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Firearms safety comes 1st for club

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Jerry Thomas and the Hoosier Hills Rifle and Pistol Club believe in gun safety education, especially in young people.

So every Wednesday night, 10 to 12 people from ages 13 to 21 show up at the club’s indoor range on the city’s north side for a free club-sponsored Junior Air Gun program. Younger children can participate if they have shooting experience with a parent.

“Our main mission is to offer education to young people,” said Thomas, a board member and the club’s vice president for air gun programs. “We feel an educated young person is a safer person in our community than an uneducated person. Uneducated young people are a safety hazard when it comes to guns.”

That’s why Thomas and some of the club’s other 350 members are taking time to teach the elements of gun safety. Members of the current Wednesday night classes and their parents went through a three-hour safety briefing in October. The second week, they underwent range orientation and learned about etiquette and safety on the range.

“We make sure they have had training ahead of time, and they get formal training before they can shoot,” Thomas said. “We make sure the guns are all safe when they’re on the line, so none of them are loaded. We make sure all the students know the rules before they can shoot, and we don’t let anybody shoot until the range is set up. You can’t just walk in here, pick up a gun and start shooting.”

Many of those who go through the program go on to shoot competitively. Hope native Morgan Greenlee was the state junior rifle champion two years ago.

Greenlee, 21, who attends Purdue College of Technology in Columbus, has been shooting competitively since age 8 and at the Hoosier Hills Rifle and Pistol Club since age 13. She has 2020 Olympic aspirations.

“I get critiqued,” Greenlee said. “They’ll give me some new ideas to try things. They give me help quite a bit.”

Beau McKinney, 13, a seventh-grader at Hauser, has been shooting for four years at the club.

“I’ve learned trigger control, how to get natural point of aim, and I’ve learned the shooting rules way better and how to sight an air rifle and a different type of gun,” McKinney said. “I’ve learned all the different commands like ‘Cease-fire.’”

The club hosts international competitions the first Saturday of each month. There will be an outdoor competition at noon Jan. 1 at the club’s outdoor range in Brown County. The next indoor international competition is at 8 a.m. Jan. 4.

Hoosier Hills Rifle and Pistol Club also hosts and runs free eight-week program in the spring for 4-H kids.

For the junior air gun practice, the club furnishes guns, targets, pellets and facilities at no charge. The junior air gun practice will take a break the next two Wednesdays because of Christmas and New Year’s.

Regular members shoot at the indoor range on Thursday evenings. The cost is $75 a year, plus a $25 initiation fee.

“Most clubs across the United States charge 10 times that,” Thomas said. “We’re a pretty small club, and we don’t make a lot of money. We try to stay nonprofit.”

Since the club is a National Rifle Association-affiliated club, members must belong to the NRA.

“All our members don’t always agree with everything the NRA does, but we all like to shoot in competition,” Thomas said.

Hoosier Hills Rifle and Pistol Club does not allow alcoholic beverages at its site and won’t let people shoot if they show up intoxicated.

“We, in our club, really emphasize gun safety,” Thomas said. “When anyone is around guns, we always treat them as if they’re loaded.”

“Shooting sports are one of the safest sports being practiced in the United States,” Thomas said. “It’s primarily because all the shooters know the rules, they follow the rules and all competitive shooting is supervised by a range safety officer. We try to make it as safe as we can, and we try to avoid any accidents.”

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