3-Gun Shooting

by Frank Miniter
At a 3-gun match, it’s safety first — but fun runs a close second.

The starlit darkness is broken only by glow sticks zip-tied to the front and back of each person, dim headlamps pointed down so as not to disturb the night vision of other participants, tactical lights attached to firearms pointed downrange, red laser dots settling on targets, and the red muzzle flashes of guns being fired.

Kate Krueger, a gray-haired lady who would have to stand on her toes to be five feet tall, looks around and says, “I hope President Obama is using some secret surveillance program to watch us right now.”

She then giggles as she feels about the Batman-sized belt strapped around her waist, checking the placement of extra magazines for her AR-15 and her 9mm handgun and shotgun shells for her 12-gauge.

We’re at a gun range outside Bend, Ore., shooting in a 3-gun match at the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association range, and Kate, who hosts a radio show called Talking Guns, is up next. Around us in the darkness are about 50 other journalists and television and radio hosts competing at the second annual Midnight 3-Gun Invitational on August 14. After the media are finished, about 100 pros will compete for a top prize of $10,000. Well, not pros exactly. These guys and gals (a lot of women compete in 3-gun and other shooting sports) mostly have real jobs. They’re police officers, farmers, mechanics, lawyers, and everything else. But they have earned the distinction of being good enough at this sport for Crimson Trace, a company that makes tactical lasers and other firearms equipment in Wilsonville, Ore., to invite them to this nighttime competition.

Looking around at a gun range lighted by tactical lights and lasers, I recall how the latest attempt at a gun grab fizzled like wet powder in Senator Harry Reid’s chamber. And I thought about how President Barack Obama seems to believe the reason his gun ban failed is that the National Rifle Association stuck pins in voodoo dolls of senators in some dark room in Fairfax, Va. Regardless, it’s obvious that there is a deeper reason why the gun-control machinations failed in Washington, D.C. Here, far from the Beltway, it’s clear that President Obama simply doesn’t grasp what a lot of Americans are really like. Put another way, those who “cling to their guns and religion” might just be a little more numerous than he thinks — and they certainly have more fun than he thinks.

Before I ponder further, Kate uses an M249 squad automatic weapon (SAW) to shoot bursts of 5.56mm ammo into three targets. She then picks up a 40mm grenade launcher and activates a Crimson Trace laser on its grip. When a red dot appears on her target — a derelict car positioned at the end of the dark range — she pulls the trigger. A smoke round lobs between high dirt berms, punches through a cardboard window on the auto’s passenger side, and explodes with orange light and smoke.

Kate isn’t done. She now runs, as fast as her old knees will allow, the 100 feet to where her AR-15 is positioned. She gets there, shoulders her rifle, and double-taps eight paper targets. Then she runs again, this time to her shotgun. She shoots eight clay targets.

A range officer follows her every step of the way. He is there to make sure she shoots safely. Another official is timing her. In 3-gun matches — the fastest-growing shooting sport in America — accuracy and time are tallied to create a score at each shooting station. This competition has nine stations — each is different from the others, and all are made to challenge.

Kate finishes and clears her shotgun. The official checks the 12-gauge and shouts, “All clear!”

“I did okay,” she says between deep breaths moments later. “On the next station I get to use my handgun. That’s where I shine.”

Yeah, no doubt about it, if some top-secret government program is spying on these folks with cameras attached to little drones, its agents are seeing a lot of good people having a hell of a time. Microphones would pick up range officers preaching safe shooting. Cameras would show competitors who know the NRA rules of gun safety. As President Obama watched and listened, he’d find out why sport shooting these days is safer than riding a bicycle. He’d see people from all over America — normal people who pay taxes and have families, and who you’d never guess were into 3-gun — enjoying a night out among friends. He’d find that this segment of society is rarely in the headlines because they shoot safely and don’t commit crimes.

Nevertheless, 3-gun is a sport President Obama wants to ban. Shooting AR-15s is something the president doesn’t think civilians should be allowed to do. In 3-gun matches competitors use modern sporting rifles (what the anti-gun crowd calls “assault rifles”), shotguns with extended tubes, and handguns. As this particular competition is done at night, everyone here is also equipped with Crimson Trace’s lasers and tactical lights. Most competitions are, of course, held in daylight.

Such competitions are rapidly becoming more numerous. For example, Chad Adams, who co-founded 3-Gun Nation in 2010, started with just a television show, but it has spawned an organization with 60 clubs, a magazine, six pro events and eleven open matches annually, and a finale in Las Vegas with a $50,000 prize. He says, “We’ve been growing at 500 percent or more every year and are just getting started. This sport is taking off. More importantly, 3-gun is the battlefield of the Second Amendment. Our competitors use semi-automatic rifles, handguns, and shotguns. Banning these commonly owned firearm types would end our sport and be the beginning of the end of our freedom.” (To see this sport in action, check out 3gunnation.com.)

Now, if you’re thinking, “This all sounds like fun, but what does it have to do with me?” you should know that Crimson Trace put this nighttime competition together to highlight how effective its laser products are for self-defense. They help you shoot fast and accurately, even in a dark house or alley. Sales of guns, especially handguns, are still breaking records, and a lot of these sales are to first-time buyers. Crimson Trace’s lasers are ideal for them, because with a laser sight you don’t have to line up front and rear sights. As you’ve no doubt seen in the movies, where the red dot goes, bullets can follow.

