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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Not quite on target during class' visit to the firing range

I guess I should be happy my big paper guy didn’t have a face.

Had he been able to form expressions, he’d have indicated pain and the sense he’d been violated.

And, really, he was.

But, it was an accident.

I wasn’t aiming for his crotch with my first shot on range night during my Citizen Police Academy class at the Euclid Police Station.

No, I was aiming for the oval in the center of paper man’s chest.

So much for my career as a markswoman.

I could easily blame the temperature in the range. Located in the basement of the station, with concrete walls, floor and ceiling, it’s got that bitter cold you feel when you head to the lower levels of a house that’s not insulated.

When we first walked in, to an outer room with a window into the firing range, there was a lot of dancing around as we tried to warm up. Feet shifted, hands rubbed, teeth might even have chattered.

We picked up eye and ear protection in the control room and then headed into the range, where the shots were to be fired.

I sensed it was even a little colder when our class instructor, Euclid Police Capt. Scott Roller, began speaking and you could see his breath as he laid out our instructions.

He’d spent about an hour beforehand in the warmth of our classroom down the hall giving us an overview of the different types of weapons Euclid’s force uses. After ensuring they were ammo-free, Roller passed around an AR-15 and a shotgun, similar to the ones carried in the city’s police cars.

I’ve shot an AR-15 before, on a trip to an Ashtabula County range with now-retired News-Herald outdoors writer Jeffrey L. Frischkorn. During that New Year’s Day 2011 excursion, Korn also had let me try out his Bersa .380-caliber pistol.

The Glock, model 27, .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol that Roller dropped on the table in front of me was a different creature.

He said he gave me that one because I have “small hands.” He obviously has vision problems. But that’s another column for another day.

The weapons we used in the classroom weren’t necessarily Euclid’s service weapons. Mine was a smaller version of that handgun, a Glock, model 23, .40-semiautomatic pistol.

Before he handed them out, though, he showed us how to load them.

That requires a magazine.

The magazine holds the bullets and is inserted into the weapon.

The magazines we used had a capacity of 13 bullets.

In the classroom setting, which involved close quarters with others in the group, we loaded the magazines with plastic bullets.

Once we mastered loading the magazine, it was time to load Mr. Glock.

Roller didn’t accept a little tap of the magazine into the weapon. He wanted a forceful shove. Of course, it took me a few times to remember to shove rather than just try to make it click.

Then the trouble started.

Once the magazine’s in place, shooters need to pull back the slide (it sits on top; think every single police show or movie you’ve seen in recent years) to get a bullet into the chamber and ready for firing.

Remember how Roller gave me a specific weapon because of my dainty hands? Well, he later said my weapon also had a different spring in the slide mechanism than many the others were using. I couldn’t pull it back. I even tried to put my legs into it, hoping to generate enough force to get it moving.

“I obviously am not strong enough to shoot a handgun.”

Roller stepped over and pulled it back while laughing.

We then pulled the trigger, nothing happened (plastic bullet, remember?) and we all now knew a fraction of the basics of firing a weapon.

Next thing you know, we’re freezing while holding the real deal on the range.

“Shooters, with your shooting hand, pick up the gun and point it down range, with your finger off the trigger. With your non-shooting hand, insert the magazine. With your non-shooting hand, pull the slide slightly to the rear. You’ve got a live bullet in that gun. Get your fingers off the trigger.”

Standing there, hearing Roller shouting those instructions from inside our ear protection, it suddenly became rather serious.

I can’t quite duplicate the amount of space he left between the words “Get your fingers off the trigger.” But, keep stopping hard every time you say it to yourself. That’ll come close.

Real bullets. Inside guns held by people I’ve only known for a few weeks. Here’s that moment when you hope you haven’t really annoyed anyone in the class.

We go through various exercises to first see what it’s like to fire the weapon, to learn how it moves after it’s fired; then we’re to fire two shots into the big paper target guy’s chest and one into his head. Then, finally, we’re treated to targets that move, as though target guy is turning from side to side and around to face us, intending to simulate the reaction time police face in real-life situations.These last shots are supposed to go into his chest and head, too.

In about 35 rounds, I never got one shot into my guy’s head. But don’t forget I did get his crotch. So, at least he knows I care.

On my last shot, though, I managed something that I also pulled off when I was out on the range with Korn. I injured a part of my left thumb.

Mind you, I’m a righty. My left hand is there only for support.

But two years ago, I cut my thumb when I put it in the wrong place and the slide on the Bersa pistol came back and struck it.

This time, I somehow managed to break my thumb nail.

I figured it was time to go out on a low note, matching the one I’d started on.

So to speak.


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