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South Neighborhoods
Arms and the woman: Security firm offers free daylong gun-safety program

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

By Linda Wilson Fuoco , Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Donna Gornick has fired handguns. A Pittsburgh police officer put a gun in her hands and showed her how to fire it.

The officer was her father, "Downtown" Donny Brown.

From left, Colleen Cohen of Mt. Lebanon passes ammunition to Linda Kissell of Dormont, and Brenda Osinski of McKeesport loads her handgun during Shield Police/ Security Training Inc.'s recent gun safety course for women. (Tony Tye/Post-Gazette)

He takes direct aim at gun safety

"But I haven't fired a gun in 20 years, and Dad never taught me how to load, unload or clean a handgun," Gornick said on a recent Saturday afternoon as she put on protective goggles and earplugs and took her place on a Mon Valley shooting range.

Gornick was one of 26 women enrolled in a free Basic Firearms Safety Course designed for women who have little or no experience with handguns.

The first-time class for women only was offered by Shield Police/Security Training Inc.

Jeffrey Osinski of Whitehall and Mike D'Allesandro of Jefferson Hills, owners of the company, were pleasantly surprised by the interest in the course.

"This is a woman's home safety and self-defense course," Osinski said. "It gives basic techniques" with emphasis on safety. "Our cutoff was 26, and 66 women contacted us."

Forty women have been placed on a waiting list for a future class.

"The youngest woman in this class is 22 and several are grandmothers. About a third of them live alone and several have husbands who work nights," Osinski said. "A couple have gun permits but do not own guns."

There is a gun in Gornick's Bon Air house because she and her son are frequently home alone at night while her husband, a coal miner, works the night shift. Her father, who has retired from the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, "was really happy that I signed up for this course," Gornick said. "He thought it was a good idea."

Hilary Kingsley recently earned a two-year degree in criminal justice and hopes to become a police officer. She works as a dispatcher for the Pleasant Hills Police Department and hopes to enter the police academy next fall. But she had not yet fired a gun, so she signed up for the course.

One of Gornick's and Kingsley's classmates said her husband owns a number of guns and has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. She, however, does not know how to use any of those guns, so she jumped at the chance to sign up for a free course.

You have to practice

That's a fairly common situation, said instructor Dennis Glaus.

"Many people have guns in their house but do not know how to use them," he said. "If you have a gun, you have to realize that you may have to shoot someone. You can be hurt by your own weapon. If you have a gun, you have to go the entire route. You have to know how to use it and you have to practice."

Gun owners who do not know how to use their weapons can shoot themselves or can have the gun taken away from them by an attacker or a burglar, Glaus said. "If you are just going to throw your weapon in a drawer" without learning how to use it, "you'd probably be better off with a whistle or [pepper] spray."

Women in the course received seven hours of classroom instruction and one hour on the Twin Rivers Council of Governments shooting range in Elizabeth, a former Nike missile site.

Shield supplied the women with .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolvers and ammunition -- 158-grain semi-wad cutters.

They lined up on the firing range, six at a time, shooting at a distance of five yards. They quickly learned that hitting a target is not as easy as it appears on television police shows. But with the help of instructors, they all got most of their shots on the target board, and many did far better.

"Hey, I think you're a ringer," an instructor told Colleen Cohen of Mt. Lebanon, as all of her shots hit the middle of the paper pie plate target.

"I only fired a gun one time before this," she said, with a sheepish grin.

All the women improved over the course of their one-hour shooting session.

Each woman received a 72-page instructional booklet during the class. The course started with the most basic information about choosing a handgun.

Glaus explained the difference between semiautomatics and revolvers and suggested they make sure their personal weapons fit their hands.

"When you decide what you want, you have to practice," Glaus said. "Check the yellow pages" for facilities that supply guns, ammunition and targets. "Dry-fire practice is a godsend, it's cheap and it really helps."

Dry-firing is going through all the steps of shooting, but with an unloaded firearm.

'A moral responsibility'

Safety was a major point in the course, starting with the admonition to handle every gun as if it is loaded -- and then open it up and make sure it is unloaded.

"Every year people are killed by 'unloaded' weapons," Glaus said. "If you are going to keep a firearm in your bedroom for protection, do not keep it in the night stand or in a mattress holster in your bed. Keep it as far away from your bed as possible" so that you are on your feet, awake and, let's hope, alert by the time you have the gun in your hand.

Glaus explained that trigger locks and locked gun safes and gun lockers will safely secure guns.

"Set your alarm for the middle of the night for a fire drill. See how long it takes you to get up and get to the weapon," he suggested.

"If you own a gun, you have a liability and a moral responsibility," Glaus said. "You do not want your children or a neighbor's children" to get their hands on it.

He also demonstrated how to clean weapons, which needs to be done every time the gun is fired. He also recommended cleaning two to four times a year even if the gun is not fired.

Shield Police/Security Training, Inc., located in Dormont, has been in business since 1990.

A Pennsylvania State Certified Lethal Weapons Training School, it offers courses to security personnel, businesses and law enforcement agencies.

One of Shield's star pupils is Charmaine Dunbar, the University of Pittsburgh security guard who in October shot and wounded a man who had threatened her with a rifle. The man turned out to be Daniel Wesley, who police say is responsible for a string of sexual assaults in the East End.

"She called us and thanked us for the instruction she received," Osinski said.

For information about future gun safety courses, call Shield at 412-531-0333.

Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1512.

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