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VOL. 39 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 3, 2015

Interest in guns ranges from self-defense to recreation

By Jeannie Naujeck

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Range manager Leroy Farris with his dog Hans at the Nashville Armory Indoor Range.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

While the stereotype of the “gun guy” clad in camouflage still exists, firearms owners are much more likely to be your dentist, doctor or the guy or gal next door.

As of March, there were more than 500,000 handgun permit holders in Tennessee – about one in 10 residents.

Interest in shooting – whether for sport, recreation or home and self-defense – is on the rise, and while the rate of new permit issues has leveled off recently, that’s more than double the number of permit holders just five years ago.

The popularity of shooting has been a boon for the Nashville Armory, an indoor range, retail and training center just south of 100 Oaks.

It’s the closest gun range to downtown Nashville, and it offers an extensive gun shop and 16-lane indoor range where customers can shoot handguns, shotguns and rifles (up to but not including .50 caliber).

The Nashville Armory opened in September 2012, three months before the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy. Shortly afterward, gun sales and permit requests spiked due to fears of stricter firearms regulations.

But business has also paralleled the population growth in Davidson County and the Armory’s proximity to major employment centers. It is located in full view of 125,000 motor vehicles traveling to and from downtown along Interstate 65 each day.

Business has been so good that the Armory has added extra classrooms where instructors teach the eight-hour safety class the state requires to get a handgun permit, defensive gun courses at all levels, firearm-specific training and customized private lessons.

“Our major goal is teaching people to be safe and responsible with a firearm,” says Leroy Farris, certified firearms instructor and range master for Nashville Armory. “That’s in our mission statement to do that, and for people to have a good experience.”

Farris, a military veteran and longtime trainer, says the Armory fosters a culture that is different from most gun shops. Staff includes former schoolteachers and former police officers. They wear khakis rather than camouflage and do not carry openly.

Geoff Guthrie, left, and David Swanagin check out their results at the Nashville Armory Indoor Range.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

There is a well-appointed lounge with free snacks and beverages, along with a food truck and umbrella tables in the parking lot. And then there’s Hans, Farris’ disarmingly friendly purebred German shepherd who accompanies him around the store and solicits pats from customers.

“We want to find commonalities,” Farris says.

“Everyone who comes here, to some extent, is either interested in guns, likes them, or is curious about them. But we are human, too, and have all kinds of other hobbies.”

Farris says clients come from all walks of life, and that was apparent on a recent Friday afternoon, with a diverse group of people shooting targets.

Some come to learn and some come to practice for competition, but most come for recreation. The Armory hosts birthday parties and bachelor parties and services a large tourist trade visiting Nashville for business and leisure from all over the world.

“We get business because we are in Nashville,” Farris adds. “We get people from Germany, England, Canada, Australia, Japan, China, you name it, almost every day in this facility. You would really be surprised. I have been surprised.”

On a recent weekday, David Swanagin and Geoff Guthrie visited the range to practice. Guthrie, 47, who plays guitar with singer Amanda Daughtry, owns half a dozen firearms.

Swanagin, 48, an artist and drummer, says his older brothers had guns growing up in Augusta, Georgia, but he never owned one until this winter, when he purchased a Remington shotgun to protect himself at home.

[Tennessee has a “stand your ground” law that, generally speaking, allows the use of deadly force when there is imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury in one’s dwelling.]

“It wasn’t so much about expecting doomsday or my house to be raided,” Swanagin explains.

“I went and shot a couple of times and thought, ‘You know, I’d like to have one, just every now and then to go to the range and shoot it.’ ”

Swanagin says his martial arts training taught him to avoid conflict situations, and adds that he was still adjusting to the idea of being a gun owner.

“I’ve never really been ‘that type of guy,’” he says, shortly before hitting a bullseye in his first session with the new Remington.

“That type of guy” is often a woman.

Women make up a third of handgun permit-holders, and 30 to 40 percent of safety-class students at the Armory, which offers some classes for women only.

Deidre Riegel Sayko poses with some of the guns she and her husband own. At right, one of Deidre’s favorites, a Springfield Armory 1911 9mm.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Deidre Riegel Sayko, 44, of Nashville says she enjoyed target sports like archery as a kid and became interested in guns about 10 years ago.

Sayko, who works as an event planner, baker and artist’s assistant, has developed competency in a range of firearms from small handguns to the AR-15 semi-automatic shotgun – even once taking musician Jack White and his band to a range to show them how to shoot guns for a video.

She calls shooting a “Zen” experience.

“Going to the range is fun. You’re focused on one spot on the range and there are procedures so no one screws up and shoots something they are not supposed to,” Sayko points out.

Later this month, the Armory will open a large firearms simulator facility for training, skills development and entertainment. It will offer games like zombie shooting as well as decision-based training that tests people on what they would do in a situation such as a hold-up at an ATM.

There will be a soft opening of the new facility during the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, when Glock hosts an event there to introduce a highly-anticipated new firearm.

Along with serving experienced and competitive shooters, the Armory has differentiated itself by welcoming beginners. It’s a niche Farris and owner Gary Semanchik (an entrepreneur who is not a “gun guy,” according to Farris) saw in a business that can be intimidating to first-timers. It aims to make shooting accessible to people of all levels by lessening the discomfort first-timers may feel.

“People are a little apprehensive and nervous and have all kinds of feelings going in,” Farris adds.

“We want to reduce that as much as possible and make it as pleasant as we can. Then they can make a good choice as to whether they want to do it again because it was fun.

“Or, if they just didn’t like it and don’t want to do it again, that’s OK, too. But we don’t want it to be because they had an unpleasant experience.”

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