No Time-Share, Just Facts For Writers at SAF/NSSF Class
by Peggy Tartaro,
At the opening get together of the 2007 edition of Firearms & Fiction, writer Pat White asked me with a smile, “When do you sell us the time share?”
White, like other mystery, romantic suspense and fantasy writers attending the seminar, sponsored by the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), was wondering what the catch was.
After all, the sponsoring groups were hosting the 2-1/2 day event, and picking up the tab for the 18 writers and their seven guests, who included spouses, researchers and assistants (except for travel and incidentals).
But, as I explained to her (and elaborated on in the classroom portion of the seminar), both groups recognize the value of making a connection with purveyors of popular culture, and offering ourselves as a continuing resource for them.
“This is a group of writers who influence popular culture,” NSSF’s managing director of communications, safety and education, Bill Brassard had said in a report about a similar seminar conducted earlier this year. “As with any other media group, it’s in the industry’s best interest to make sure they portray firearms accuratelyand it’s in the novelists’ best interest, in terms of credibility with their audience.”
Similarly, SAF would love to see a slew of best-selling novels featuring characters who know Glock’s don’t typically have external safeties and that revolvers don’t leave spent cartridges at the scene of the crime, and who find it more difficult to move from one locale to another with their firearms because of the patchwork on federal and state laws.
Pitches & Glitches
When SAF started the program in 2000, it was a little bit more difficult to convince writers to attend, and that there wouldn’t be a time share pitchor even a political speechat the end of their classroom and range work. But nowadays, we simply tell our previous attendees that we’re holding another event, and they do all the pitching to their fellow writers.
This year, because of a variety of glitches, we weren’t even sure we would have a Fall 2006 Firearms & Fiction event (although we had run a one-day event for the Kiss of Death Chapter of the Romance Writers of America in July). When we did pull it together, we had only a month to get a class organized and a venue confirmed. Class of 2005 students Louisa Swann, Karmela Johnson and Pati Nagle, together with mystery writer/W&G Contributor/all-around good gal CJ Songer put the word out, and the 2006 class came together rapidly.
In fact, this was our biggest group in a couple of years, and with most of the writers’ guests also participating in class and at the range, we scrambled a bit to put it together.
Luckily, Las Vegas’ late Fall weather has yet to let us down, and neither have the fine folks at Desert Sportsman Rifle & Pistol Club, who provide the range facilities for the seminar. This year they provided four ranges, target stands, targets and some clay target throwers as well as a clubhouse for lunch.
Sunday evening we get together informally so everyone can put faces to names and early Monday morning we begin the classroom portion of the seminar. Fortunately, Don Turner, project manager for the new Clark County Shooting Park, was able to drop in and deliver a report which his schedule would not permit during the weekdays of the seminar.
David & Goliath
SAF President Joseph P. Tartaro kicks off the day after he and Shari LeGate, representing NSSF, offer welcoming remarks. Tartaro’s presentation covers a few thousand years of projectile-launching history, tracing the history of arms development and later ammunitionfrom Biblical times to the presentall in about 90 minutes.
I asked returning student Louisa Swann if she found the classroom portion, which changes from year to year, but not substantially, repetitive, and she said no, she was able to pick up new facts, even from presentations she had heard before.
This year, more students than not had their laptops in the classroomand boy, can these folks type fast!
Trey Minton, Clovis Oyler, April Clayton and Chris Pollman (the artists formerly known as T-CATT) returned to Firearms & Fiction, bringing with them an array of firearms for the range portion and their expertise in criminal law, firearms, martial arts, force-on-force tactics, Simunitions demonstrations, and, for all I know, origami lessons.
LeGate first got her feet wet in these programs at the one-day July seminar with 100 writers. At this session she was able to provide more classroom and range input, holding forth on everything from traveling overseas and domestically with firearms to firearms storage and locks to books and movies’ bad examples. The following day, her championship shotgunning skills (and custom Perazzi) were on display at the range, where she also instructed in rifle and pistol.
“The writers’ seminars put on by the Second Amendment Foundation and National Shooting Sports Foundation are among the best tools that our industry has. Instructing these writers in the proper use and safe handling of firearms furthers our goal in educating the non-shooting public about the importance of firearm ownership,” LeGate said.
Ballistic Facts v. Fiction
Returning instructor Torrey Johnson, from the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, once again held the writers spellbound with stories of forensics and ballistics. As usual, he was peppered with questions throughout his lecture and you could almost hear the future plot points developing.
Another Firearms & Fiction returnee was Songer, who brought her peer-to-peer skills to the classroom discussion and her firearms training to the range.
With both a group lunch and dinner on Monday, there is ample time for one-on-one discussion with instructors and other attendees.
Early Tuesday morning the class gathered for a short bus ride to Desert Sportsman. Even five years ago, the ride seemed longer as there was a significant stretch in which it seemed Las Vegas ended and the desert took over. These days, Las Vegas has spread to the edge of Desert Sportsman, which is about three miles from Red Rock Canyonthere’s now a casino nearby, a housing development across the road and the ubiquitous Starbucks and Pottery Barns a few blocks away.
