COMING UP: Judy North of Sun City is a retired police officer who spends time making sure others feel comfortable using a gun. “I just try to change their outlook,” she says. Read more about North later this week in the Daily News-Sun.
Firearms have been a hot topic in Arizona in recent months as several laws loosening gun regulations were recently enacted.
And while it is too early to discern whether those laws, particularly SB 1108, which makes it legal for citizens 21 and older to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, will make things more difficult or dangerous from a law enforcement standpoint, Arizona Game and Fish officials said shooting training is on the rise.
Ben Avery Shooting Range, which is on the border of north Peoria and Phoenix and is the largest outdoor range in the Valley and one of the largest in the country. It had perhaps its best statistical year ever in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, said Doug Burt, a public information officer for Arizona Game and Fish.
The range experienced more “shooting days,” which measure the number of individual visits to the range, not the number of different visitors, last fiscal year than any previous year. About 200,000 shooting days were recorded, marking a 5-10 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.
“That’s pretty significant. I know we’ve had some good years the last couple years at Ben Avery. Our shooting program has been growing,” Burt said.
Despite several new laws in Arizona that went into effect July 29, including SB 1108, range officials said they’ve seen little sign of drop-offs in shooting days at Ben Avery.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve seen an increase in people coming out here,” said Mike Morgan, a shooting instructor and range master with Game and Fish. “You’re still going to have people who realize they need to be knowledgeable. There are a lot of user groups who come and use the facility.”
And Morgan said shooting classes like Sure Shots, which began in January and takes place at Cabela’s in Glendale and at the range, are always being developed and introduced to increase interest.
“We do very limited advertising and we don’t have a problem filling up those classes,” he said.
“There’s definitely an interest out there.”
Nationally and in Arizona, more people are purchasing firearms and frequenting outdoor public ranges, Burt said.
“Industry trends have shown more people have purchased firearms nationally in recent years. Typically, when there’s a change in office you see a change in firearms purchased,” he said. “We’ve seen that across the U.S. as well as Arizona. The need for outdoor shooting ranges is still very important. With the loss of public lands and urban sprawl, they become even more necessary.”
The new laws regulating concealed weapons is particularly worrisome for law enforcement officials, though violent crimes have actually decreased 4.6 percent from January to July 2010 compared to the same time frame last year, said Mike Tellef, a public information officer with the Peoria Police department.
“We have always been concerned with concealed weapons being in the hands of the community, and I’m talking (back) to when I started in this profession in 1973. When the (Concealed Carry Weapons) law went into effect we at least knew a background check had been run, they went through the class and then took the effort to get their permit from DPS. Now anyone who is 21 and over and legally possess a firearm can carry it concealed,” he said.
“(But it’s) nothing new. We are still being just as cautious as before. I don’t know of any officer that was overly relaxed when dealing with the community and the possibility of someone being armed with a concealed weapon. Officer safety is one of the first things taught in the academy and is constantly stressed upon during your career,” he added.