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June 30, 2015

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Public Safety:

Retired cop takes to classroom to lead firearms safety courses

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George Castro, former Metro Police lieutenant, poses for a portrait at Desert Sportsman’s Rifle and Pistol Club, Tuesday July 31, 2012.

George Castro, a former Metro Police lieutenant, has a theory about gun safety — and it has nothing to do with reducing the number of firearms.

“It’s not the firearm that injures the person,” he said. “It’s the person who handles it.”

That’s why he didn’t hesitate to say yes when the College of Southern Nevada approached him about developing a firearms safety program, which debuts next month.

The program — broken into five courses over a three-week span — will guide firearm owners and potential owners through everything from home safety to caring and maintenance, Castro said. The final course grants concealed-carry permits to those who pass a test after classroom instruction and practice at a shooting range.

After 26 years working for Metro, Castro said he saw enough to realize the need for a comprehensive program in Southern Nevada: children accidentally shooting guns, high-powered weapons firing bullets through multiple walls unbeknownst to gun owners, and people cleaning their weapons with gasoline.

Some mishaps turned deadly. Last September, an 11-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed a 6-year-old boy with a handgun he found in a box marked “treasure chest” inside a Henderson home.

“It’s such a traumatic incident ... to see this occur to young children who are innocent,” said Castro, who retired last year from the police force.

CSN previously offered a single course about weapon care and maintenance, Castro said.

The new, noncredit program will be self-funded by course fees with all firearm-related instruction taking place at Desert Sportsman’s Rifle and Pistol Club, 12201 W. Charleston Blvd., which is donating time and space.

The first course in the program — the only one without hands-on firearms instruction — will take place at CSN’s West Sahara Center site and focus on the importance of home safety, which Castro said gun owners should be mindful of despite possessing a weapon. It’s simple habits like locking doors and trimming bushes near windows, he said.

“If you can prevent the intruder from coming to your home by having a very secure house, you may never have to use your gun,” he said.

The second course, “So you think you want to own a handgun?,” aimed at potential gun owners, describes various weapons so people can buy an appropriate model based on their needs, Castro said.

“There’s a lot of people in the community who feel a larger weapon makes them safer, and it is not true,” he said. “There are many, many negatives to that.”

Other courses cover weapon maintenance and gun safety, with time at a Desert Sportsman’s Rifle and Pistol Club shooting range weaved in, Castro said.

The program’s debut comes at a time when authorities suspect more Americans possess weapons. Required background checks of potential gun buyers in Nevada increased 13 percent in fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, compared with 2011, according to the Nevada Department of Public Safety.

That doesn’t mean all those people purchased — or were cleared to purchase — weapons, said Julie Butler, records bureau chief for the Nevada Department of Public Safety. The increasing number of background checks, however, reflects a desire among Americans to own guns, which Butler said has grown tremendously since 2008.

Tragedies such as last month’s massacre at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater tend to foster that desire to own a weapon, Castro said.

“Whenever there is a major incident, there’s a fear that comes upon everyone,” he said. “Whether it’s true or not, as long as you believe it, that’s all you need. People will start carrying more firearms.”

That’s where Castro hopes the firearms safety program helps. The program is designed to offer courses that build on each other, equipping attendees with strategies to protect themselves and others.

“I consider us to be a one-stop shop,” he said. “You’ll get everything.”

Castro said prices for each course will vary from $60 to $125, and people can sign up for one, multiple or all courses based on their needs. Registration opens Aug. 20 online at csn.edu/workforce. Courses begin in September.

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