Alone With J: Guns and responsible owners

Staff Writer

    Guns have been in the news this week, primarily due to President Barack Obama’s laudible decision to use his presidential powers to bypass a Congress beholden to the gun lobby and press forward, alone, if necessary, to enact expanded background checks for gun purchasers and tighten existing loopholes.
    The centerpiece of Obama’s plan, according to the Associated Press, is an attempt to narrow the loophole that exempts gun sales from background checks if the seller isn’t a federal registered dealer. With new federal ‘‘guidance,’’ the administration is clarifying that even those who sell just a few weapons at gun shows, flea markets or online can be deemed dealers and required to conduct checks on prospective buyers.
    Critics of the president, and of any and all attempts to further restrict the sale of firearms, were quick to take issue with Obama’s proposals.
  ‘‘Rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, he goes after the most law-abiding of citizens,’’ said House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican.  ‘‘His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.’’
   Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says President Barack Obama’s new actions to more tightly regulate gun sales aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
  What else would you expect out of Cruz? The GOP presidential candidate sent out an email to supporters Tuesday inviting them to enter a contest for free, to ‘‘win my engraved shotgun!’’
   Talk about a rebel without a clue!
  Other critics have said the effect of the president’s proposals in limiting mass shootings similar to those in  Aurora, Oak Creek, Charleston or Newtown is modest at best.
    But the alternative, especially from Republican members of Congress, to date has been to do nothing and then to shed symbolic crocodile tears the next time a gunman goes on a rampage and leaves multiple victims dead. Isn’t something ... anything ... worth a try at this point?

Education and training crucial
    Jamie Tharp knows the current cultural divide when it comes to gun ownership is as wide as its been in his lifetime. And Tharp also knows a thing of two about guns. He carries one for a living, as a 17-year member of the Decatur Police Department, and since 2001 has served as the firearms instructor for the DPD.
    December was a record-setting month for gun sales nationwide, and as the number of Americans who own guns swells, Tharp said many local residents have reached out to him for proper instruction in the use of their new firearm. That led the longtime police officer earlier this week to launch Tharp Firearms and Training, a series of firearm safety courses he will instruct. A new Facebook page was put up Monday; by Tuesday it had 500 “likes.”
    “Teaching gun safety has always been a passion of mine, and after the ISIS attacks in Paris I had people calling up to ask if I could train them” in properly handling their weapons.
    Tharp plans to offer three levels of instruction, from basic introductory sessions to more advanced classes aimed at experienced gun owners. The cost of the basic class, a day-long session to be held at the St. Marys Blue Creek Conservation Club near Willshire, is $125. A year’s membership to the club is included in that price. Class topics include proper handling of firearms, rules for safe gun handling and a half-day on the shooting range. His 101 Class delves into laws and permits, concealed-carry rules, cleaning and maintenance of weapons and the safe and proper storage of guns.
    The psychology of gun ownership is also addressed in the classes.
    “I can’t stress enough that just because you have a firearm (for personal protection) that’s always the last resort. More than anything you need to stay out of situations where you will need that particular piece of safety equipment,” Tharp said.
    As a trained and responsible gun owner, Tharp finds delight that so many people have reached out to him for instruction in proper gun use. “Educated and trained gun owners are not a threat to society,” he said.
    The police officer concedes there currently are some flaws in the national background check system for gun sales, but said acts of random violence will continue to occur — from the most unexpected of perpetrators — with or without massive changes in that system.
    “In today’s society, we have terrorists in our own communities, we just haven’t seen them yet. But the number of people reaching out to me for training shows me that gun owners are trying to be responsible,” said Tharp.
    “Guns aren’t for everybody, but I like to see people who have them get the proper training, through me or elsewhere.”

    The writer is the editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.