Rather than going to Short Pump mall or the James River, several University of Richmond students are now going to a different place to let loose -- Dominion Shooting Range.
Senior Brett Segal went to Dominion Shooting Range, which is just a few miles from campus, to shoot his first 45 mm gun. He hit the target on his first shot, and it nearly blew out his eardrum, he said.
"For a first-time shooter, firing the gun is more than a physical action; the smoke, the fire, the bang and kick in their hand triggers raw emotion," said Eric Zachman, instructor and operations manager. "The smile appears after the apprehension and stigma against guns disappears, and the person realizes it is fun."
To rent and fire a gun, customers simply sign a one-page release and pick a target poster, with images ranging from zombies and hostage situations to basic bulls-eyes. An employee gathers the shooting materials and brings the student into a room for a three-minute instruction and safety session.
Before entering the range, customers put on their protective goggles and headphones. They walk down some rusty stairs to an indoor shooting facility consisting of 19 lanes.
After stapling a target poster to some cardboard, shooters adjust the paper target to whatever distance they prefer.
Though over-cautious at first, Segal said the process came naturally as he loaded his gun with ease and learned to aim.
"If you want to try something different, this is a safe, controlled environment where you can relieve some stress and have some fun," he said.
Segal went with some friends from Australia who were in town and wanted to shoot a gun because they were in America.
Zachman said Dominion Shooting Range had been getting students from as far as Charlottesville. Groups of fraternities have come in to do rush events and several outdoor clubs have sponsored events, he said.
Clayton Flournoy, an operations manager, said shooting a gun was very personal and different for everyone.
"For me, it is therapeutic," he said. "The stress relief, sound, noise and recoil is all awesome."
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On a college student's budget, the shooting range is affordable, Segal said. It costs $8 per shooter in addition to the cost per box of 50 bullets. For example, .22 LR bullets are $3.95 and up, while 9 mm bullets are $16.95 and up.
Dominion has nine National Rifle Association certified instructors on staff offering classes that range from basic handgun safety to defensive pistol training.
Flournoy said shooting a gun could be an important skill for a student to have for personal safety reasons.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia has relatively lax gun laws compared to those of other states. The 20 gun-related bills passed in Virginia in 2010 include lifting the ban on buying more than one gun a month and allowing guns to be taken into bars and emergency shelters.
"If one is a law-abiding citizen, then he or she should have no problem getting a gun as long as the person is 21 or over," Zachman said.
Dominion Shooting Range relies on word-of-mouth instead of advertising to get new customers. Zachman's customers were the best advertisers he had, he said.
"People that take our beginning hand gun classes become so excited that they go to work and tell everybody about it," he said.
Some special deals include "Ladies Day" on Tuesdays when range fees are free for ladies and "2 for 1" Fridays when two shooters can shoot for the price of one.
After shooting for the first time last week, Segal has already returned to the shooting range for a second round and hung up his target poster in his apartment. It reminds him of that first shot that was dead on, he said.
"Shooting is not like killing a big monster at the end of a video game," Zachman said. "It is an awesome sport and there is always room for improvement."
Contact reporter Amanda Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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