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Around the South Bay

Target shooting is a psychological sport like golf and billiards, says the co-owner of a shooting range.

February 05, 1989|Hugo Martin

Sandwiched between two plain white buildings in an industrial neighborhood in Torrance is Joe and Garth Gaines' shooting range.

Except for the muffled sounds of gunfire emitting from the bland, concrete building, it looks like any other structure on West 208th St.

Stepping inside, the blasts of a .357 magnum revolver, a .44 semiautomatic and an occasional assault rifle ring loud and the smell of ignited gun powder is noticeable.

The "regulars" gather around the gun and ammunition racks and try to speak over the repeated gunfire coming from behind a plexiglass wall that separates the shooting range from the gun shop.

They know one another so well that when an "outsider" enters the range on a recent afternoon, they break from their usual conversations about the latest firearm advancement or shooting competition to find out about him.

"A reporter for the Times?"someone asks.

Within minutes everyone who isn't shooting or repairing a gun has gathered in a circle in the middle of the shop. They want to talk about gun control. It's clearly an evil.

"How many people are killed every year by drunk drivers?" Garth calls out as he tends the cash register. "Yet you don't see us outlawing cars."

Harold Clapper, a retired aerospace worker, agrees. "If everybody had a gun, those drive-by shooters would probably think twice before shooting."

Randall Herrst, a legal aid from Torrance, argues for the right of people to protect their homes. "Most burglars won't enter your home if they know you have a gun."

Ironically, lots of talk about gun control is good for business, says Joe. "Every time some politician talks about banning guns, I get three times more sales of those guns because people think they had better buy them while they can."

The purchasers are generally rational, law-abiding people from all walks of life who have been trained in the proper use of firearms, he says. Yet the regulars at the gun range feel they must counter the misconceptions and stereotypes people have about gun owners.

"We don't get any Rambo types around here," Joe says, as he looks around Sharp Shooter Inc. Indoor Target Range & Gun Shop, which he and his brother have been running for six years. "We'll get doctors, lawyers, housewives, professionals . . . all sorts of people."

When a slew of gang-related killings--or, at a time like this, when a mass shooting has given currency to anti-gun talk--they want to explain why they like to shoot.

Many gun owners participate in shooting competitions, they say. Some own guns to protect themselves and practice occasionally so that their skills will not get rusty.

"We get as hot about it as anybody else," Joe says. "But I am more for personnel control than for gun control.

While Joe emphasizes that shooting is a psychological sport like golf and billiards, others, like Clapper, describe shooting as therapeutic.

"If you had a rough day, you come here and let out your frustration," he says. "One time I put (Libyan leader Moammar) Kadafi's picture up on the target . . . . I shot a hell of a lot better with that guy up there."

A man in his 60s, who just calls himself "John," says he and his wife each own a .38 magnum handgun, which they shoot regularly at the range. The guns are mostly for protection. John says that if he had to shoot an intruder in his home, he wouldn't hesitate.

"If I was in imminent danger I would. So would my wife," he says. "We've talked about it."

Clapper, who said he has been shooting since he was a 7-year-old boy in South Dakota, agrees. "Sure, I would shoot someone if I had to. If I'm in danger I'm going to blow him away."

I can't leave the range without trying it for myself.

I take up a .357 magnum double-action Smith & Wesson revolver, ear muffs and an eye protector and head for the shooting range. They won't let me start with a shotgun or assault rifle.

Since I have never owned, let alone shot, a handgun, Joe takes a few minutes with the fundamentals. He teaches me how to stand at a 45-degree angle from the target and how to grip the gun with both hands, holding it in front of me with my right elbow locked and my left slightly bent.

I learn how to line up the sights slightly below the center of the target and then slowly press the trigger.

Bang. The gun gives a quick kick as a small burst of gray smoke rises from the barrel.

"Not bad," he says, noting that my arms are too tense and that I can't keep the gun from slightly trembling. "Try again."

Bang. Another burst of smoke.

"Good. Keep going."

Bang. Bang.

From there it is a piece of cake. I become more relaxed and my shots begin to hit with more accuracy.

Bang. Bang. I reload and think: "This is not bad." Even with the ear protectors the gun blasts leave my ears ringing. But soon I don't notice the sound and I fire another six rounds.

After about 30 shots, my hand begins to cramp and I put the gun and my equipment away.

As I leave the range, I feel a part of the fraternal order of gun owners. But as exciting as the experience was, I say to myself: "I'll stick to jogging."

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