Shooting range sees surge as gun sales spike

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Submitted by Bob Karrer/Women and men made up a record attendance at the Sunday, Jan. 27 class. Submitted by Bob Karrer/Women and men made up a record attendance at the Sunday, Jan. 27 class.

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – They started arriving at 7:30 a.m., lining up in wait. Once the doors opened an hour later, the men, women and some children grabbed one of the available desks inside the classroom, but others had to wait until extra sets could be brought in to accommodate the surprisingly large class before the instruction could begin.

 The Atlantic County Firearms Training Facility staff has never seen a class as big as the one held Sunday, Jan. 26, when the 38 people filled the small classroom from wall-to-wall as the staff taught its First Steps Pistol Class, an overview of how to use a variety of handguns, personal safety and range rules.

 Just the weekend before, the previous record of 19 students was smashed when 26 showed up, and range manager David Daniels said he sees no end in sight.

 “We have had to make it first-come, first serve,” he said. “We used to have people make appointments, but then they wouldn’t show up. Today, we had people waiting for us when we arrived.”

 The range had 500 members in 2010, 689 members in 2011 and 800 members in 2012 and is on pace to beat that number in 2013 if activity continues at this rate, Daniels said.

 What the county’s range is witnessing follows suit to what the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement are seeing in both gun sales and firearm permits.

 The FBI keeps a record of how many firearms are being purchased legally through gun dealers. For every sale, a National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, is ordered.

 The FBI’s data shows that almost 2 million checks for gun purchases have been conducted just since January. Since the bureau started keeping track in 1998, the busiest weeks have all occurred between the end of November 2012 and today, with more being run continually.

 “I am looking forward to an incredible year at the facility. The membership has grown to be the strongest it ever has been,” Daniels said.

Among other courses, the firearm safety classes are held at the Betsy Scull Road facility every few weeks, a requirement of those who wish to use the range during public hours on weekends.

 The range attracts citizens and law enforcement officers from most of South Jersey.

“We have people coming here from Gloucester, Cumberland, Cape May and Camden counties,” he said.

 In fact, there were others at the Sunday class from even further away.

 Jason Bessinger, 30, and Dawid Gawron, 21, live in Pittsburgh, but travelled to the Egg Harbor Township center to obtain the National Rifle Association certificate showing competency with a firearm, a component required for obtaining the Florida Concealed Weapon or Firearm License, an authorization that allows them to cross most state lines with a concealed weapon.

 Bessinger said he wants to be able to carry a concealed weapon as part of the rights afforded to him under the Constitution’s Second Amendment and the $40 class fee here was much less than closer to home, where it could cost up to $100.

 “We wanted to come and get educated on safety, but also this class is step one in getting the Florida concealed carry permit,” said Bessinger, a salesman back at home. “We saved a lot of money by coming here.”

 The local students interviewed said they mostly wanted to have protection in case of home invasion.

 Michael Otaegui, 30, a landscaper and captain with the Bargaintown Volunteer Fire Company in Egg Harbor Township, said he purchased a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun for home defense.

 “I wanted to know how to use it safely and also to be able to use the range,” he said.

 For others, the class was a family affair.

 Leonard Dagit of Egg Harbor Township has been using firearms since he was a child and served in the military, but he had been encouraging his wife Lisa and 14-year-old daughter Angelica to learn how to use them. The trio spent the day learning the range rules and handgun safety tips after already attending the rifle and shotgun training course during a previous weekend.

 Lisa Dagit, 50, said they wanted to come to the class to learn how to become comfortable with using guns and how to handle them in with safety.

“We will continue to come to enhance our skills,” she said. She and her daughter never shot a gun until recently, but now share a few firearms between them.  Dagit works as the director of curriculum and instruction Hamilton Township School District.

 The range allows “juniors,” shooters aged 10 to 18, to join the range and come to class if they are accompanied by a parent, Daniels said.

 Amadeo Bucci, 28, of Absecon said he has friends who are police officers and participate in competitions and he wanted to join them. “I didn’t get my gun for personal defense,” said Bucci, a supervisor for Rite Aid. "I wanted to get into competitive shooting."

Galloway resident Taka Reed, 42, a systems engineer at the FAA Tech Center, said he had filed for his firearm permit the week before the school shooting in Connecticut in December. “I wanted to get one to use it has a hobby and come to do target shooting, but after the shooting, I got worried my paperwork wouldn’t be approved. It added pressure to getting it,” he said, mentioning concerns over the discussion of possible gun control regulations that has been part of President Obama’s task force.

 Overall regardless of the individual reasons for attending, Daniels said the high attendance is a positive sign for responsible gun usage.

“There’s no telling how many accidents we have prevented,” he said.

Submitted by Bob Karrer/The mother and daughter team of Lisa Dagit, left, and 14-year-old Angelica works on their handgun skills during the Sunday, Jan. 27 class. They attended the rifle course earlier in the month. Submitted by Bob Karrer/The mother and daughter team of Lisa Dagit, left, and 14-year-old Angelica works on their handgun skills during the Sunday, Jan. 27 class. They attended the rifle course earlier in the month.

Submitted/Twenty new identification cards await to be united with their owners on Jan. 12, when 20 members joined in one day. There had been 26 students in the First Steps Pistol Class, a record until the following weekend when the record number was broken again by high attendance. Submitted/Twenty new identification cards await to be united with their owners on Jan. 12, when 20 members joined in one day. There had been 26 students in the First Steps Pistol Class, a record until the following weekend when the record number was broken again by high attendance.

Chuck Eberson/Ryan Perkins of Ventnor receives his graduation certificate. Chuck Eberson/Ryan Perkins of Ventnor receives his graduation certificate.

Chuck Eberson/Ryan Perkins of Ventnor and Jason Ruggiero of Egg Harbor Township proudly display their certificates for the First Steps Pistol Orientation. Chuck Eberson/Ryan Perkins of Ventnor and Jason Ruggiero of Egg Harbor Township proudly display their certificates for the First Steps Pistol Orientation.

 

Submitted/The Federal Bureau of Investigations keeps a tally of national gun sales through tracking the background checks completed. The numbers show a steady increase in 2012 and into 2013. Submitted/The Federal Bureau of Investigations keeps a tally of national gun sales through tracking the background checks completed. The numbers show a steady increase in 2012 and into 2013.

Submitted by Bob Karrer/Not all of the gun owners were new to handling firearms. The class is required only if someone would like to become a member of the facility. Submitted by Bob Karrer/Not all of the gun owners were new to handling firearms. The class is required only if someone would like to become a member of the facility.

Chuck Eberson/The classroom at the Atlantic County Firearms Training Facility in Egg Harbor Township is packed with students on Sunday, Jan. 26. Chuck Eberson/The classroom at the Atlantic County Firearms Training Facility in Egg Harbor Township is packed with students on Sunday, Jan. 26.

 

 


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