This gives us a chance to discuss the disappearance of nearby ranges and gun clubs with the writers who may not have known about the difficulties many clubs and ranges face these days from encroaching “civilization.”
Although Desert Sportsman is somewhat lacking in facilities such as running water, the beautiful desert scenery and the vast acreage (and it’s capacity to host club members, LVPD and the writers’ seminar all at one time), are compensation enough. No one seems to mind (too much) the inevitable trip to the portapotty when the shooting is so varied and plentiful.
First stop for the writers at the range was long range rifles, with a Barrett M82A1 .50BMG and a full size H-Bar-Remington 700BDL in .308 with a precision scope mounted. Targets on this range were set at 100 yards and 400 yards.
Demystifying these “sniper” guns for the writersand posing questions such as “how’d you like your character to lug that around?”is one of the many benefits of Firearms & Fiction. Everybody got a chance to try both guns, and although we never insist the writers try guns they don’t feel comfortable with, no one missed a chance to shoot the Barrett.
Short Range Guns
Desert Sportsman gives us the opportunity to showcase an array of guns that even a well-connected writer in another state would be unlikely to use in one day.
After the long-range guns came a move to another range area at Desert Sportsman where the writers got to shoot: a Beretta .22 Short semi-auto; EAA Witness in .22 LR; a Ruger .22 single action Bearcat; a Colt Python .357; Glock Models 17, 19 and 21 from 9mm to .4 ACP; SIGSauer P225 in 9mm and P220 in .45. Long guns on the back range were a Colt AR-15 in M4; a Benelli M1Super 90 semi-auto combat shotgun; an Ithaca o/u 20-gauge, and a Franchi 20-gauge semi-auto. The writers also got to shoot a Swedish-K 9mm subgun.
Predictably, after trying all or most of the offerings, individual writers would gravitate back to firearms they thought most likely to appear in their books and characters’ hands, asking detailed questions of their instructors.
A break for a picnic lunch (and more questions and comments) followed the live fire and instructors cleared that range and an adjacent bermed pocket range for the afternoon’s segment, for which the class was divided into two groups.
The first group met LeGate and a couple of helpers from Desert Sportsman for a lesson in shotgunning, with manually-released traps. First up were a couple of 20-gauge shotguns, one an over/under and the other an autoloader.
And the very first shooter up was author Terry Heyman, a shotgunning novice, who nevertheless broke a clay bird on his first shot.
After each writer got a chance at the two standard 20-gauges, they also had another unique opportunityusing LeGate’s custom-made Perazzi, an MX8, in 12-gauge. The barrels have no side ribs to reduce the barrel weight and are 28 inches in length. The length of pull is 13˘”. The stock is made from Claro walnut and is customized to fit LeGate’s body style, with the pistol grip is customized to her palm. It is fully choked and has an interchangeable trigger group. Several writers commented on the noticeable differences between the first two shotguns and LeGate’s Perazziconnoisseurs in just an hour or so!
On the other side of the club, tucked away between berms, a shoot house was set up for the Simunitions demonstration.
Very few people, outside of law-enforcement and expert level self-defense students have an opportunity to try Simunitions, which use a specially-altered real handgun loaded with special paint-marking “bullets” behind a light powder charge.
Those trying the “Sims” were sequestered, and once someone completed a run, they were forbidden to talk to other future participants about their experience. When one group finished Sims they moved to the shotgun course, switching with that group.
Although each Sims run involved a hostage situation, the scenario varied for each student. Where a writer had brought a guest, that guest was pressed into service (where willing) as the hostage, adding to the verisimilitudeand adrenaline.
Through each stage of the run, beginning when Oyler and Pollman dressed the student, loaded their gun and gave initial instructions, to the actual scenario run by Minton (again as the bad guy) and Clayton, together with a designated hostage, the student came as close to a real-life hostage situation as possible.
The valuable experience surprised a number of the students. As has happened in the past, several froze completely; several laid down their gun when instructed by the bad guys, and several surprised instructorsand themselvesby winning the fight by whatever means necessary.
For some writers, it was easier to “play” their character in the Sims scenario, for others, the threat to loved onesreal or imaginedwas enough.
Unsurprisingly, several students broke down after their “fights,” but everyone we talked to afterward was glad they had the opportunity to get as close to a real life “gun fight” as possible.
After a full day at the range, everyone was ready for a brief rest before the farewell dinner. I spoke with students Matt Buchman and Laura Ware about the 2006 edition Firearms & Fiction and both were grateful for the opportunity, while each brought a different perspective to it.
Ware loved Torrey Johnson’s classroom presentation with its wealth of technical detail, while Buchman found the most value in classroom and range experiences that discussedor demonstratedthe emotions involved.
During dinner, Minton debriefed the class on the Sims, noting that the instructors also learned valuable lessons from the students during the demonstrations.
Even after two full days, questions flew around the room at instructors, and we were asked when the next class was to be scheduled.
Posing for the “class picture,” instructors and students alike were all smiles, hardly needing prompting from the photographer.
Each Firearms & Fiction event is a little different. Just as each student takes away a different perspective, so do the instructors, who continue to believe the event has far-reaching consequences for the gun-owning community.
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