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Beth Hutchinson shoots off a few rounds during practice at the Wakefield shooting range as NRA instructor Lino Avellani assists. (LARISSA MULKERN PHOTO)
WAKEFIELD FOUND A GANG that could shoot straight.
The Second Amendment thrives in the Wakefield community where two-dozen area residents from 18 to 80 participated in a three-day Civilian Gun Safety Course that culminated in shooting range practice this past Saturday.
Self-defense and gun safety were the top reasons many of the participants turned out for the free course, which will be held again in the fall. The team of volunteer teachers included National Rifle Association certified instructors Mike Bounopane, Lino Avelanni, and Frank Covie, with Police Chief Ken Fifield providing instruction on self-defense and handgun laws.
Students included two teenagers, at least a half-dozen experienced gun owners, retirees looking to polish their skills and knowledge, and those who had never handled a weapon before. About a third of the group acknowledged already possessing a state approved permit to carry a concealed weapon — even if they didn't yet own a gun.
Mackenzie Robinson, 18, of Wakefield attended the course at the suggestion of her dad, Wayne Robinson. Both her parents and older sister already know how to handle and shoot a gun, so dad thought it was time Mackenzie learned.
"I've never shot a gun before. I'm nervous about shooting," she said, adding that it was the potential recoil or kickback of the handgun that made her wary. However, she said she would feel more secure if she knew how to use a gun and thought that gun education was important, while gun control efforts were futile.
"I think gun control is ridiculous," she said.
She and others in the class said that while extended background checks for gun ownership in theory is a good idea, it won't keep guns out of the hands of people intent on doing harm.
"I think we all should learn how to shoot," she said.
The course included instruction on the state's self defense laws, the parts and different types of handguns — from the semi-automatic, double-action revolvers to the single-action revolvers seen in movie Westerns — as well as how to hold, load, unload, shoot and store a gun. Students received handouts on the 18 rules of safe gun handling.
Experienced gun handlers included Bob Macgregor of Acton, Maine, a professional trapper who also works with landowners to control animals that threaten life, property and livestock, such as fisher cats and coyotes.
"I want to be a responsible gun owner," said Macgregor. "Safety is the most important thing."
Kay Basehore, 63, recently purchased a handgun and attended class to learn how to use it. She described herself as 'pro-Second Amendment' and supportive of federal legislation that would have expanded background checks for people purchasing guns.
Overall, attendees and the instructors stressed gun safety and personal responsibility.
"Guns are neither safe or unsafe," said Bounopane.
Safe gun-handling rules include treating a gun as if it's always loaded, never pointing it at anything one is not willing to destroy or in the general direction of people, knowing your target and keeping your finger off the trigger until ready to fire. Never drink alcohol and shoot, store guns where kids and company can't get at it, and use a gun's safety mechanism but don't rely on it.
At the town's outdoor shooting range on Saturday, participants were required to wear ear and eye protection and a cap with a brim.
Shooters — novice and experienced — stepped up to the paper targets six at a time and, with instructors by their sides, shot off a couple dozen rounds each.
Jessenia Perez, 18, of Wakefield came to the class with her dad, Michael.
"I've never done this before," she said while waiting a turn to shoot at the range.
Michael Perez has some experience shooting at his brother-in-law's range, but he came to the class to learn about the laws and safe gun handling.
Beth Hutchinson attended the class with her husband after the couple decided to purchase a pistol for safety and self-defense. A home near theirs had been robbed.
"That prompted us to look into getting a gun for safety," she said. "I hope we don't ever have to use it."
Instructors encouraged the class to continue practicing shooting as it takes many hundreds of thousands of rounds to become an adept, safe and confident shooter. As for what weapon one chooses, Fifield said the weapon of choice should fit well.
"Buying a gun is like buying a car. There are different models for different people," he said. "What's most important is what fits well in your hand."