The Guilford County Sheriff’s Department held a fun and highly informative seminar on gun use, gun laws and self-defense tactics on Saturday, Sept. 24 at the department’s District 2 office at 5440 Millstream Road in eastern Guilford County.

The four-hour training session included classroom instruction as well as a video simulator component, where citizens got a chance to practice their responses and shooting by engaging in realistic simulations of confrontations with fictional attackers in various scenarios.

This first county-backed gun seminar was something of a test run and was therefore limited to about 20 concealed carry permit holders. However, based on the enthusiastic response from the participants, who had very positive things to say about the session, and comments from county officials, the training program will likely continue and be expanded.

The course was largely the brainchild of Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips, who attended the Sept. 24 session (as did his mother, who, like Phillips, is a concealed carry permit holder). Phillips came up with the idea for the new citizen protection program after the highly publicized terrorist attacks in San Bernardino in December 2015, and he and other commissioners called for the county to implement the program in an attempt to be proactive in the face of the increasing societal violence.

During the Sept. 24 course, participants were broken up into two groups who went into either a training room to watch and participate in the simulator scenarios, or into a classroom, where there was a lecture and discussion on the legality of weapons use for both open carry and concealed carry situations, as well as some history of those laws and important court cases that helped shape them.

The classroom and the simulator room students switched places at the halfway mark of the four-hour seminar.

At the seminar, Sheriff’s Department Chief Warrant Officer Rik Stevens, who was involved with the department’s acquisition of the simulator, spoke on the ability of people to lawfully use force against would-be aggressors.

In the video simulation room, Sheriffs Department Sgt. Larry Gritton, Deputy Dan Harris and Deputy R.S. Casey did most of the coaching, and they went through the seminar with handgun replicas that registered shots on the screen during the various crime scenarios.

Casey said at the training session that there are over 600 scenarios in the simulator, but he added that many of those were geared toward training law enforcement officers. He said that, for the training that day, class participants would be presented with some simulated situations most applicable to citizens who were not in law enforcement. The videos were similar to first-person shooter style video games, with some scenarios being nighttime home invasions, ATM robberies, attempted car thefts and other encounters. All the students in the room would watch each other as they went through the simulator scenarios and the officers would use each person’s reactions to illustrate their points.

Participants were advised to talk during the confrontations because that provides warning to the assailants in the hopes that he or she might flee rather than attack, and it also, importantly, keeps the endangered citizen breathing in high stress situations and makes it less likely he or she will freeze up.

Harris told the group, “Don’t feel silly talking to the screen – it’s necessary.”

The instructors in both the classroom setting and the simulator area provided a great deal of useful information as well as shooting and defense tips during the four hours.

Harris explained, “If you shoot and if they screen goes black or it freezes gray, they have killed you.”

Phillips acknowledged the Rhino Times reporter and said, “If that happens, do not write that.”

In the gun simulator, Phillips did well, felling an attacker quickly once the threat occurred and, in another situation, not shooting someone when the need was not there. A few citizens were clearly a little trigger happy, firing early and using deadly force before it was likely warranted. Gritton and Harris went through each response. They said practice with firearms was key.

“Everything, unless you keep it up, is a diminishing skill,” Gritton said, “and shooting is no different. That’s why we take our officers to the range and qualify them. If you want to be proficient at anything, you have to practice it.”

The instructors also demonstrated some clever techniques such as pretending to reach for a wallet in a handbag to get money for an attacker and then quickly shooting the assailant through the bottom of the handbag without first removing the gun.

They said that, in a situation where deadly force is justified, citizens are authorized to shoot until the threat stops, whether that is one bullet or 10 bullets.

There were some interesting characters who took the class.

One man said, “I carry a Derringer.”

“Two-shot?” Gritton asked.

“Yeah, I need more than that and I’m in trouble.”

Gritton replied, “Well, you never know these days.”

The assailants in the videos used some uncensored, colorful language, such as one attacker with a crowbar who shouted, “Give me your (deleted)-ing money!”

The instructors pointed out that these days if you shoot an attacker you may get sued for shooting someone even if they are breaking into your house, but he said that isn’t a reason not to defend yourself.

Phillips told the officers at the event that the commissioners had some back-and-forth earlier in the year on whether or not to purchase the simulator, but after seeing it in action, he felt like it was a very useful tool for the department and the county to have.

One participant said she thought the course should be required for all citizens. The officers putting it on said that they would like to see many county citizens undergo the training.

During the class, the Rhino Times reporter took out his assailant who was coming after him with a knife during a home invasion.