina Common and Statutory Law in which the use of deadly physical force would be justifiable.
Mitch stressed that he and Toby were not training anyone to kill, but rather to protect themselves, their family or a third party.
If their class had a mantra it would be, “You don’t shoot to kill, you shoot to stop the threat.”
While I left the Will 2 Conceal class with more handgun knowledge, I had avoided shooting a gun. Thus Mitch and Toby invited me back for one of their beginner’s classes — not for a newspaper story, but for my own personal benefit.
Shooting a firearm was on my bucket list, so I agreed to attend the class.
The beginner’s class involves classroom instruction but the majority of the time is spent out on the firing range participating in live fire practice and shooting proficiency using targets.
Prior to arriving at the range, back in the classroom Mitch taught me how to comfortably grip a gun and practice a proper firing stance. He also instructed me on how to load, unload and holster the gun all while practicing important safety measures like scanning my surroundings.
The more comfortable I got with these fundamentals the more prepared I felt when it came time to head out to shoot targets.
Now, you are probably wondering how I fared on the shooting range. Well, I will be the first to admit that I was extremely nervous. But like anything I put my mind to, I was determined to excel.
When we arrived at the range, I gathered my shooting gear and got ready.
Ear plugs — check.
Safety goggles — check.
Ammunition — check.
Belt for the holster and magazines — oops.
Luckily, Mitch had a spare belt in his bin of gun range supplies.
Over the course of several hours, Mitch and Toby coached me and two other individuals through firing drills. First we practiced shooting from various distances while standing, and then moved onto kneeling and prone (on our bellies) positions.
I must say I lost all my nervousness the moment the first bullet came out of my gun. I hit the little orange target three yards away and was thrilled.
Mitch and Toby even instructed us on single-handed quick fire shooting and night shooting holding a flashlight.
They told me they were quite impressed with my shooting and did not believe it was my first time ever firing a gun. They also said they really enjoy teaching beginners, especially those as inexperienced as myself, because it is easier to teach them the proper fundamentals of how to shoot and be safe.
As I mentioned in one of my previous columns, Mitch and Toby are like those professors who you wish taught every subject so you could always sit in their classrooms.
Mitch told me that teaching these courses is something he enjoys and is passionate about. He and Toby like seeing people progress and be confident in their abilities.
I cannot thank them enough for their instruction, encouragement and patience.
Now I can say that I have fired a gun — and that I am a pretty good shot!