By Emma Witman
Arm yourself with the proper knowledge and training.
That was the goal of a Thursday evening gun safety presentation at the Brenau Downtown Center in Gainesville, hosted by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins and led by the Hall County Sheriff's Office.
More than 200 people came for the 90-minute presentation on gun safety techniques and governing codes and regulations of proper firearms carry and use.
"This was, as you saw tonight, a good overview. It's not in-depth. People didn't come to shoot," Collins said after the event had wrapped up. "We wanted to give people just the basics."
Collins is planning on taking the safety course to other counties in his district as well.
"We've got events in Jackson County, Habersham County, Fannin County and Rabun County already scheduled. So we'll be working those between now and the first week of May," he said.
A wide array of people -- men, women and families with children -- were in attendance.
"So many times the gun owners get stereotyped. And the realization is -- especially in Georgia's 9th (District) where we did polling data -- that over 60 percent or 70 percent of households in Georgia have some kind of weapon in the house, a gun or a shotgun or rifle. So it's something that's very everyday in this district," Collins said.
Sgt. Jeff Shoemaker from the sheriff's office introduced key safety measures.
"A gun is not like the remote control -- you can't lose track of it multiple times a day," he said to laughter. "We've got a problem if we've lost our pistol."
But he noted gun safety is a serious subject.
"Accidents with a firearm involving a child are almost always fatal," he said.
The four key tips are universal to any gun safety course: Treat every firearm as if it were loaded, never point a gun at anything you aren't willing to destroy, keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire and be sure of your target and beyond.
Attendees seemed serious about safety. Gun locks, provided free, were quickly snatched up before the last remaining folks had trickled in.
Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks, public information officer for the sheriff's office, then went over the legal side of gun ownership.
He quipped that understanding the lengthy pages of governing statutes was a simple matter of "light reading."
"We're not going to read all that," he said. "We know citizens need to be given good information, and that's what this section is all about. But we won't read verbatim what's in there."
While the purpose of the evening wasn't to harp on residents, the laws are important to know, he said.
"The last thing I want to see are the good guys getting into trouble," he said. "I think we'd be missing an opportunity if we didn't let you know. It's incumbent upon someone trying to obey the law and legally carry to know the rules."
Some of those rules include applying through the county's probate court to get a carry license, and leaving a firearm in the car or at home when in places, such as churches, schools and government buildings, where it's illegal to carry even with a license.
Collins said the idea of the night was to stress that while gun ownership is a right, it carries a great weight.
"We want (residents) to realize gun ownership is a very valuable constitutional right that we have, but it's also a responsibility," he said. "That's something the officers emphasized tonight and something we emphasized in coming here, and it's something we just believe is a positive aspect. Gun ownership is part of our rights, but it's also something we need to know how to use and be a part of."