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PSI fills public safety gap with new handgun training

Monday, November 17, 2014

Art Amann

Once again, the Public Safety Institute (PSI) at Mercyhurst University is ramping up plans to fill a gap in public safety with the launch of a new firearms training program for private citizens.

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.

“We believe that it is the responsibility of every gun owner to be as educated and as safe as they can be,” said PSI Director Arthur Amann, Ed.D. “Our new Citizen Handgun Familiarization course 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 Active Countermeasures Program (self-defense).

The newest offering, which met with positive feedback from a test cohort of 10 who took the course last month, officially begins Wednesday, Dec. 17, from 6 to 10 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 20, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the Keystone Gun Club, 902 E. 28th St.

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.

The primary instructor of the Citizen Handgun Familiarization course is Paul Foltz, an adult probation officer, certified firearms instructor and adjunct faculty for Mercyhurst’s Municipal Police Training Academy. He will be assisted by Amann, Dave Rockwell, PSI associate director; and John Villa, PSI’s emergency services coordinator. Bill Hale, police academy director, has also taken a significant role in establishing the new program.

“People buy weapons, thinking they will be safe, but frequently they don’t even know what to do with them,” Hale said. “It’s a false sense of security. For other people, guns are handed down through a family – ‘it was my dad’s’ – but again, they don’t know the first thing about handling them.”

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.