Landon Webber laid on his stomach on a mat on the ground, about 10 yards from the target, while his mother, Tara Bradford, dropped a BB down the barrel of his BB gun. Landon took aim, was reminded of his trigger-pull instructions and held his breath as he took the shot.
The 11-year-old 4-H member was at the Hall County 4-H Cops and Kids Target Challenge Saturday, March 23, at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center competing against his friends on the BB rifle team and members of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and Gainesville Police Department. The annual event, which Landon finished in third place, is meant to teach gun safety while forming relationships between the kids and law enforcement.
“I like shooting guns,” said Landon, a first-year member of the BB rifle team. “I love that I get to learn how to shoot better so I can go hunting and be better at it.”
After completing the first shooting position lying down — competitors must use four different positions including prone, standing, kneeling and sitting throughout the competition — Landon was able to talk with some of the officers at the event. Bradford said, after talking for a few minutes, Landon came back to her and said he wants to be a “(Drug Enforcement Administration) or SWAT man.”
“I think this is great,” Bradford said. “It teaches them discipline, gun safety and that guns don’t have to be scary if you use them the right way. And it gives them a good relationship with the police, which is fabulous … It teaches them that the police are good guys, and they’re there to help.”
That’s the main reason the event was started 14 years ago by Sherman Pass, the volunteer director of shooting sports for Hall County 4-H. He said he remembers kids and guns being seen as a bad thing. He set out to prove everyone saying that wrong.
“These kids learn gun safety and they learn to respect law enforcement,” Pass said. “It’s been a really good deal for us.”
Law enforcement was there for the same reasons.
“I think it’s a great way for law enforcement to have interaction with the kids, especially in a positive role,” said Justin Palmer, a Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputy. “It also gives us an opportunity to show these kids that we’re human and we want to get out and have a good time.”
Kelly Olson tries to show that same thing to kids every day. As a school resource officer at Gainesville Middle School, he interacts with kids quite a bit and even on a Saturday, was out interacting with them even more.
“It's a time to interact with the community and kids,”said Olson, who finished the event in seventh place. “Showing them the human side of us they normally don’t get to see. We can come out here, cut up and have a good time and not always be so serious.”