Oct 28, 2010

Home on the range: firearms

During their 18 weeks at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy the cadets are given three weeks off their usually studies for what is known as “range weeks.” The cadets as separated into three different groups of approximately 15 people per group and each week participate in training in firearms, emergency vehicle operation and control (EVOC), and OUI and standard field sobriety training.

Since I didn’t want to take three weeks off of the blog series I’m working on, I asked if I could check out these studies. Jack Murphy and the academy’s various Cadre were kind enough to oblige and I was able to bear witness and participate in an eye-opening experience. We’ll take it one range at a time.

Happiness is a warm gun

The first thing that pops up in your mind when you hear the word “range” is “firing” so it seemed appropriate that the first range I visited was the firearms range.

Before going the cadets had to swap out their red plastic guns for real guns in the armory. Sgt. Joe Poirier distributed them, taking care to ensure the guns were not loaded. Even with these safeguards in place, the cadets treat every gun as though it was loaded at all time, which means never pointing it towards others or oneself. Ever.

(Sgt. Joe Poirier oversees cadets as they swap out their red gun for a real gun)

Once at the firing range, the cadets were briefed by the instructors about what to expect for that day. They discussed the difference between cover and concealment (the former will protect one from bullets, while the latter obscures one from view).

(Loading up.)

Once out on the range, the cadets loaded a pre-determined number of bullets and went through different drills. Instructors had labled different targets by numbers and letters (e.g. 1, 2, 3, and A,B,C) and would call them out in various orders that the cadets would have to shoot (3, 1, 2, etc.).

Throughout the week, the cadets would fire at different distances, (Three, five, seven, 10, 15, 25 yards).

(Utilizing cover)

The cadets also had to contend with dummy rounds. These load into the gun like regular bullets, but when you go to fire them, nothing happens. No bang, no gunpowder, no recoil – nada. It’s a two-part learning tool. One, it simulates what would happen if a bullet misfires – the cadets have to “tap and rack,” meaning they tap the firearms’ magazine to ensure it’s loaded properly, then pull back on the rack to expel the dummy round. Two, it allows the cadet and the instructor to see if there is an anticipatory dip in the barrel of the gun.

The cadets learned how to shoot by utilizing their cover while standing, kneeling, and lying prone. Then walked through qualifying drills, shooting center mass then the head. They also had to learn to shoot while walking forward and backwards.

(Shooting lying down)

When it was time to break for dinner, everyone went inside and cleaned their weapons.

(Cleaning time!)

“Officers are tasked with protecting the public and that sometimes entails using deadly force,” said Sgt. William Keith of the Maine State Police and primary firearms instructor for department training at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. “If they don’t have these skills there’s a chance they’ll get hurt and that’s unacceptable.

“Law enforcement careers are running 25 to 30 years and they have a sidearm on for every shift,” he continued. “When it comes time they have to use it, these skills they learn this week and with the department will help get them through and help the public we serve.”

Shot in the dark

(Muzzle blast. Photo by Tpr. Jon Leach)

Sgt. Joe Poirer explained that despite the darkness, the cadets tend to shoot better in low-light conditions. They learned how to hold a flashlight and shoot, as well as how to best utilize their night vision (biological night vision, no fancy headgear).

(Tallying up the shots. Photo by Tpr. Jon Leach)

I was only able to spend one day and evening with the cadets during this range week. During my time there, Sgt. Poirier took the time to show me how to shoot with a 9 millimeter lent to me by Sgt. Keith and his own Glock .45. Saying it was awesome is a gross understatement. I sincerely appreciate the time they took to ensure I had a better understanding of what goes in to learning how to properly handle and fire a gun.

Tpr. Jon Leach sent pictures of the next few days, including where the cadets learned how to utilize a cruiser while shooting.

Stay tuned for two more installments of "home on the range."