Aiming for safety: Sheriff’s facility serves civilians too

Oregon

Staff at the Public Safety Training Center hope to educate gun owners while also bridging the gap between law enforcement and the public

CLACKAMAS, Ore. (KOIN) — Gabe White shoots as fast as he talks, firing four bullets into the blue silhouette of a man, then yelling, “Stay down! Don’t move!” Six students watch the drill. When the demonstration is done, they each take their own lane, and run through it on their own.

The Accelerated Basic Pistol class is one of numerous gun skills classes offered at the James T. Brouillette Public Safety Training Center (PSTC), which opened in 1998 as part of Clackamas Community College. In 2004, the sheriff’s office took over operation of the facility, but kept it open to all.

When you walk in, you’ll see a sign saying, “Train with us.”

“It’s an invitation to other law enforcement agencies, as well as the public, to come in and to train, to learn best practices to keep the community safe,” PSTC Business Manager Ryan Brown said. 

The facility offers everything from concealed handgun licensing and fingerprinting, to a firearms range that can be used for handguns and rifles, a defensive tactics training room, and a MILO room for simulation-based training. All of it, Brown said, is shared between law enforcement and the public. That makes the PSTC a unique bridge between the two groups.

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The Public Safety Training Center lets people bring their own handguns/rifles and rent guns (but they must bring a gun to the facility, even if they intend to rent one). All ammo used on the range must be purchased at the PSTC (Hannah Ray Lambert)

“A lot of law enforcement agencies have training centers that are geared specifically towards their own people,” Sgt. Marcus Mendoza with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said. In addition to providing an opportunity for citizens and law enforcement to interact, Mendoza said having the training center right next to the sheriff’s office makes it easier and cheaper for deputies to meet their monthly training requirements.

But it all started with the goal to “provide a place for people to be educated and learn about firearms in a safe manner,” he said.

Skills and tactics: A ‘huge responsibility’

In addition to being an instructor, White is a nationally-known competitive pistol shooter. YouTube videos declare him a “handgun Jedi.” He puts his own flare on the competition, by shooting from concealment (commonly known as a quickdraw). 

“Almost nobody shoots from concealment,” White said. “It’s totally weird and it’s a very foolish way to try to win the game, but it’s much more satisfying when you do that way.”

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Gabe White teaches a gun-skills class at the PSTC (Hannah Ray Lambert)

He grew up interested in martial arts and, in the last 21 years or so, transitioned to learning firearms skills.

“So basically I should be viewed as a martial artist, that’s it. I mean I like the martial arts and the preparation and training for self-defense and this is just one of those arts,” he said.

He estimates he has spent most of his training time at the PSTC. While he does enjoy competing, White said it takes a back seat to instructing, which he has now been doing for more than a decade helping mostly beginners, but also former law enforcement and military members who want to learn the civilian side of self-defense.

“The people that come to us are … really willing to go to a lot of effort and sacrifice make themselves better than they were, and in this field that’s related to safe and effective legal self-defensive skills and tactics,” he said. “They’re diligent, good people and want to live and not be subject to violent criminal attack.”

A survey published in 2015 estimates that 26.6% of Oregonians, and 27.7% of Washingtonians, own guns. In Oregon, there are more than 276,000 active concealed handgun licenses in the state.

The PSTC’s entry-level gun class is aimed at teaching basic skills to people who may never have even handled a gun before. It is the only class in the curriculum that does not require students to already own a gun or have a concealed handgun license. Students can work their way up through the catalog of full-day, and even two-day courses in low light shooting, defensive backup, and even tandem self-defense situations (working with a partner).

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Volunteer coach Susan Pillar (left) helps students as they complete a drill (Hannah Ray Lambert)

David O’Bryant, who won the “Top Gun” award at White’s accelerated pistol class, is making his way through the courses. He already had his CHL, but wanted to get into firearms instruction. “I heard a bunch of other people in the … concealed carry world talk about the Public Safety Training Center,” O’Bryant said.

“There’s certainly plenty of people … that definitely have more arms than they have training and I think that it is very key for safe and responsible shooters to seek out training and to become more competent in their skill,” he said.

O’Bryant said he’s enjoying learning from instructors and coaches, including Susan Pillar who started shooting at the center about nine years ago.

“We always had guns in the home,” Pillar said. “My dad was a gun collector so I grew up with them, but never had formal training. And I had boys at home and decided that we needed to do formal training for safety.”

She loves to watch students become more confident, but she added that she never flat out encourages anyone to buy a gun.

“If you decide to purchase a handgun or have guns in the home it’s a huge responsibility … not only for yourself but all the loved ones around you, so you really need to have good safety skills,” she said.

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The Public Safety Training Center is next to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and provides a space for both law enforcement and civilians to train (Hannah Ray Lambert)
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