BLAM BLAM — Bruce Seifert fires two 9 mm Luger Lellier & Bellot rounds through a paper target five yards in front of him. He’s holding the pistol up against his gut, the recommended technique for fending off a threat at close range. His instructor Skip Bailey taps him on the back, the cue for Seifert to squeeze off two more rounds. The shots are loud and sharp, and they ring out across the concrete expanse of the range.
Seifert is taking a “G” requalification course, mandatory for anyone who carries a gun on the job to complete annually. This year, he passes by a wide margin. But even for this seasoned gun owner, something about the shooting session rattles him.
“I could see my hands shaking really profusely,” he says to Bailey. “I gotta work on that.”
Two stalls down, a couple of young men take turns blasting away with a pair of rented semi-automatic pistols. In the silence that punctuates periods of reloading, they politely sweep up their spent bullet shells and dump them into a barrel –each month Take Aim collects about 2,500 pounds of lead and up to 700 pounds of brass for recycling. Despite the din of so many flying rounds, the broad shouldered men in attendance keep the atmosphere relaxed, almost jovial. They share a belly laugh when retired Mississippi State Trooper Hilary Davis cracks a joke about his wife.
Almost all of the employees of the range have experience in the military or on a police force, and many have both — it’s a part of the shared understanding that ties range staff to one another. Seifert held the rank of Captain in an artillery unit during the Vietnam War. Another instructor, Mike Magowan, served as a sniper in the 101st airborne division before going into law enforcement. “My friends are the best instructors in the world,” he says. “We got a pretty good group of guys. There’s a lot of knowledge in this shop.”
He takes his job seriously — for the most part, the trained expression on Magowan’s face betrays about as much emotion as a football. “I train all kinds of people,” he says, “from small children to spies. Government contractors, law enforcement, military– I do a lot of civilian training, stuff like that.”
According to Magowan, instructors like himself play an vital role in the community by providing training to those that have access to firearms but lack the discipline to use them properly. “People misunderstand that having a gun and having a concealed weapons permit doesn’t make you a gunfighter, it makes you a gun
owner,” he says. “And what we want you to do is to be able to use that gun should you have to…We train people to defend themselves.”
Magowan has taken on a number of unusual students, from a crash course in tactical gun fighting for a man receiving death threats to teaching a police officer who lost use of their right arm in a car accident. “There were law enforcement agencies in the area giving him a hard time about it,” he says. “I taught him how to shoot with his left hand, how to do everything one-handed… last I knew he was working for Palmetto [county police department], on duty.”
“I once had a guy come in and he had no finger,” he mentions. “People in wheelchairs, stuff like that.”
A hint of a smile sneaks on Magowan’s face as he talks about his students. “Sometimes you get to come home and feel good about helping people. I’m not teaching blind kids to see or anything, but I do get to make people feel better.” He continues, “I like working with kids — you usually get the biggest reaction out of them, they’re usually the happiest by the time they’re done.”
“You see angry people come in here, and they go shoot, and they’ll feel
a lot better.” Letting out a melodramatic sigh of contentment, he says, “It’s very cleansing. The more people shoot the less they’re stressed out.”
According to the owner of Take Aim, Don Broeckel, more people are shooting than ever before. He’s seen the range and the gun industry go through a variety of ups and downs since his son-in-law co-founded the business in January of 1997. “And it’s still a family owned and operated business,” he adds, “I’ve owned it since July of ’98.”
“Obviously back at that time, things were a little bit sluggish,” he says of Take Aim’s early years. “But we’ve been building our business for years. And we were growing about 12 to 20 percent per year, probably since 2005.
The upswing in business is invariably due to a number of factors, Broeckel explains. “We do a lot to promote our business. We advertise in three different phone books — we find that’s the best bang for our buck.”
He also recognizes a broader trend behind the surge: an enormous uptick in the levels of guns and ammunition sold in the country surrounding the 2008 presidential election. “Last year and a half we’ve had some exceptional sales because of the political climate,” Broeckel says, adding that he’s had trouble keeping ammunition in stock due to the increasing demand.
“When Obama started getting the presidency, everyone got scared,” Magowan says. “People that never wanted a gun before all of sudden were in here buying guns. Then what happened is, the gun owners in the county almost doubled. So you still have the same amount of ammo, and you have twice as many people
buying it. And you got more people hoarding it.”
“Most gun makers would like to give Obama an award for being gun salesman of the year,” Bailey says with a chuckle. He adds that the number of gun sales in the US have risen by 300 percent since 2008.
For now, business is continuing as usual at Take Aim. The run on ammunition may be coming to an end, but either way, the day-to-day business of keeping bullets flying down the shooting range will change little. Like Magowan says, “I just let people blow crap up.”
“We say that all the time.”