Dispatches from the Citizens’ Police Academy

At the open-air law enforcement gun range, Gulfport Police Sergeant Matthew Parks, wearing the red short-sleeved shirt, talks participants through an exercise that allows them to determine their dominant eye, the one they will use to sight a target when firing a gun.

Debbie Wolfe will report from each session of the 2017 Gulfport Citizen’s Police Academy. This is part 10 of 11.

Pop. Pop. Pop-pop. Pop-pop-pop! These were the sounds of seven shots in four separate exercises heard on Thursday, March 23 as participants in the Gulfport Police Department Citizens’ Police Academy each went through handgun training at the county’s open-air gun range.

Many of us had experience with firing weapons, a couple did not, but oh did we all learn what it’s like to shoot at the body of a life-sized paper law enforcement target that looks like the outline of a human being.

“Go for the heart,” said Officer Gene Novak as he coached me on where to aim the Glock I was holding.
His calm yet deliberate voice took me to my next level of experience after decades of using guns shooting mostly at targets that look like concentric circles or clay disks flying through the air.

Sylvia Gustaffson, who had never fired a gun in her life, also welcomed Novak’s style – though after the first shot, she was ready to quit.

“At first, when I was scared [of the gun], I didn’t want to do it again,” she said. “By the time I shot three [bullets in the fourth exercise], I did awesome. You better not mess with me!”

Participants were also treated to a demonstration of what law enforcement officers have to do as part of their weapons qualification course. One officer also fired a special gift made to the department years ago: a World War II German MP40 machine gun, which is only used for illustration during training sessions.
“We practice at least once a month,” said Gulfport Police Commander Joshua Stone, the lead firearms instructor for the agency.

The visit to the gun range was the last field trip of the 11-week series of seminars. Graduation is March 30.
“This [academy] has been such an experience,” said Ann Hayes. “I think it should be required of every citizen. I really mean that.”

Using a plastic practice handgun, Sergeant Matthew Parks demonstrates classroom-based tips on successfully using gun sights found on a Glock. Hand-drawn diagrams of Glock-style rear and front gun sights appear on the white board in the background. The “W” illustration on the far right shows how to align both sights in relation to where the bullet is intended to go, which is represented by the red dot in the center at the top. From left, participants Jeff Alaimo and Diane Zacharias watch from their front-row seats.



Officer John Ross, who just completed training to be a firearms instructor, holds one of the department’s specialty rifles equipped with a silencer attachment. Everyone still wore sound-reducing earmuffs because, “unlike in the movies where guns with silencers go ‘puff-puff-puff’ when fired,” in the real world, each bullet makes a significantly loud sound, said Gulfport Police Commander Joshua Stone, the lead firearms instructor for the agency.

The first group of three participants to complete the hands-on, live ammunition target practice that totaled seven shots for each person are, from left, Jeff Marsh, John Gustaffson and Debbie Wolfe. If you look close, the full-size paper body targets for two participants only show five holes in the torso area. Neither shooter missed from the distance of the seven-yard line. Rather, each managed to “keyhole” four of seven shots on their respective targets, meaning two bullets share two holes. The classroom-based sight training, breathing and trigger squeezing tips also worked on the range. All participants shot with 9mm Glock brand handguns, used safety glasses and protective sound-reducing earmuffs. With safety in mind, law enforcement officers who are specially trained firearms instructors individually coached each participant on the range and stood by their sides at all times while another led each group in a series of four firing exercises.

Participant Sylvia Gustaffson, foreground, had never fired a gun prior to the field trip. When she got to the last of four exercises where three bullets are fired in a row, she had built up enough confidence to keep her arms steady and her aim true thanks to coaching from Officer Gene Novak. The empty casing of one bullet from her gun is ejected and spinning into mid air above the weapon as its mechanism recoils backward above her wrist in a split-second slide action that loads the next round from the clip. What did she think after the training? “I loved it!”



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