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Think before you shoot
Firearms class aims to make gun owners more responsible

COVINGTON - You've heard it said, "It ain't like it is on TV," and Sgt. Arvo Bowen of the Covington Police Department is set to preach that message to those interested in learning about the responsibilities of gun ownership.

"The easiest thing in the world, and it's been proven, unfortunately, again and again, is to pick up a handgun and pull the trigger. Anybody can do that," he said. "I teach that and give basic gun-handling skills in this class, but the real message I'm trying to get across in the intellectual message of when you can use deadly force and when you cannot, where you can carry your weapon and where you cannot."

The free instruction will be given on three Saturdays - March 28, May 9 and Aug. 15 - from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and classes are limited to an enrollment of 10 students each.

"The class is for anybody, not just people who live in the city limits of Covington," he said. "It's for anybody who needs help with firearms. My chief, Stacy Cotton, has graciously allowed me to extend that invitation because he wants the same thing I do - if people are more informed about how to carry and handle firearms, that makes police officers' jobs safer."

Bowen, a firearms instructor certified by the state of Georgia, as well as through the FBI and DEA, promises a day crammed with information every gun owner needs to know.

He said he speaks to what is lawful and what is not, giving information on court cases where citizens have used their handguns and the outcome; demonstrating the mechanical function of the weapon - how to shoot it, how to aim it, how to reload it, how to clean it; storing a gun safely in a home; what type of ammunition is needed; and, the all-important question of when a citizen can lawfully shoot their weapon at another person.

"A human being's life is the most sacred and valuable thing there is. There is nothing that is more precious," he said. "So I don't feel like you should take it without thought."

Bowen teaches that in any shooting situation there is a window of opportunity when deadly force is justified.

"And in the twinkling of an eye, you go through that threshold and it's no longer justified. You have to know where that point is," he said. "You can't shoot people for just coming in your house; you can't shoot people for stealing property, because every human being is worth more than property."

There is a three-prong test the court uses to establish whether or not deadly force is justified, he said: if the person has the ability to harm you or another person; if they have the opportunity to carry through with any threat of harm; and if yours or another person's life is in jeopardy.

He gave the example of someone in the roadway threatening you with a knife in their hand, but you are some distance away.

"Because of the distance, they don't have the opportunity to harm you," he explained. "If they started running toward you, the opportunity would increase. And then the closer they got, and if you had no way to do anything about it, then you would eventually be in jeopardy."

Bowen points out that if a homeowner feels compelled to shoot someone, they still have obligations under the law.

"If you have to use deadly force, then your job is, when it's safe, to give medical aid to the person who's been shot," he said. "Call for an ambulance and the police. Because you don't want to kill that person, you want to protect your life."

He said he also covers myths that the public has been fed about gun ownership and responsibility. One that everyone has heard is if you have to shoot somebody, keep firing until the gun is empty.

"If you shoot and empty your gun, what if you missed and didn't hit him at all? Then you're left with an empty gun and you can't defend yourself," he said. "What if the first bullet stopped the attack and you just kept shooting and killed him? What if you didn't have to take that human being's life? You shoot until you yourself see results and the results you are looking for is for that person to stop their attack or threat of your life or someone else's life."

He stressed that it is imperative that gun owners learn to think before picking up that gun, and he pointed out that by remembering the simple initials TKO - Treat every gun as loaded; Keep your finger off the trigger; and Observe direction of the muzzle - a lot of unfortunate accidents with firearms could be avoided.

He picked up the acronym from a friend who is a firearms expert and he said it's served him well as he's served as gun range master for the CPD, in charge of training officers as well as civilians in firearms safety. Also, assisting him with gun range duties and firearms instruction is Lt. Al Miller and Officer Anthony Walden.

For more information about the upcoming classes or to register, call him at 770-385-2122 or e-mail arvo.bowen@covingtonpolice.com. Guns will be provided for those who do not own one.

Barbara Knowles can be reached at barbara.knowles@newtoncitizen.com.