As I navigate the range in the dark, I bump into Lew Danielson, founder and chairman of the board of Crimson Trace. He says, “People are having fun tonight. Look at all those red dots on targets.”

“Fun, yes, but there’s also something wonderfully intimidating about a red dot,” I say.

Lew’s bearded face breaks into his characteristic grin. He founded Crimson Trace with a group of engineers and toolmakers 17 years ago. They now have 150 employees and manufacture all their products in America. He’s proud of that. He’s even prouder of the e-mails and letters that come from everyday people who say they used a firearm equipped with a laser to “talk” a would-be criminal into vacating the area. Lew says, “One thing I like about a laser on a self-defense gun is that when some thug sees a red dot on his body, he tends to run. He knows what can come next.”

I stop at another station, where people are taking turns navigating a plywood maze of rooms, shooting paper-target “bad guys” first with an AR-15 and then by pulling their semi-automatic handguns.

Yeah, I hope some NSA drone is circling above, sending images right into the Oval Office. I hope President Obama has close-ups and audio, too. If he saw only from a distance, he might think he needed armed drones here. But viewing the scene in closeup, he would see these people from all over America and hear them talking about everyday American things. He might even start wondering, if only privately, what another “assault-weapons” ban would do to the rights of law-abiding people. Then maybe he could turn his mind to finding out why places like Chicago have the murder rates they do.

He might even wonder why, as Chicago earned the gruesome distinction of having the highest murder rate in the U.S. in 2012, the city also had the lowest prosecution rate for gun crimes. The facts are right there in government records. Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data-gathering and research organization run by Syracuse University, found that out of 90 federal jurisdictions, Chicago ranked last in 2012 for prosecuting bad guys with guns. David Burnham, co-director of TRAC, said, “On a per-capita basis Chicago ranks dead last for prosecuting gun crimes.”

Maybe President Obama should also do a fact-finding mission and ask his Special Forces what they think.

Greg Stube is a former Special Forces sergeant who fought in Afghanistan. He was almost pronounced dead on the battlefield after he risked his life to save an Afghani soldier. I ask him if civilian gun ownership helps prepare citizen soldiers. Stube replies, “In my experience, a lot of training time in the Special Forces is used to teach those who don’t have gun experience. To put it plainly: The Special Forces are in the business of creating country boys.”

Stube is now retired from the U.S. Army and works for Nightforce Optics. He continues, “I’ve toured the Smith & Wesson plant in Springfield, Massachusetts. I saw firearms headed for law enforcement and for the civilian market coming off the same lines. This is how America has always worked. It’s how it should and must work. I saw again and again in training and on the battlefield that soldiers who grew up hunting and shooting recreationally are better soldiers. If our free citizens are barred from using firearms similar to those used by the military, then we won’t be as prepared as a nation.

“Also, my experience in war taught me,” adds Stube, “that law-abiding people shouldn’t be put in a position where they’re potentially less armed than those who might prey on them.”

Steve Adelmann, a retired Special Operations officer and owner of Citizen Arms, agrees with Stube. “America’s firearms culture helps the military and law enforcement,” he says. “When I trained new snipers for my team, I always found the best shooters had been raised with a gun in hand.

“I’ve also seen a difference in the abilities of other armed forces,” says Adelmann. “I’ve trained with and fought alongside allied soldiers from many nations. Soldiers from firearms-friendly places like Israel and Scandinavian countries acquit themselves very well with a wide variety of arms. Conversely, soldiers from nations with severe gun restrictions like England and Australia are far less familiar with firearms and generally don’t have the same comfort levels as Americans. They’re very good with the weapons they are issued, but the battlefield requires enough flexibility to adapt quickly to a wide variety of firearm types.”

Adelmann now builds custom AR-15s for private citizens. He asks all his customers what they intend to do with their modern sporting rifle. “Ninety percent of them list hunting and home defense as their first two reasons for ownership,” he says. “ARs are supremely accurate hunting rifles and utilitarian home-defense firearms. If they’re banned, we’ll lose an effective tool for the citizen, and military and law-enforcement entities will suffer down the road. Also, many advances in firearm technology come from the civilian market, especially competition shooting. If manufacturers can no longer sell ARs to citizens, much of that innovation will grind to a halt.”

Crimson Trace, for example, began by making lasers for the civilian market. It grew, and over time the military noticed. Crimson Trace now has military contracts and a pile of letters from veterans of Iraq and elsewhere thanking the company for saving their lives.

Farther down the range I find Chris Cerino. He is a cop. He was runner-up in the first season of the History Channel’s show Top Shot. He is now in a series called Top Shot All-Stars, showcasing a shoot-off among Top Shot alumni. He jokes, “It’s running now and I’m still in it. I might just win.” Of course he knows the outcome, but he can’t tell. I ask about AR-15s and ask if, as a cop, he sees them as a problem on the streets.

“Not in my experience. Statistically, these people don’t commit crimes,” he says as he glances around at the competitors in the Midnight 3-Gun match. Then he adds, “An armed citizenry is a safe and free citizenry. That’s what our armed forces fight for and, as a police officer, that is what I uphold.”

Frank Miniter is the author of The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Manhood.