Pamela White Takes the Gun Challenge
by Ari Armstrong, May 19, 2003
She did it.
Pamela White, the new editor of the Boulder Weekly, deserves a lot of credit for taking me up on a challenge to pursue firearms training. A skeptic of gun ownership, she successfully passed the NRA's basic pistol and personal protection courses May 17-18 -- and she has the certificates and the .22-pierced targets to prove it.
Dean Blanck, a lead instructor for the Grand Valley Training Club, discusses the principles of Safe Gun Handling May 17.
It's not easy for a person to challenge deep-seated beliefs, especially those often associated with intense passions. But White faced her fears, put aside her preconceptions, and made a full effort to see the issue from the perspective of others. Let's be honest here: not all gun owners can claim as much.
Of course, it helped that I pointed her to the best introductory firearms training class I know of, the one held in Grand Junction by the Grand Valley Training Club. This dedicated group of volunteers holds two classes a month, one over a weekend and one over several evenings, as it has done for the last decade, training some 2,000 people in the safe and effective use of firearms.
I have sat through the class several times, and I learned something new every time. Perhaps the group's best quality is that its members remain open to new ideas. Sometimes seasoned gun owners develop an attitude that smacks of superiority, like they know everything. Not so with these instructors. They constantly ask for the feedback of students, they introduce new techniques into their classes, and they freely offer the spectrum of opinions about, say, how revolvers compare with semiautos for defensive use.
The basics are the same everywhere, naturally. Safety comes first. ("Always keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot!") The parts are the same. The GVTC does favor one technique, though: it stresses a stance that relies on locked joints rather than the muscle-memory of the Weaver stance. The rationale for teaching the first stance, the "isosceles," is that, in a high-stress situation such as self-defense, it offers greater accuracy and more range of motion.
There's nothing about the class that involves "just following the motions." The goal always is to enable safe, effective self-defense. Thus, part of the range time is spent firing from behind cover and in conditions of poor lighting. One exercise (that doesn't involve the use of firearms while in class) involves a simulated criminal entry into a home. Participants take turns ordering the criminal to disarm and drop slowly to the ground, all while keeping a safe distance and waiting for the police to arrive. The instructors discuss a variety of safety precautions that can prevent an unwanted confrontation, and, they emphasize, firing your gun in defense is the last resort.
Typically at the range more volunteer instructors are on hand than students, allowing many eyes to continuously verify safety and giving students one-on-one feedback. The lead instructors volunteer hundreds of hours every year to prepare for the classes and teach them. The cost for students is thus kept to a minimum -- enough to cover the expense of the course and supplies. Volunteer instructors from around the country would do well to visit the class and use it as a model for their own work.
One of the highlights of the class is a three-hour overview of the law given by, in this case, Palisade Police Chief Carroll Quarles. No, you can't shoot somebody for stealing your truck. No, you can't shoot would-be criminals as they flee (as most do once they figure out their intended victim is armed). Yes, if someone unlawfully breaks into your home for the purpose of committing a crime, the "Make My Day" law applies and you can use potentially lethal force to stop the threat. Yes, you will face criminal and/or civil penalties if you misuse a gun.
Beyond the obvious benefit of familiarizing the students with relevant Colorado law and court decisions, the session serves two other vital purposes. It gives more citizens a taste of what it's like to work in law enforcement, and it also gives members of law enforcement more feedback from other citizens. Mesa County had a robust training program and concealed carry program long before the state legislature got around to passing a bill. And nowhere else have I witnessed a greater level of trust and understanding between the citizens and members of law enforcement. This kind of regular interaction encourages cops to become peace officers, rather than merely police officers.
I told White I had two hopes for her as she took the class. First, I hoped she would more clearly recognize the insulting stereotypes some throw at gun owners. Second, I wanted to demystify the firearm so that she viewed it as a mechanical tool rather than as some sort of possessed, taboo entity with sinister motivations. Also, as a journalist, White now has a better technical knowledge of firearms than do most of her peers.
Memo to violent criminals: Don't mess with Pam. She may just decide she's ready for gun ownership, after all. The life you save by deciding not to hurt people could be your own.
My father, Linn Armstrong, is one of the organizers of the GVTC. Those interested in signing up for a class may call him at 970.464.5177.