Schools springing up that train civilians in the skills of snipersMonday, October 28, 2002 By Chris Arko
One shot, one kill--the motto not only of military and police snipers, but also of a new faction of civilians who learn sniper tactics as a hobby. These hobbyists may include the Beltway sniper, who has terrorized the Washington, D.C., area for the past three weeks. Having killed his ninth victim, he has exemplified the motto in a sinister way. As an expanding market of products--including guns, books, Web sites and training schools--offer sniper skills to the public, now anyone can learn how to be a sniper. The Storm Mountain Sniper Training Center in Elk Garden, W. Va., is such a school. According to stormmountain.com, its purpose is to provide law enforcement, military personnel and "qualified civilians" with information to prepare for their scout/sniper training courses. "Qualified civilians" includes anyone who passes a criminal background check and has a recommendation from someone like a minister. Storm Mountain also stages competitions, where mock battles are fought between snipers exhibiting their skills. Akron Police Detective Jim Conley is a sniper with the department's SWAT team and was not aware such schools existed. "We get our training from the department, state or national schools," Conley said. "The State of Ohio has police officer training for us to attend, but it's not for civilians." He also commented on the mock battles. "I once saw a sniper-paintball thing on TV with an outfit that claimed they were representing a law enforcement agency, but when we checked it out, and it wasn't legitimate. It's not something I'd ever be interested in, and I think it's just crazy." Web sites including snipercountry.com have detailed "tips" for snipers, which anyone could use to become a better shot. Conley believes these could offer help to anyone interested in shooting. "You can go to any search engine and get 1,000 military and law enforcement inspired Web sites about windage and ballistics. You can learn sharpshooting from any gun club, or improve your shot from any Web site." According to syndicated columnist Fox Butterfield of the New York Times, many rifles used by snipers are modified military or hunting rifles. It is hard to track the sales of sniper rifles because neither the firearms industry nor the ATF has a "sniper rifle" category. Conley has qualms about civilians owning such high-powered rifles. "Ordinary civilians shouldn't be able to get this type of gun," Conley said. "They should be able to get them if there's a purpose, but who needs one to shoot a deer? Sales should be very scheduled with certain gates and restrictions the buyer has to go through." The Beltway Sniper has drawn lots of unwanted attention to these civilian snipers, many of whom deny that the Washington shooter is in fact a sniper. Conley is one of these people. "There's a certain mind set for snipers, and that's to prevent loss of life," he said. "This person in Washington is not a sniper and doesn't even deserve the title. He or she is a homicidal maniac."