School personnel flock to Taylor gun range for free handgun training

Top Gun Shooting Sports Inc. in Taylor is offering free gun safety classes to school employees in wake of the deadly Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

When Michael Barbour, owner of Top Gun, posted the opportunity on his shooting range’s Facebook page on the evening of March 1, he had no idea how quickly people would sign up. And he certainly didn’t expect the number of people who responded.

PHOTOS: School personnel get trained on handgun safety

What started out as a plan to give 24 teachers and school administrators a one-time free course in basic handgun training and one free concealed pistol license training quickly turned into 339 spots being reserved as of March 11.

The notion of arming teachers has been heavily debated in recent weeks and Barbour said the response he received shows there definitely is some interest in the idea.

“I did this because every news media story out, there was a superintendent, a principal, a teacher, a teacher’s union rep, whatever, saying they’ve got their finger on the pulse of these teachers and there’s not one of them that wants this,” he said. “All of them think it’s a bad idea and everything, but somehow I post a free class and all of a sudden, I’ve got almost 350 different training spots that we’ve opened up.”

He designated more free classes to help fill the demand. The first basic handgun class for school employees, which includes the same material as Top Gun’s other basic handgun classes with the addition of letting school employees shoot a .22 Ruger pistol on the range, was held March 11 and was expanded to include 36 people.

“It’s kind of mind-blowing to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s just kind of crazy, when everybody’s out there portraying that no teachers want this.”

Barbour said he is not advocating for teachers to begin carrying firearms in schools immediately, but, he said, if legislation allowing teachers to carry in school passes in the future, then he’s already beginning to inform those who would have to make the decision.

“The goal of this was to simply educate more teachers and administrators on firearms and the safe use of them,” he said. “If any legislation does pass down the road, then we have a larger group of people that decide that they’re ready to do that, and that’s what they want, and maybe they decided that this is not for them.

“But either way, we have more people educated on the subject, and if there’s more training required by the state if the state was to pass something, then there’s a larger group of people that could be ready to do that. To step forward to more training, not necessarily, ‘OK, now I can carry in school,’ because you know as well as I do that the state’s not going to say a CPL class is all you’re going to need to carry in a school.”

School employees who have signed up for the classes are from across southeastern Michigan. Some people have never shot a gun, while others already own a gun.

Class is in session

“When you discharge your firearm and you’re not correct, you can’t come back from that,” firearm instructor James Glass told the March 11 class. “You cannot come back from that. It’s going to impact you, your family, your friends, your job.”

Glass has been shooting guns for the past 20 years and began training more seriously — shooting anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 rounds a month at the range — about five years ago. He’s taught a variety of safety and firearms classes at Top Gun for six months.

He teaches that using a firearm should be the very last step to take to defend oneself.

“If I can run away, I will,” he said. “If a flashlight deters them, then I’ll use that. The whole idea hopefully is that I’ll never have to use my firearm in defense of myself or others. I think that’s the goal of everyone here.”

He stresses that carrying a firearm is not for everybody. Those who go for their CPL training need to be prepared for the responsibilities that come with it, he said.

On top of that, he said, the basic handgun class is just not about guns. Glass offers a range of knowledge, including the importance of carrying a trauma kit and how to use it, home security devices and how to develop a personal protection plan.

“Predators don’t care,” he said. “They’re evil. It’s not like we put a law into place and a predator says, ‘Oh, OK, can’t do that.’”

Rather than having lawmakers spend weeks changing gun legislation, which, he said, is “just basically lip service,” there are safety measures schools can implement immediately that don’t involve firearms whatsoever.

He suggests high schools could begin by raising $3,000 to $5,000 for a metal detector in the main entrance to deter an active shooter from entering the building.

“School fundraisers … have garnished four, five times that for all kinds of things,” he said.

Another way is to install permanent and portable door locks and braces for additional security on classroom doors. He showed the Top Gun class at least four different door lock devices that he uses in his home and that range from a couple dollars up to $40.

Many school employees said they plan on contacting their school administrators to discuss installing door braces in their classroom.

Another option the Top Gun instructor offered was to cover windows in the classroom with a protective film that is used to hinder break-ins while still preserving the classroom’s appearance.

In addition to those devices, he advocates that police officers should begin stopping into high schools as part of their daily routine to maintain a presence and to build relationships.

Teachers become students

Jackie McMillion, a Brownstown resident who is in her 18th year as a special education teacher at Livonia Public Schools, took the March 11 class. Growing up, she said, she shot pistols and rifles with her father, who was a hunter.

“I feel like the answer is not to take away guns, but to empower us and train people to be able to protect themselves,” she said. “Growing up using guns, I was taught to use it responsibly.

“But I’m really concerned now that rights are being taken away from people. I certainly don’t agree at all with any of the shootings that happened, but I don’t also believe that our right to have those weapons should be taken away, and if I’m ever in a position where I can thwart the bad guy, or prevent people from being injured, I want to know what I’m doing. I want to be responsible about it. I want that training.”

She said she’s open to the idea of arming teachers.

“I have no problem with people being armed if they’ve been through training and keep up their training,” she said. “I think maintaining it is important, too.”

Laura Fines, a teacher from Montessori Children’s Center of Allen Park, where she’s worked since 2005, said never shot or even handled a gun prior to the class. Her husband is a CPL holder; however, it wasn’t something she was interested in learning on her own.

She said she had considered taking a CPL class for awhile, but it wasn’t until reading the Facebook post that she decided to do it.

She said she wanted to take the class more for her own personal safety when travelling alone rather than for school safety, but she plans on taking what she’s learned about securing classrooms back to her colleagues.

Robin Paris, an Allen Park resident and fifth-grade teacher at Summit Academy North Elementary in Romulus for 15 years, said she has shot guns before with her husband.

When she first saw Top Gun’s Facebook post on the classes, she said, “Finally, teachers will have access to information, knowledge, training to protect themselves and their students at some point in the future maybe.”

She said she took the class not only to learn how to use a gun, but also to learn other safety precautions that she can use as a teacher to protect herself and her students. She said she plans to encourage some of her colleagues to take a class, as well.

“I was always taught from the time I was a little girl from my dad that guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” she said. And James, our (firearms) instructor, enforced that right away.”

When she started her teaching career almost 20 years ago, she said, she never thought she’d find herself in enrolled in handgun and CPL classes. If she wasn’t in the Top Gun classroom on March 11, she said, she’d probably had been correcting papers, doing lesson plans and enjoying the weekend with her family.

“I think that with the proper training and the proper knowledge that people are given, they can then make better choices, make better decisions based on their safety, because we are responsible for a ton of kids in our classroom every day,” she said.

Upcoming classes

Additional free handgun safety classes for school personnel are set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 22 and 29.

Three free CPL classes, where each person will obtain a certificate that meets the requirements of the state of Michigan, will be held for school personnel on April 28, May 6 and May 7.

Barbour, owner of Top Gun, is also designating five or six free spots for school employees in each future basic handgun and CPL class, which are held year-round, typically on the weekends.

He’s putting out a challenge to other shooting ranges and firearms instructors to not necessarily offer completely free classes, but to consider designating a couple free spots for school employees in their normal classes, which he is doing to accommodate those who are still interested.

“We’ve already had a few instructors join us and offer a similar concept,” he said.

His shooting range also will offer a free seminar on school and work safety on Thursday evenings to instruct how “to keep safe and survive extreme situations at school or work.”

To sign up for classes, visit Top Gun Shooting Sports at 22050 Pennsylvania Road, visit the store’s website at tgssinc.com or call 734-282-8470.