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Clarksville: Shooting with the sheriff leads to training lesson

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich prepares to shoot at Sharp Shooting Indoor Range and Gun Shop on Friday, March 3, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich prepares to shoot at Sharp Shooting Indoor Range and Gun Shop on Friday, March 3, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Just a couple of good ol’ boys shooting a friendly game of 8-ball.

With a slight difference, that is.

Shooting 8-ball with Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich really is about bullets, gunpowder and firearms, not green felt, numbered balls and cue sticks.

Bang! Blam! Pow!!

The 8-ball game and a version of tic-tac-toe were imprinted on the paper targets that Ozzie selected to make our Friday night marksmanship match at the Sharp Shooting range, 1200 N. Freya Way, more interesting.

“I’ll take stripes,” the sheriff tells me just before he takes careful aim and …

BAM!

A significant hole appears through the small image of a blue-striped 10-ball on the target that hangs maybe 20 feet ahead of us.

I’ve been snookered.

Believe it or not, I’m actually supposed to have the technical advantage here.

Ozzie allowed me to shoot the Colt Diamondback .22 that I bought not long ago in a Colville gun shop. Being a mere .22, the gun doesn’t have much recoil to throw me off.

That’s the theory, anyway.

The sheriff, meanwhile, is firing a big boomer, a sleek .45-caliber SIG Sauer he calls his “Sunday go to meeting” gun.

He let me try it. Quite frankly, the thing kicks harder than Stephen Gostkowski.

Unfortunately, our diversity in calibers doesn’t seem to be helping much.

The sheriff tends to hit what he aims at while I habitually jerk the trigger. That’s is not an attribute when accuracy is the goal.

This should come as no surprise since Ozzie carries a gun for a living. Whereas I’m someone who gets paid to spell names right, mostly.

Besides, the sheriff says he was 2 years old when his father, a former Green Beret, taught him to shoot a .22 rifle.

I think I learned at Scout camp when I was 12 or 13.

Ozzie adds that he was 8 when he got his first .45-caliber handgun. Hunting and handling weapons, he says, was a normal part of growing up in the rugged landscape of Wyoming, near Rock Springs.

And speaking of weapons, that “Sunday go to meeting” .45 is the very gat that made news last month.

Remember? It happened after some security staffers at the Spokane Arena informed the sheriff, who was wearing plainclothes at the time, that the coliseum’s “no weapons” rule applied to him, too.

Ozzie, who was there to see a charity hockey game, locked the weapon away in his car to avoid a scene. A couple days later, however, the kerfuffle was worked out as I predicted.

After a meeting with higher-ups, Ozzie was told that the gun ban no longer applies to preservers of the peace.

So in light of all that I hatched this crazy idea. I thought it would be entertaining to arrange a shooting match and talk firearms with the county’s top law enforcer.

The sheriff’s a pretty conservative guy who believes strongly in the citizenry’s right to bear arms.

But he also puts an important qualifier on any discussion about the Second Amendment.

Training.

“That’s the thing I worry about,” says the sheriff, after we’d finished our gunplay.

“It’s easy to go get the permit (to carry a concealed weapon), but how much time have you spent learning to safely use that weapon?”

Ozzie likewise has a strong view on the appropriate time to pull a trigger: Only in a self-defense situation.

“There’s not an ounce of property that is worth a human life,” he adds. “If somebody is going to kill or injure you, that’s a different story.”

Ozzie says he hasn’t had to fire his weapon in the 26 years he’s spent on the job. He’s very grateful for that statistic although he’s been in close calls several times.

Take the domestic violence call to a bar that he responded to one New Year’s Eve, long ago.

A patrol officer at the time, Ozzie says the male in the dispute had taken off by the time he and his partner got to the tavern.

So the officers gave the crying woman a ride home. Ozzie says his partner was escorting the woman, when “all of a sudden the door opens and (the man) steps out with a shotgun.”

Handgun out and ready, Ozzie says he began a brief dialogue that went something like:

“Drop the gun. Drop the gun. Drop the …”

At the very last second, reason prevailed, though not quite the way Ozzie wanted.

The man, he says, tossed the shotgun way up into the air. Ozzie says he “watched it spin” in silence, hoping it wouldn’t go off and send buckshot spraying when it landed.

It didn’t. Although the close call underscores just how crazy dangerous it can be to wear the badge.

Law enforcement is a high calling. The job, to quote an old philosopher, requires “a cool head and a keen eye.”

One thing’s certain.

Anyone who takes that sacred oath to preserve and protect better be able to outshoot an aging columnist who jerks the trigger.

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