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Gunpowder, lead and...romance?
firearms date night ashlee and jason
Jason Corbin snuggles up to wife Ashlee as she steadies herself and takes aim. - photo by Scott Bryant

When you hear the words “date night,” most people picture fancy clothes, dinner reservations, wine and maybe even flowers. Or if you’ve been married for a while, you envision a dinner you didn’t cook yourself and a nice romantic stroll down the grocery store aisles. Either way…most people don’t think of the smell of gunpowder, the flash of a muzzle and gunshot residue. But some people do!

And that’s what the Shooting Sports Education Center at Georgia Southern University is hoping more people will start seeing as an option for date night.

The SSEC offers a multitude of programs ranging from firearms to archery and for all skill levels from absolute beginner to an accomplished marksman. 

Matt Horst, director of the center, said that the goals of the SSEC are to “Provide a family-friendly, safe environment for the community to enjoy the shooting sports; serve as a hub for the shooting sports community for this area; educate individuals of all ages about the importance of firearm and archery safety.” 

Since its opening in September 2015, the SSEC has increased participation each year in the various programs it offers. 

Firearms Date Night are offered once a month (visit the SSEC’s website for dates) and are a fun and different experience for couples to partake in. 

The program begins with a short session in one of the SSEC’s seminar rooms, typically with Range Master Blake Martin talking with the group about a multitude of safety aspects, rules and an overview of the night. Martin, 22, an electrical engineering student from Rincon and Range Safety Officer Ethan Sumner, 20, a mechanical engineering student from Augusta, turned what could be considered boring information into a fun format of learning.

Both my husband, Jason, and I are familiar with firearms and both own guns of our own but have not had any formal “training” on the usage of them. Of course, any gun owner knows the basics of gun safety—don’t place your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot, don’t point the gun at something you aren’t willing to kill or destroy, etc. But some people come into the Firearms Date Night with absolutely no knowledge of gun safety, gun parts or even the proper way to hold a firearm.

Martin and Sumner take the couples (in our class, it was the two of us and one other couple) through an introductory video detailing the SSEC and its safety and requirements as well as what I consider Gun Safety 101. The intro video detailed the usage of the range’s equipment to load the targets and move them to the appropriate distance away from you in order to begin shooting.

After Martin realized that the four of us had some knowledge of gun safety and the way guns are loaded, unloaded and handled properly, he sped up his instruction time. 

“The speed is different when the group is inexperienced. I show how to load the weapon and go more in-depth into the inner mechanisms of the guns and the different types of guns,” he said. 

He and Sumner expressed that the question and answer part of the classroom work takes longer when the couples have less experience with firearms. They pay close attention to what questions are being asked and it helps them to know who might need more assistance with what parts of the night. 

After Martin and Sumner showed us some of the dos and don’t of firing a gun (using laser pointer guns — which Sumner jokingly called “really expensive cat toys” — each participant used the laser guns to fire at targets on the wall so that they could check out our stance, our grip and make sure that we were handling the guns safely, i.e., not placing your finger on the trigger until it’s time to fire the gun. 

After we proved we’d been paying attention, the two couples and two instructors made our way out to the front desk where we donned ear protection and eye protection before heading into the firing range. 

Each participant was given one target and each couple was given a pack of 50 bullets, to be split however the couple deemed appropriate. Sumner and Martin wisely did not interject into the marital decisions including who shot first or who shot how many bullets. 

After ensuring that we all felt confident in loading our weapons, Martin and Sumner took a somewhat hands-off approach. Afterwards, Martin told me that this is their typical approach to Firearms Date Night — especially when the couples seem to have a basic knowledge of guns. The two stood back and observed, occasionally offering advice on stance or grip and much to my pleasure, handing out a few compliments on skill. 

Many in the firearms community will stress that you shoot with both eyes open, but Martin mentioned that he was right eye dominant and closing his left eye offered him more accuracy when shooting. Because of that statement, I decided to experiment myself — and to my surprise, realized that my aim is much better with my right eye closed. I shoot right-handed, but am left-eye dominate when it comes to aiming a firearm. 

Each couple got a lane to themselves that they took turns using to try their hand at shooting. Martin said that this tends to help out with keeping individuals in check during the class — for example, if an attendee were to turn the gun where the muzzle wasn’t pointed down range, their partner could comment and help to keep the entire group safe. 

Going into the experience, I was a little worried that Jason and myself would be a little bored until we actually got to get into the firing range because we both have a pretty basic knowledge of guns and gun safety. However, because Martin realized that both couples had some knowledge, he didn’t bore us with a slow-paced, drawn out “lecture.” He instead made it fun and informative at the same time. 

Overall, it was a good time and something different than a usual date night — after 10 years of marriage, those typically consist of dinner, complaints that we ate too much and running errands. 

Firearms Date Night is offered to people of all skill and knowledge levels. They will teach you what you need to know to have a safe and fun experience. 

Other programs offered by the SSEC cover a variety of topics such as Cleaning Courses, Firearms Safety and even a Women’s Firearms training Course. Martin said that the women’s course gives participants the opportunity to shoot multiple calibers of weapons so that they can see what gun they are most comfortable with. During all other courses, a standard Glock 19 (9 mm) is used. 

Horst said, “The SSEC is unique. There is not another facility on a college campus in the country that offers the depth and breadth of opportunities and services that we offer.” 

One common misconception that was pointed out by both Horst and Martin is that the SSEC is only for the university. All programs are open to the public. 

Horst cleared up a few other misconceptions for those interested in using the SSEC. 

“We don’t need the serial number of your firearm to shoot here; you don’t have to take one of our classes to shoot here; background checks are no longer required to shoot at the SSEC,” he said. 

You do have to sign a waiver before starting a membership or a class, but no background check is performed. 

Recently, the state of Georgia passed the Constitutional Carry law, allowing Georgians to carry weapons based on the 2nd Amendment and not a concealed weapon permit — however, that does not apply in other states. If you’re travelling to a state with reciprocity, you must still have a concealed weapon permit in order to carry. Another course offered at the SSEC is the Concealed Carry Course. 

Sumner made the statement that “The SSEC is here to help all skill levels.” After experiencing the Firearms Date Night, I can attest to that. As someone who loves the smell of gunpowder and the recoil of a firearm, I may have had more fun than some people would, but it’s definitely something different to try with your significant other. 

For more information on fees and offered courses, visit the SSEC’s website.