MISSION, Texas (AP) — The buzzer sounded and Gary Johnson grabbed an empty handgun from the table, picked up a full magazine, loaded it into the pistol, pulled back the slide, and began shooting.
In a matter of seconds, close to a dozen paper targets representing assailants had two shots in them; two other targets, representing bystanders, were untouched.
At the end of the run, a safety officer told Johnson to holster his gun and get ready for the next stage, while another shooter walked up to the line and prepared to throw slugs of hot lead downrange.
The Monitor reports Johnson and the other individuals who had gathered Monday evening at the Shooters Alley in Mission to practice their skills are not police officers or members of the military, but average citizens who practice and compete in the growing sport of tactical shooting.
"I love it," said Johnson, who began target shooting at the age of 5. "This type of shooting challenges you in a different way. It's not about pinpoint accuracy and taking your time to make one shot but about getting your shots in the targets while protecting yourself at all times."
Unlike traditional shooting where a person stands at a line and shoots at one target in order to score points, tactical shooting is taken from the perspective of a person who has a concealed handgun and is put in a shooting situation, said J.D. Carrera, one of the owners at Shooter's Alley who runs the shooting competitions.
The types of drills practiced by Carrera and his shooters are similar to the ones hosted by the International Defensive Pistol Association, which has been holding shooting competitions since 1996 that are geared toward real-life situations. With more than 20,000 shooters worldwide, IDPA scores shooters on their time and accuracy, turning tactical shooting into a sport.
In recent years, shooting sports have seen a dynamic growth in the Rio Grande Valley, Carrera said.
In addition to Carrera's group, another team holds weekly shooting matches by the International Practical Shooting Confederation, which follows the same principle of more realistic shooting.
In Brownsville, an organization called RGV Shooters holds weekly IDPA sessions and regular events where competitors also use carbines and shotguns.
Training for all activities involving motor skills hinges on developing instinctive muscle memory through continuous practice, said Raul Huidobro, a retired Muay Thai boxing champion from Mexico who trains future fighters in Muay Thai, mixed martial arts and self-defense.
"Anyone can learn a technique, but not everyone can apply it," Huidobro said. "While an individual can learn the theory behind a technique, if they don't practice, they won't be able to successfully use it when they need to."
Huidobro's take on muscle memory regarding hand-to-hand combat rings true for anyone who carries a firearm and may be faced with a life-or-death situation, Carrera said.
"A lot of people buy a gun and either don't practice with it or practice standing in a line and shooting," Carrera said. "In a live situation, you might have to move behind cover, shoot on the run, (or) shoot out of your car. This is not only training, but it's fun," as well.
While people may think that tactical shooting is mainly for law enforcement, the sport is geared toward the general public, with women in mind, as well, Carrera said.
"Many husbands come to buy a gun for their wives because they are always on the road, however, that gun stays in a drawer most of the time," Carrera said. "This helps you test your skills to see where you are lacking. Drawing from a holster, changing magazines, clearing a jam: These are skills that everyone should know."
Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino said that in addition to proper shooting skills, residents also need to practice situational awareness to recognize potential dangers and, most important, learn the laws regarding the use of firearms.
To address those concerns, Trevino has offered a free homeowner firearms safety course in which residents not only get guidance about shooting techniques but are also instructed about legal ramifications.
"We empower the people to be able to defend themselves," he said. "They learn when it is OK to do it, when it is not OK, and the consequences of pulling the trigger."