Club says interest rising for firearms training

SCARBOROUGH — Depending on your generation, you might think of John Wayne, Charlie’s Angels or Jack Bauer when you hear that somebody is packing heat.

But movie and TV stereotypes rarely imitate life, and the 20 men and women who completed a Personal Protection and Firearms Safety course at Scarborough Fish & Game Association last week are more likely to be your real-life, next-door neighbors than Hollywood idols.

Taught by National Rifle Association-certified instructors, the three-day, 14-hour course is a prerequisite to applying for a concealed weapons permit. Seven women and 13 men from throughout southern Maine participated in two evening and all-day Saturday classes at the association’s Holmes Road facility. And their reasons for attending were as varied as their professions and the communities in which they live.

Alex Peck took the course to improve his target-shooting skills. “I decided to buy a shotgun to shoot skeet with my dad,” he said.

His wife, Amy Peck, decided to take the course with him, saying if there was going to be a gun in the house she thought she’d better know how to use it. Besides, the young couple said, shooting would be a relaxing activity they could share just as golfing when they are ready to retire.

A father and son, Homer Coplin Sr., and Coplin Jr., of Gorham, also took the course together, after an attack by a rabid raccoon made Coplin Sr. more aware he needed better protection from wild animals while enjoying the outdoors.

Dental hygienist Meg Nichols, of South Portland, said she’d always been interested in target shooting and took the class to get more experience.

“I like target practice, but I want to make sure I do things the right way – the safe way – and to obtain a concealed weapons permit for convenience,” she said.

Seven instructors taught various sections of the course, with topics ranging from safe handling, ammunition, shooting, cleaning, avoiding and controlling an attack and legal issues. The section dealing with the law must be taught by a lawyer or by an active duty police officer. For this course, Scarborough Police Detective Ron Nelsen was the instructor.

Instructors kept participants engaged while never veering from a deep respect of the topic and a constant emphasis on the responsibility of a gun handler.

“There is no such thing as a gun accident,” instructor Lynn Heroux, a nurse by profession, told the class. “There are two reasons for incidents happening: lack of knowledge and carelessness.”

At the same time, the instructors managed to blend humor and personal examples into the serious course materials, including Ron Gillespie’s tribute to his long-suffering wife, who had opened the door to a warm oven and discovered his old gun on a cookie sheet (he’d placed it there to speed drying time after scrubbing it in soapy water).

On Saturday morning, the class took to the range for live fire exercises, each student paired with an instructor. Beginning at 25 yards from the target in a bench rest position to support their wrists for better aim, they progressed to a standing position using a two-handed grip at a distance of seven yards.

In the past few months, gun sales have gone up, fueled by economic concerns or speculation that President Obama will strengthen gun-control laws. At Cabela’s in Scarborough, Eric Cavers, retail events coordinator, said the “gun department has been very busy.”

Instructor Sue Hamilton said Scarborough Fish & Game Association has seen a 25 percent increase in its membership in the past year, jumping from 500 to more than 660 members.

“We had expected membership to go down because of the economy and people cutting out things from their budget, but that has not happened,” Hamilton said.

New members are from all age groups and a lot of them are women, coming in alone or with their husbands.

“It’s a good sport for women to get into because being bigger and stronger does not give you an advantage,” she said.

Previously, the association held a class every couple of months. But it has recently had to step up the frequency to accommodate demand. The April class has been full for more than a month, Hamilton said.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected].

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Instructor Jason McAvoy demonstrates the correct stance for shooting during Scarborough Fish & Game Association’s recent Personal Protection and Firearms Safety class. The 20 students who completed the 14-hour course are now eligible to apply for concealed weapons permits. (Roberts photo)

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