1 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Evans resident Janice Alexander, looking to improve her handgun grip, gets some guidance from lead firearm instructor Astin Crawford Jan. 24 at Tactical Advantage Sportsman’s Complex. (Photo Credit: Bill Bengtson / Fort Gordon Public Affairs ) VIEW ORIGINAL
2 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Astin Crawford, standing, lead firearm instructor at Tactical Advantage Sportsman’s Complex, coaches Grovetown resident Chris Sanders Jan. 24 in a one-day course on pistol shooting. (Photo Credit: Bill Bengtson / Fort Gordon Public Affairs ) VIEW ORIGINAL
3 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Astin Crawford, lead firearm instructor at Tactical Advantage Sportsman’s Complex, uses an unloaded handgun to lay out rules and regulations leading into a Jan. 24 instructional session on the firing range, with participants actually getting a chance to shoot at paper targets several yards away. (Photo Credit: Bill Bengtson / Fort Gordon Public Affairs ) VIEW ORIGINAL
4 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Daniel Sonnier, right, an assistant instructor, provides some loading assistance for Warrenton resident Christopher Carter, 15, in the midst of a Jan. 24 workshop on handgun safety and firing at Tactical Advantage Sportsman’s Complex. Watching the process a few steps away is Astin Crawford, the facility’s lead firearm instructor. (Photo Credit: Bill Bengtson / Fort Gordon Public Affairs ) VIEW ORIGINAL
5 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Tavin Gipson, 10, from North Augusta, South Carolina, gets some tips on the proper way to load .45-caliber ammunition, with supervision from range safety instructor Joseph Crawford. (Photo Credit: Bill Bengtson / Fort Gordon Public Affairs ) VIEW ORIGINAL

Astin Crawford has many interests and hobbies, but there are few he is as passionate about as he is firearms, which some might attribute to the eight years he spent in the Marine Corps as a scout sniper.

Now a certified NRA instructor and part of the Fort Gordon MWR Recreation team, Crawford is sharing his passion and knowledge with others.

Members of the Fort Gordon and surrounding communities have an opportunity to take a variety of firearms classes at the Tactical Advantage Sportsman’s Complex, where Crawford serves as the lead firearm instructor. The first class Crawford recommends people take, regardless of their skill level, is the NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting Course. The class covers a variety of topics including the fundamentals of pistol shooting (trigger control, sight picture/alignment, aim, breathing), gun owner’s responsibilities and rights, nomenclature, parts of firearm, types of firearms, reasons people purchase firearms, and more.

“We talk a lot about safety rules … that’s a huge part of this class,” Crawford said.

It’s also one of the reasons there’s no real age minimum requirement. According to Crawford, a father of two, his children’s experience with firearms began at a very early age – 3 to be exact.

“People ask me how young is too young,” Crawford said. “I see it as if they’re under 18, an adult has to be with them, and as long as that adult can control the child and they can act responsible in the fire line … they also have to be able to comprehend the coursework and pass the test.”

Class is held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the first half being in a classroom setting. Students break for lunch around noon (meal is included in course cost) and must pass a written exam before heading outside for hands-on training and practice at the range.

Crawford, along with a few other instructors, talk students through an array of pistols then give them ample opportunities to fire each at targets downrange.

“Everybody starts off firing a .22 [caliber],” Crawford said. “People who haven’t shot before or haven’t shot in a long time, it’s easier for them to transition with a .22 and just concentrate on the fundamentals.”

Once everyone has fired a .22, instructors introduce larger calibers, and again, students are encouraged to fire them.

“After everybody’s finished shooting their rounds at each station, whoever wants more can come back and pick whatever they want,” Crawford said. “Sometimes people bring their own firearms, so once they’re finished, they can fire theirs … and at the end of the class, if they want me to go over how to break down their firearm and stuff like that, I can.”

Crawford also teaches a conceal carry class and NRA Basic Rifle Course. And although not required, he reiterated that prospective students should start by taking the basic pistol course first, adding that there are many reasons for people taking the course.

“I look at it like this - yes, Americans have the right to buy firearms. We also have the right to drive cars, but you have to pass a driving test to drive a car,” Crawford said. “I’m not saying that we need more laws or anything like that … I believe people just need to learn how to use [firearms] and be safe with them, because if you don’t know how to fire that gun, it could be more dangerous to you. That’s how a lot of accidents happen.”

One fairly common scenario Astin encounters is the service member who has experience with firing rifles but who has never fired a pistol. Then there are the couples where one person is a gun enthusiast and the other is afraid of guns, the service member who is deploying and wants his spouse to feel safe around guns, and the parents who want to teach their children about gun safety. A big part of firearm safety and overcoming fear is learning to respect and understand firearms.

“You’re only scared of what you don’t know,” Crawford said. “When you see it on TV, it doesn’t connect. If you’re actually out here shooting it, you will understand how powerful a firearm can be.”

The next NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting Course will be on Feb. 21. Cost is $125 per person and includes all materials (the NRA Guide: Basics of Pistol Shooting handbook), range fees, gun rentals, ammunition, and lunch. Participants who complete the course also receive a course completion certificate bearing the signature of the NRA secretary and the NRA certified instructor.

For more information or to register, call 706-791-5078.