Guns and gun safety are a constant issue in politics, with many quick to label opinions different from their own as either conservative gun nuts or liberal gun grabbers, but the Forsyth County Democratic Party is hoping to change that narrative.
On Saturday, members of the party received firearm safety training from members of the Bass Reeves Gun Club, part of the National African-American Gun Association, before getting in some time at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9143’s gun range on Dahlonega Highway.
Melissa Clink, chairwoman of the party, said members wanted to challenge national stereotypes about Democrats and guns.
“One of the things we're focusing on within Forsyth County is making sure that people know what Democrats actually stand for,” Clink said. “So on a national stage, you see a lot of conversation being geared towards Democrats wanting to take people's guns, and that's not actually the case. We also wanted to highlight a group that was not the NRA.”
Clink said even for those who might not enjoy guns or shooting, learning about firearms was important for having discussions with others.
“There are a lot of times where you see Democrats who try and regulate guns, and one of the biggest arguments from the other side is that we don't know enough about guns, and the best way to change that is to make sure that we hold meetings … where we can get educated so we can all be on the same page, because we do support the Second Amendment,” Clink said.
Before firing any weapons, Douglas Jefferson, national vice president of the NAAGA, and Colin Mapp, president of the Bass Reeves Gun Club, gave a detailed breakdown of firearm safety, parts, marksmanship techniques, grips, stances and other information.
“We focus on basic firearm safety and then basic rules and fundamentals of marksmanship, so the basic firearm handling, being a responsible gun owner in general, is the safety piece,” Jefferson said. “We cannot neglect that, and we can't preach that enough.”
Once training was done, members of the party stepped out to the range to test their skills.
Shooters ranged from experienced gun owners to those who had never fired a gun before, like Joan Harbin.
“It was kind of scary,” she said with a laugh. “They tell you to expect the recoil but you don't really know what that feels like until you shoot it. And it was really interesting to pick out a gun that ‘felt good,’ which is kind of counterintuitive if you're not a gun owner, but then it made sense.”
Harbin said despite never shooting before, the training was “very thorough” and informative.
She said she attended the training to learn something about guns and, like Clink, to challenge perceptions of political opponents.
“I want to contribute to the truth that Democrats don't want to take your guns. There are plenty of Democratic Party participants who are gun owners and active shooters,” Harbin said. “Secondly is because I don't own a gun, but it makes sense for any individual to understand the safety of them and how to use them and how to shoot them just in case.”
At the range, different types of pistols were available for shooters to try out and were broken down so shooters could see the parts of the guns.
“We got them loading up the firearm. We had the firearm broken down on the table so they can see the parts, particularly if it's a semi-automatic firearm, see the major parts broken down for cleaning and maintenance purposes. They were able to try out different types of handguns,” Jefferson said.
“We talked about how the handgun size and what they intend on using the handgun for can affect the type of handgun they choose and some things that they could keep in mind when they’re going and shopping if they do choose to take that route.”
Though conducting training for a political party, Mapp said the gun club was non-partisan and had members of all political affiliations. He said the group spoke to a variety of groups in the Atlanta area and “probably educated about 300 women in gun safety and marksmanship.”
As was the case with the Democrats, many of those lessons bring shooters with no experience, but Mapp said that’s not an issue.
“We always deal with newbies, and it's fine,” Mapp said. “We create an environment where folks who are new to shooting can come, they can get engaged, they can have their questions answered in a non-judgmental environment and feel supported. So we welcome newbies. We love newbies. They really did very good, actually.”
Clink said she hoped the training would lead to better conversations about guns, even those that didn’t always agree.
“I think it's really important to remember that we're all neighbors and that we think we might know what the other side is thinking all the time, but really having those conversations with people who think differently than us is really how we're going to break that barrier,” she said.