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More than Target Practice

By Erik Peterson
Albany Democrat-Herald (Febuary 10, 2003)

BROWNSVILLE - With his handgun raised and body square to the cardboard target, Will Morris shouts, "Armed citizen, drop your weapon!" before two shots ring out from his Beretta pistol

Each shot registers a distinct "pop," its impact illustrated by a clod of dirt launching into the air from behind the target.

The slide of the gun locks back, indicating the magazine is empty.

Without hesitating, Morris performs a "combat reload"- replacing the empty magazine with a fresh one - not once taking his eyes or handgun off the target.

Slamming the magazine into place, he squeezes off six more shots, peppering the cardboard target and sending more dirt into the air.

Next, he deliberately scans to the right, then to the left, his gun still fixed on the target in the ready position. Then, swiveling his body like a turret on a tank, he searches over the area to determine the next course of action.

Once Morris has determined the area is secure, he holsters his weapon, takes a look at the target, and awaits further instruction.

Like each one of the 10 students in the Defensive Handgun 1 course at the Oregon Firearms Academy in Brownsville, Morris wants to become more familiar with his firearm.

He also wanted a refresher course on firearm safety before he heads to San Diego for Marine Corps boot camp in April.

"I wanted to get more familiar with this gun because I haven't shot it before," Morris said. "And they teach you a lot of good things about how to use the gun the best way possible. I wanted to go into boot camp a little more prepared."

Founded in 1997, the Oregon Firearms Academy offers courses in defensive arms and tactics to law enforcement, corrections, armed security professionals, private investigators and private citizens.

Defensive Handgun 1 is one of 20 different courses offered at OFA throughout the year by owners and instructors Dan Abbott, Rick Benson and Marion "Doc" Ratliff.

The three owners are high-ranking law enforcement veterans and highly qualified instructors from the private sector with over 30 years of combined experience in teaching small arms and tactics.

"We're not advocating that everybody go out and buy a gun," said Abbott, a certified law enforcement and armed security firearms instructor. "But if people do have a gun in their home, we want them to be responsible firearms owners."

In 2001, OFA reorganized as a limited liability company, with Abbott and Ratliff assuming co-ownership with Benson, an original founder.

According to Abbott, the business has grown every year since its inception. In 2002, the academy trained more than 300 students, all with their own motivations for taking courses.

"We started with teaching basic handgun safety, and after a while it started snowballing," Abbott explained. "We would have people come in asking for specialty or higher-level courses and, over time, we developed those courses."

OFA's courses and instructors are certified through the Department of Public Safety Standards & Training.

It is a member of the National Rifle Association's Business Alliance.

In addition, all of the staff members are adjunct firearm instructors for Clint Smith's International Training Consultants and John Farnam's Defensive Training International- accredited international defensive firearms training firms, Abbott said.

OFA also provides multiple firearms courses through Lane Community College and Linn-Benton Community College's continuing education/job training programs, including courses for new law enforcement and armed private security officers.

According to Abbott, OFA's students come from various parts of the U.S. and Canada.

One recent Saturday, the 10 students in the Defensive Handgun 1 class learned about safety and the effects of exercising judicious use of force in an eight-hour introductory session.

Each student took a written test aconcerning safety and liability. Passing this test is mandatory for completion of the course, Abbott said.

The next day, the students separated into two relays, in which Benson and Abbott went over the safe defensive use of handguns.

Benson, a first sergeant with an area sheriff's office, uses the same professional curriculum he teaches officers at the Police Academy in Monmouth.

Ratliff is a retired periodontist and reserve lieutenant with an area sheriff's office. He has been an instructor at OFA since 1998.

On the range, each student was taught methods for presenting (drawing) handguns; the proper technique for shooting around and over cover; how best to fire upon a target within arm's reach; and how to reholster and assure that shirts or other clothing are not caught between the gun and holster.

At the conclusion of the course, students had to demonstrate mastery of the skills by shooting a law enforcement qualifier test. The qualifier includes the following:

From 10 yards - Using a barrel for cover, students kneel, draw and fire one round around the strong side, one over the top, and one around the support side, utilizing a two-handed grip for each shot. The drill must be completed in 10 seconds or less.

From seven yards - Draw and fire two controlled rounds, then holster the gun in four seconds or less. Repeat three times.

From five yards - With the weapon holstered, students remove the magazine and insert a magazine containing one round, draw and fire two rounds (the first round already in the chamber), perform a "combat reload" by inserting a fresh magazine and fire six rounds, all under 12 seconds.

From three yards - Draw and fire three rounds with the strong hand, transfer to the support hand and fire three additional rounds in under 10 seconds."The purpose of this drill is to have the ability to switch hands if one hand is protecting a child or holding a bag of groceries," Benson said. "There's also a chance your strong hand may be rendered unusable, so you need to be proficient with both."

From two yards - Draw and fire two rounds, unsighted, with the weapon held close to the side of the chest. This drill is to prepare students for close-quarter combat with an attacker.

All rounds must be scored within designated areas to ensure accuracy, Abbott said.

Each student received private instruction throughout the day on how to properly perform each maneuver.

"All of this training is done to teach you what to do when all other options have been exhausted and there is no other recourse," Benson said.

"If you have to shoot the gun, you have to know how to do it right."

After the students fired, instructors emphasized an "after-action response" where each shooter scans left and right, then, aiming at the pelvic area, with the weapon down low enough to see the target's hands, sweeps the weapon and the eyes left and right, assessing the entire scene to be sure that the threat is indeed over.

The targets had guns spray-painted on them at approximately where a potential assailant's hand would be. Only upon completing after-action response were students allowed to holster.

Student Michelle Williams, 33, made the drive for the two-day class from Vancouver, Wash. She said the course will help her pursuit of a career in law enforcement. Williams currently works as a security officer in Portland.

"This is a really good training opportunity for me because this is the best instruction around," Williams said. "And since I want to get into law enforcement, there's no better way to know what to expect than to go through it. These guys are really knowledgeable."

Abbott said students come to classes at OFA for a variety of reasons, but the goal of the instructors is always the same.

"People might have been taught how to shoot a gun, but it doesn't mean you are going to be competent to defend your family in the middle of the night from an attacker," Abbott said.

Although the training is potentially dangerous, the crew at OFA keeps the climate safe, upbeat and fun, Abbott said. However, instructors never stray far from their ultimate goal.

"Oftentimes I'll hear people say if they or their family are ever threatened that they'll rise to the occasion," Abbott said. "But that's not true. What people will do is default to their level of training, whatever that is. So what we want to do is help empower people with the right education, the right communication skills, and the right training to have them carry on with their lives."

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