Those who follow the way of the gun have their many reasons. Just ask them.

The only firing range certified to train licensed security guards for both the city and the county, Bull's Eye was started by a retired cop. It's now run by his daughter and her husband, Geri and Jim Stephens.

Politicians who vote for gun control sneak in after dark to shoot.

"One won't keep his membership card on him," Jim chuckles. "He keeps it here."

Fewer than 10 percent of recovered crime guns are still in the hands of their legal buyers.
Jennifer Silverberg
Fewer than 10 percent of recovered crime guns are still in the hands of their legal buyers.

Jim would vote for concealed-carry in a minute; the crazies already have guns. "I could get a license to carry right now," he notes, "just ask a lawyer friend to make me a process server. See? It makes no sense."

Cops come here to qualify, civilians to learn or blow steam. Target shooters come to practice an art so refined, they'll measure out their own bullets, polish off the burrs and put 20 consecutive shots through the same hole.

Bill Pollihan, a retired battalion chief with the St. Louis Fire Department, once qualified for Olympic trials as a target shooter. Newly married, he couldn't afford the trip to California. But he soon began competing -- and winning medals -- in the World Police and Fire Games.

To practice, he shoots 20 shots offhand (standing), 20 shots prone and 20 shots kneeling, all at 50 meters, hitting a target the size of the end of a pen. Next year in Barcelona, he will enter the small-bore .22-rifle match and, the next day, the English match: 60 shots prone over two hours.

Pure precision.

He opens a box and removes the air pistol nestled in its molding.

"This has a trigger so light that if you pick it up in a hurry, gravity will set it off," he says.

Then he tucks it back into the box, his fingers delicate as a surgeon's.

"The cuckoos don't understand me," he says. "What I do is too hard. I'm a terrible shotgun shooter, because a shotgun goes boom and shoots where you think the clay pigeon's gonna be. A target shooter has to finesse and love the trigger. It's about the mechanisms of your own body -- your brain, your eye, your finger."

Not long ago he visited his daughter and went along with her to a party. They played a game -- write down something wonderful you've done -- and she wrote his for him, bragging about his Olympic-caliber shooting.

Nobody guessed that the tall, kindly fire chief was the gun nut. When he finally admitted his claim to fame, two young women gasped.

He shrugs, used to being misunderstood but still hurt by it. Eastern Europeans understand, he says. He owns a Czech pistol, and he once met a Czech gunsmith who had the same gun with a silencer on it; it came that way so people could practice at home and not bother anyone.

"It came from the factory with a silencer on it so he could practice at home," Pollihan repeats, sick of the assumption that anybody with a silencer is up to no good. "In Europe, their shooting sportspeople are like our football players -- they're celebrities. Here, the idea of a gun is that it's a tool to kill, and everything in between is foreign to people."

Pollihan never wanted to kill anybody. He just craved the challenge. He'd hit a target, miss the next three, grit his teeth and keep at it until he hit them. His hand became callused from squeezing the pistol grip so tight. His patience expanded. He felt his mind and body align perfectly to express his will, project it into the air, find his goal.

For him, shooting was pure sport. A triumph over the odds. The ultimate in control in a world that can go up in flames without warning.

At sundown on a warmish Thursday evening, three beginners file into the Bull's Eye classroom.

After September 11, these classes swelled to nearly 100 students a month.

Tonight's a light night, though: an older man named Ricky, his face seamed and patient, sits alongside two young women, college age, their dark hair pulled back in bands and butterfly clips. Both pale, small-boned and pretty, they could be sisters -- but only one, call her Sally, looks rapt.

"I always wanted to do this," she says. Her friend nods agreement, but her eyes keep shuttling between the instructor's face and the Ruger Blackhawk .44 Magnum he just laid on top of her desk.

Alvah L. Brooks, a correctional officer in the county by day, hands Sally a sculpted Glock and repeats that the students are to treat these guns -- all guns -- as though they are loaded.

"Never point a gun at something you don't want to shoot," he snaps. "Never put your finger on the trigger until you're ready to shoot."

Then he relaxes and tells them how much fun they're going to have.

Sally picks up the Glock and lets it rest in her hand, bouncing it a little to feel its heft.

Brooks passes out single-action revolvers and shows them how to cock the hammer manually. Then he passes out double-action revolvers.

"Pulling the trigger cocks the hammer for you," he says Brooks. "You'll hear two clicks before it falls."

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