Note from Dan: I’m on vacation this week, so you’re getting treated to some oldie-but-goodie columns from the past. This one appeared April 12, 2009. Sheriff Octavia Johnson is running for re-election in November. Meanwhile, another (ex) sheriff has owned up to some mistakes.
There is a great debate, it seems, on the question as to whether living, breathing humans should ever stand near targets on a firing range as the shooting commences.
That may sound hard to believe. But I heard a valiant defense for the practice at a news conference outside the Roanoke jail Friday.
Roanoke Sheriff Octavia Johnson organized it to respond to Roanoke Times reporter Amanda Codispoti’s remarkable story Friday about such training organized by the sheriff’s department last fall.
During the training at the Dixie Caverns shooting range, volunteers stood 50 to 100 yards downrange from the sharpshooters, and 2 to 5 feet away from the targets they aimed at.
The arguments in favor of humans-on-the-range target practice went like this:
There are many high-risk circumstance police must train for.
Paper targets are a poor substitute for the pressure that snipers experience in hostage situations.
Military commandos get the same kind of training.
nhe shooters are not newbies, but trained, capable marksmen.
The sheriff’s department also distributed a statement from the expert who was paid $3,500 to conduct the training. Here’s an excerpt from that:
“In order to understand the responsibilities, in order to feel it, for real, the training needs to be real,” Paul Castle of Nashville, Tenn., wrote.
Now, it’s hard for a humble scribe who is not a gun owner to evaluate such arguments. So last week I convened my own panel of experts and described the training to them.
Two are longtime hunters. One is an Army officer now in Iraq. All three are serious gun guys.
Each one of them accused me of pulling their leg.
“Call 100 gun people and they’ll all tell you the same thing — it’s insane,” said Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a Roanoke County gun owner, hunter and political pundit. “What if one of the shooters had coughed? Someone could wind up dead.”
But perhaps the best argument against this practice came out of the mouth of Sheriff Johnson herself.
When questioned, Johnson said she was unaware in advance that the training would include living, breathing humans on the range during target practice.
When she heard about it afterward, from Roanoke County police Chief Ray Lavinder, “I was rather surprised,” she said.
And then she was asked if it would happen again.
“Would I allow it again? We would have to look close at the whole situation, as to what’s been going on …. They are trained to be snipers … I feel that the snipers know what they are able and capable of doing.”
Pressed further, Johnson said it would never happen again at the Dixie Caverns shooting range (I bet Lavinder has already seen to that).
But that seemed to leave open the possibility that deputies might do it elsewhere.
Pressed even further, Johnson stated simply that it wouldn’t happen again.
It may have taken her a while to think it through.
But she finally came up with the right answer.