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Recent gun control triggers interest in shooting club

At nine in the morning on Saturday, the smell of burnt gunpowder lingers in the crisp springtime air. In several large bays set into the earth, groups of men and women alternate shooting cardboard targets with handguns. The bullets tear through the thin cardboard, kicking up dirt at the back of the range.

“I tried golf, but my favorite club was the one that scoops the ball out of the water,” Bert Mealus said, stepping up the firing line with a cigar in his teeth and a revolver on his hip. “This is my golf game, now.”

Welcome to the Cortland Pistol Club.

The pistol range exists to provide members with a safe space to practice, said Herb Terwilliger, president of the club since its inception in 1990.

“It’s a really good sport to teach people gun safety, skills and drills on where your safety comes from. This is more than people just wildly shooting guns.”

Another member, Brian Keboe, put it more simply:

“We’re not just a bunch of rednecks drinking beer and shooting guns.”


Members of the Cortland Pistol Club shoot often under two styles of match: that of the United States Practical Shooting Association and the International Defensive Pistol Association. Terwilliger said while the IDPA style of match focuses on the rudimentary skills of shooting, the USPSA-style regulations are more competitive.

Ed Putnam, member and USPSA contact for the club, said the development of an individual’s skills is constant.

“A lot of people own [handguns] but they don’t shoot them because one of the hardest disciplines to master is a handgun,” he said. “You have a shorter barrel and you don’t have the stability. You need to continually practice with them to be proficient.”

Shooters come from as far away as Pennsylvania and even Canada to shoot at the range.

“Some people will drive an hour to come to a match,” Mr. Terwilliger said. “Reason being that being there’s not a lot of clubs that do this type of shooting sport.”

Interest in the club is expanding. Last month, the club gained five new members. Joseph Hager is a new member at the club. While he served in the Navy and was even an expert marksman during his service, he said the style of shooting he now does with the club is much different.

“That was tactically different,” he said. “Everything else was from a longer distance – ten to twenty yards. This is closer and more tactical.”

New members are required to go through a safety seminar at the course before they are allowed to shoot. Richard Borra, safety director for the range, said that frequent practice with firearms at the range with a club makes an owner a more proficient and comfortable shooter and more safe with their own firearm.

“Shooting is a perishable skill,” he said. “By not using it you lose the ability to be as safe as you could be.”

Safety is of the utmost importance, Borra said. New shooters receive a mandatory hour-long safety instruction prior to their first match during which they review gun-handling skills and safety procedures they will follow. During the match, they are paired with a more experienced shooter.

At any given time during a match, the only loaded gun on the course is the one in the hands of the shooter, who is under supervision at all times by the course marshal. All other firearms are unloaded and stowed in holstered. Weapons are only loaded when they’re about to be fired. To violate these and a number of other rules is grounds for immediate dismissal.

Recent gun control legislation hasn’t discouraged new members from joining. Actually, it’s had the opposite effect. Mr. Putnam said interest in the club is growing as more people become aware of how bans affect them.

“They’re trying to take the guns away from us,” he said. “People are becoming aware of that.”

In January, Governor Andrew signed the NY SAFE Act into law. The legislation was created in response to the Sandyhook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Among other provisions, the law bans possession of high-capacity magazines, requires background checks on all gun sales and creates a registry of assault weapons.

Even though more people are joining the club, Mr. Terwilliger said he was frustrated by acts of politicians.

“You’re talking about a group of politicians who don’t know enough about firearms and gun safety yet want to regulate the decisions of law abiding citizens.”

Terwilliger pointed at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent pro-gun control ad as an example of this. In it, a man sitting on the gate of a pickup truck holding a shotgun describes to the camera his reasons for supporting comprehensive gun control as proposed by Bloomberg.

The video is misrepresentative for gun owners, Terwillier said.

“In the video, the action on the rifle is closed, indicating the gun is loaded,” he said. “His hand is on the trigger, showing he is prepared to shoot; and his children are playing nearby – he’s pointing that weapon in an unsafe direction. It’s laughable that they couldn’t get a better actor that actually knows basic gun safety.”

Sales of guns are on the rise and ammunition is becoming more difficult to find and more expensive. Club members said a box of 500 .22 caliber shells used to cost $18.97 plus tax at Wal Mart. The same box of shells now costs $80 – when it’s available. Oftentimes, stores sellout within hours of receiving shipments. Members of the Cortland Pistol Club supply their own ammunition on their own and buy it as it becomes available.

Regardless of restrictions, the club continues to meet and practice. Several members plan to visit the USPSA national competition in Pasa Park, IL this spring.

“I enjoy the competition,” Mr. Putnam said. “There are very few things you can do when you’re older. It’s nice to still be competitive in life against younger people.”

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