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These locals brushed up on gun safety at police firearms safety course
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Sgt. Doug Whiddon, range master, left, instructs Deangela Chastain on how to shoot a gun during a firearms safety course put on by the Gainesville Police Department on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Shots rang out on Saturday afternoon, but they weren’t fired in anger. It was from citizens wanting to learn more about gun safety and gun laws.

About 25 enrolled in the free Citizen Firearms Safety Course hosted by the Gainesville Police Department. After meeting at the police department for a morning lecture, the class went out to the department’s firearms facility to put into action what they already knew and everything they had learned.

“For us, it’s just an opportunity to interact with the community, to give back to the community a little bit,” said Sgt. Doug Whiddon, range master. “It’s a great opportunity for us to promote safety, safe gun handling, and it really just gives us a chance to fellowship with the citizens we take care of day in and day out. It’s a chance for them to see us face-to-face and get to know us.”

Each participant got one-on-one assistance from law enforcement at the range as they loaded and unloaded their guns and took shots at a target.

Jose Nuñez was there by himself after getting a gun about a year ago. Before he owned one, he said he went to the shooting range to try out different kinds to help him choose what he is most comfortable with.

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Instructors look on as participants fire guns during a firearms safety course put on by the Gainesville Police Department on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

“Safety is a big portion of this whole thing,” said Nuñez, a Gainesville resident. “And then I can actually transfer some of this information to my daughter.”

He said he learned quite a bit throughout the course. He learned the proper way to stand and hold his weapon as well as how to handle it in general. One of the most important things he was reminded of was keeping any weapon always aimed down range.

“It’s all things that we know, but sometimes we take for granted as a gun owner,” Nuñez said. “So it’s good to come to these classes and freshen up ... It keeps you on your toes. If you get too confident with it, that’s when mistakes happen.”

Whiddon said the course is usually taught twice each year — once in the spring and once in the fall — and classes fill up “the minute it’s announced.”

“We encourage them to bring their weapons and we can teach them all about their weapon,” Whiddon said. “We’re teaching them fundamentals of marksmanship. You’ll see a lot of times if people don’t shoot on a regular basis, their shooting skills, they just don’t have a solid understanding.”

Deangela Chastain said she has a pretty good understanding of the laws and handling of guns after being raised around them. Her father enjoyed hunting, so she’s seen guns her whole life.

Her husband bought her a gun last Christmas, so she wanted a review on everything, especially with her son and son-in-law being in law enforcement.

“The people in the community need practical experience and a review of all the laws,” said Chastain, a Gillsville resident. “And from the police department is the best place.”

Husband-and-wife Debra and Scot McEwen took the course together. She said they both love shooting and have taken other courses to make sure they’re “proficient.”

Although she’s had plenty of training, she said she tries to not be too confident, especially since she learned a few new things at the safety course.

“As soon as I could stand up, my daddy taught me how to shoot,” said McEwen, a Gainesville resident. “But I’m still afraid of them. I mean, you’ve got to have a healthy fear, I think.”