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Newton's top guns
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To Newton County Sheriff's deputies, the phrase "top gun" brings to mind more than just a 1980s Tom Cruise movie. To be known as the "top gun" around the office is an honor bestowed upon only the department's best shooters.

During each periodic competition, 15 to 20 deputies gather at the Newton County Sheriff's Office gun range on Lower River Road to determine who will hold the coveted title.

Scott Whisnant, the competition's first winner, received a small trophy to go along with the title. The 2006 winner Tommy Davis now sports a laser sight on his service weapon.

"The guys have fun with it," said NCSO Captain Doug Kitchens.

Kitchens is in charge of the gun range and the training which occurs there.

"We had different scenarios set up for the competition and each one of the deputeis would have to shoot the same scenario," Kitchens said. "We use score plus time."

Though the set-ups have changed throughout the years, judgmental shooting has been one constant with the event. In these scenarios, deputies are presented with multiple targets, some of which represent criminals, or "shoot" targets, while other targets signify civilians or "don't shoot" targets, Kitchens said.

In the past deputies have also had to shoot four, six, eight and 10-inch steel plates from 10 yards away.

"We had some two-inch ones, but we found out right quick those were too hard to hit," Kitchens said.

Another challenge had competitors shooting multi-colored balloons. The balloons were rigged on a string which could be pulled from either side to quickly change the targets' locations, Kitchens said.

Besides the "top gun" competition, the NCSO gun range is also used for a variety of training exercises. Deputies are only required by Georgia law to qualify on a gun range once a year, but NCSO's deputies qualify at least four times a year for pistol shooting.

To pass the course, deputies are required to score at least 80 percent on the range. Like in the "top gun" competition, deputies are scored on a variety of factors including time, accuracy and judgmental shooting.

 Kitchens said night firing is always one of the training exercises. For the night firing training, a house made of black plastic is constructed on the range. The deputies are then brought in at night and given the tasks of clearing the house of perpetrators.

The black plastic house is separated into several rooms which may contain "shoot," "don't shoot" or no targets, Kitchens said. The house often has a semi-hidden room which can easily be overlooked. The deputy must clear every room of the house with just his flashlight for illumination.

"These are just scenarios to make them think, act cautious and to use all their training," Kitchens said.

Several other law enforcement agencies have used the shooting range in the past including the Rockdale Sheriff's Office, the Conyers Police Department and some state agencies. Until the NCSO build the range, the department had to use the Covington Police Department's range for their training.

"We used to have to borrow the city of Covington's range, but our department was getting bigger and their department was getting bigger and so we were always having to work around their schedule," Kitchens said.

The range was paid for by donations from citizens in the community. With the help of the county and some volunteer work, they were able to build the range for $5,000.

The NCSO also uses the range for firearms safety classes. On Oct. 20, the department will host a handgun safety class for women. For more information about the class, please call (770) 786-4026.