The stalls were empty and quiet, unlike the other bays at Point Blank Range, where muffled shots rang out behind thick glass windows. Overhead, rows of florescent lights illuminated a single target and Brian Zins, 12-time NRA National Pistol Champion, stood ready.
He switched off the safety and pointed his Cabot S100 downrange before briefly turning his head to look over his shoulder.
“If you’ve never heard a real gunshot before, you might want to brace yourself,” he said. “It’s pretty loud.”
Zins, 48, of Monroe, wasn’t lying. As he pulled the trigger, a sharp bang reverberated through the bay like a mini explosion, each round more deafening than the last. Zins, however, remained calm.
As director of training at Point Blank Range in Matthews, he’s used to the sound of gunfire. He oversees seven instructors at the Monroe Road range, handles class registration, creates the class calendar and makes sure each instructor’s curriculum meets his standards. He also teaches bulls eye competition training, advanced pistol marksmanship and an Action Teens on Target course, in addition to private lessons.
Zins grew up shooting BB guns and .22-caliber rifles as a kid, but it wasn’t until he joined the Marine Corps in 1988 that he learned to shoot “big guns.” While in boot camp, Zins’ superiors noticed he had uncanny skill with the service pistol and recommended he compete in the Western Division Matches. In 1989, he joined the Marine Corps Pistol Team, launching what would become a long competitive shooting career resulting in copious accolades.
When Zins left the Marine Corps in 2008, he knew he wanted to be a shooting instructor.
“I retired from the Marine Corps as a 12-time NRA National Pistol Champion,” he said. “I wasn’t going to stop. I wasn’t done.”
Zins believes in a crawl-walk-run approach to shooting that starts with finding the right gun and learning the fundamentals, such as safety. In a one-hour lesson with Zins, participants might only fire 10 rounds.
“I don’t need you to shoot a lot to teach you how to shoot,” he said. “Shooting holes in a piece of paper is just a test of how you’re doing.”
He said the best way to learn proper grip and stance is through dry fire, or pulling the trigger without any bullets. Feet should be shoulder-width apart with the foot of the shooting hand (dominant hand) slightly back. Arms should be at chest height, almost locked straight but not entirely, so the shooter’s body can absorb some of the recoil.
Next is sight alignment (making sure the front sight of the gun is between the rear sight with an equal amount of light on each side) and sight picture (the superimposition of the sights on the target). Zins said the key is to pull the trigger without “disturbing the sights.”
“That’s really the only thing people have to master to be able to hit a target,” he said.
As a gun owner and instructor, it’s no surprise Zins is an advocate of the Second Amendment. He agrees mass shootings, gang violence and other recent tragic events around the country are a problem, but banning guns is not the solution.
“If guns kill people, then forks make people fat,” Zins said. “You can’t blame the object because then you have to blame the car; you have to blame the plane; you have to blame the fork.”
Still, he thinks a few additional restrictions should be in place, such as making bump stocks illegal for civilians to purchase. The attachment enables a semiautomatic rifle to fire faster and is known for being used in the Las Vegas shooting in October.
Zins believes all person-to-person gun sales should be required to have a legal transfer through a gun shop, which will perform a background check on the buyer. He also thinks every state should require shops to check mental health databases during background checks, like they do in North Carolina.
People should be educated and have a healthy respect and fear of the gun, especially if they are going to own one, according to Zins. He thinks all states should require a class before issuing a concealed carry permit, but many do not.
“We spend more time teaching 16-year-olds how to drive than we teach people to conceal carry,” he said.
That’s why Zins enjoys being an instructor – he likes helping people overcome a fear, learn the proper technique and break down misconceptions about guns and gun owners.
“Every educator will tell you the same thing: when that light bulb goes off and they get it and something clicks, that’s awesome. That’s really cool,” Zins said. “To know that people are learning the right way, that’s huge for me.”