Saturday morning began with a bang at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center as children and law enforcement officials lined up with BB guns in a friendly shooting competition.
The annual event began after Sherman Pass, coach of the Hall County 4-H sharpshooters club, had seen too many tragic stories involving children and improper gun safety and decided to do something about it.
“Twelve years ago, I had a vision to do something, to have a positive between kids and guns, and how better to that than to involve law enforcement?” he said. “We got our first one together and it was successful and we’ve been doing it for 12 years.”
Officials from Hall County Sheriff’s Office and Gainesville Police Department volunteered their time to test their shooting prowess against the 4-Hers, who come out on top each year.
“The kids make fun of me every year; I’ve been here 12 years and they’ve beat us all 12 years,” Gainesville Police Sgt. Kevin Holbrook said. “It’s one of those, ‘we still come back every year.’ We got smart this year — you know the old saying, ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ — so we brought our Explorers this year to assist us. They’re younger, they have better eyesight. Hopefully they can assist us in maybe making some leeway this year.”
The Gainesville Explorers are a group of young adults, age 15 to 21, interested in entering into law enforcement once they are old enough to join the police academy.
“What we do in this program is work with them and we do training like this, BB gun or rifle training, that teaches them familiarity as far as range safety, muzzle control, things like that,” Gainesville Police Cpl. Jessica Van said. “So that’s why we incorporated this (event) into our explorers program.”
The importance of gun safety is an issue Pass takes seriously, but it isn’t the only benefit his students get from the club. While the club teaches discipline and control, many parents have it a place where they can bond with their children.
Geoff Hart and his daughter, Ella, 12, have participated since Ella joined in fifth grade.
“I’ve always liked target shooting, and we were looking at BB guns at a gun store one day and the man at the gun store suggested she might want to go to 4-H and join their program,” Geoff Hart said. “It’s something we can do, daddy-daughter time.”
Geoff, who got his certification through the state, acts both as father and coach to Ella; the two often practice shooting in their backyard.
“When we’re doing daddy-daughter time, we usually go to gun shows, car shows or do this,” Ella Hart said.
The Harts aren’t the only ones who appreciate the shooting challenge as a chance to bond. Holbrook said he returns each year to continue fostering relationships he’s built since first coming to the challenge as a rookie patrol officer, as well as to give back to a community he and his force are grateful for.
“Over the years, those relationships have grown from watching kids I shot with the first year — and they’re graduated and in college now — and being able to kind of work with them, be a mentor to them,” Holbrook said before adding that the challenge provides him and his force with the opportunity to be viewed in a different light.
“It’s rewarding, to say the least, to highlight the bond between law enforcement and the community, which is something people don’t see a whole lot. But we’re more than just ticket-writers and people who take others to jail. It’s more about the community, working with the community. We are an agency that is community-oriented. We try everything we can to be involved in the community, out in the community, because that’s who we serve and this is a way to give back to the community that gives so much to us.”