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Educate before arming, urges Mercyhurst PSI director

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Art Amann

With the Paris terrorist attacks fresh in people’s minds and the number of Erie County residents applying for gun permits on the uptick, Mercyhurst University Public Safety Institute (PSI) Director Art Amann cautions that gun owners need to know how to safely handle their weapons.

“People buy guns for protection, but ownership provides nothing more than a false sense of security if they don’t how to handle them,” said Amann, who manages the PSI’s firearms training program for private citizens.  

The number of applications for gun permits in Erie County has jumped about 54 percent since the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, compared with the same period in 2014, Sheriff John Loomis said in a Nov. 27 Erie Times-News story.

Each month, an estimated 200 people obtain or renew licenses to carry firearms, according to PSI officials. While some states require training for these individuals, Pennsylvania is not one of them, which prompted PSI to expand the services of its Civilian Training Academy, which also offers training in situational awareness and self-defense.

“We are not about telling people to buy handguns; our focus is to work with people who already have them to ensure that they use them safely and effectively if needed,” Amann said.

The Citizen Handgun Familiarization course, which began a year ago, is designed for anyone with an interest in handguns, their safe handling, safe storage, an understanding of Pennsylvania gun laws and developing their shooting skills.

Amann said this marks the first time a structured course in handgun safety has been offered to the general public by a higher education institution. He added that the course, which is limited to handguns and not shotguns or rifles, has the support of Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri and Erie County Sheriff John Loomis. The course is open to those who have obtained their license to carry a handgun.

With the national uptick in mass shootings, gun violence and other terroristic events, PSI established its Civilian Training Academy several years ago. Since then, more than 1,000 area residents have been trained in situational awareness - being aware of one's surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations. Numerous businesses and school districts have undergone training through PSI’s Organizational Safety Program and dozens of individuals have taken part in the academy’s “Fighting Back” program (self-defense).

The next handgun training program will be offered Saturday, Jan. 16, from 8:30 a.m. to noon, and Wednesday, Jan. 20, from 5:30 to 9 p.m., at the Keystone Gun Club, 902 E. 28th St. in Erie.

The course will consist of a half day of classroom lecture/training with the focus on safety, marksmanship, gun mechanics and legal concerns affecting handgun usage, including the use of deadly force, specifically, the Castle Doctrine, or defense of habitation law. The second part of the course moves to the firing range for practical skills training. Students may bring their own handguns to the range, but they will be examined by the PSI staff prior to use. A limited number of handguns will be available to use.

Amann said the value of the handgun course extends into the work of PSI instructor John Villa, who also works for the Neighborhood Resource Organization, which is devoted to building and sustaining safe neighborhoods; and Mercyhurst Civic Institute research analyst Adam Saeler, who evaluates the effectiveness of the PSI training program.

Cost for the eight-hour course is $100. To register or to obtain more information, contact Art Amann at aamann@mercyhurst.edu; 814-725-6121.