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HAZLETON, Pa. (AP) — Eugene Rossi doesn’t remember the exact moment that spurred his interest in guns and gun safety.
It could have happened in a variety of ways.
His father took him hunting. “He was always one for safety,” Rossi said. As a kid he remembered plinking objects at carnivals and fairs with a cork gun. “And, I always won,” he said, smiling under his camouflage U.S. Army hat.
He joined the National Guard, signing up while a junior in high school and shot competitively for them. He was hooked after winning his first match and would go on to receive multiple honors at competitions.
“I had an eye for it. I was a thousand yard shooter,” he said, pointing to a belt on display in his Hazleton shooting range — it was a prize he won from a military superior on a distance shooting bet.
He is a master weapons instructor, having taught Pennsylvania State Police and soldiers.
“When it came about that I got out of the shooting I always wanted to train civilians,” Rossi said.
Rossi’s on Target, 175 N. Cedar St., Hazleton, became his dream.
He opened a year ago with a BB and soft air gun range during the pandemic. There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle and shoot a gun and Rossi said he is there to teach gun safety and target shooting fundamentals. This is where a novice to guns should start training — on low caliber weapons, he said.
“COVID wasn’t good to me,” Rossi said; but, he pushed through the challenges. Four months ago he set up a virtual laser shooting range. No ammunition is used. During times of ammunition shortages and price jumps, gun owners can still keep their skills sharp without an added expense, he said. Shooting accurately takes practice like anything else and guests at the virtual range simply pick up a gun fitted with a laser attachment, select a training video and lock their eyes on the target.
The virtual shooting guns are weighed to feel like the real thing, but instead of bullets there’s a laser at the barrel that interacts with a large screen downrange. Surround sound makes people feel like the simulation is more real. While there are target shooting trainings and games to shoot, there’s also real-life scenarios where a gun owner can sharpen their defense skills.
There’s over 250 target shooting scenarios to pick from.
Rossi selected one of them on a recent Tuesday. His laser gun was at his side when two men approached in a simulation that takes place in a backyard. The men are trying to sell him roofing services, but before he knows it one of them pulls out a gun. Rossi watches the man quickly pull the gun from his waistband and raises his own just as fast, firing a round. Those shooting trainings are specifically for adults, he said.
Then there’s the simulated competitive shooting which brings him through a series of shooting obstacles.
Children may shoot in the BB and soft air ranges and they can also play shooting games, such as one for Halloween with jack-o’-lanterns that pop onto the screen out of nowhere, similar to the Nintendo Duck Hunt game from the 1980s. Shooters must have a quick reflex and a sharp eye to tag one.
Rossi found out about the virtual range after watching video of one in California. He got intrigued and ended up buying one of the models available.
The virtual range can be taken on the road to fairs, parties and community events at request through a box truck he had outfitted to handle the gear.
And, while COVID took a hit on his business, mass shootings and unsafe keeping of guns makes keeping his business healthy even harder. A lot of people are against having any gun, he said.
While tragic, the incidents of violence don’t represent the majority of gun owners, Rossi said. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” he continued. Knowing and understanding the correct way to own and handle guns provides greater safety, he said.
“We live in a world now where people want to own a gun (for home defense and business defense),” he said.
But, people need to be taught how to respect guns first, he said. Rossi said a local grandmother, her daughter and her grandkids were at the soft air range recently. He told them how to hold the gun and fire it the proper way, but he also schooled them on safety precautions. Weapons should be locked up, especially when there are children in the household. Keep them “up high” and unloaded, too, he said. First time gun owners should sign up for safety courses and a responsible gun owner will keep their guns in a safe and away from unwanted handlers, he said. It’s those things he tells anyone just starting to shoot at his business.
His goal, however, is not just to educate people, it’s to let them enjoy the sport of shooting. “They’ll learn how to shoot here,” he said.
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