A row of cardboard targets are lined up. The targets have a green silhouette of an upper body with paper plates stapled to the head of every cardboard target. The paper plates are riddled with bullets but can be easily replaced with a new paper plate in lieu of a new cardboard target. It’s a clever trick used by Jason Van Dyke, instructor and co-founder of Texas Marksmen, a student organization at the University of North Texas (UNT) that lets students get practice with firearms through professional training.
Club events, which can either be instruction-based shooting or ‘just for fun’ shooting, take place on a few select Saturdays. At this particular event, the students drove to Blue Ridge to shoot on a family ranch of one of the alumni involved with the club. Most club members are students, but UNT alumni are also welcome. The students who join range from experienced shooters to some who have no experience at all with firearms.
“We have students from all different backgrounds, people that haven’t even held guns before to people like me who have been shooting their whole lives. We welcome everyone to come and shoot with us, train with us and experience what we think is rather fun,” said Jason Armitage, the current president of Texas Marksmen. Armitage began shooting at an early age with his father. But he sought out more professional training that he could never get until he joined Texas Marksmen and started learning from Van Dyke. Now, Armitage’s father also joins the group for training and target practice along with Van Dyke’s father.
According to Armitage, the group offers students a way to practice with firearms and exercise their constitutional rights in a safe and professionally supervised environment. At the event in Blue Ridge, Van Dyke conducted a pistol accuracy workshop.
“It gets their confidence up, they know they can hit the [target] so if you hit a one-inch [target] at three yards, you should certainly be able to hit a paper plate at seven yards,” said Van Dyke, explaining how he trains beginners who have trouble shooting targets farther away.
Most students, except for a couple beginners, used their own handguns and holsters for the training. For students who do not own any firearms, Van Dyke lets them borrow firearms from his collection based on the type of training he is conducting that particular day.
According to Van Dyke, there are always more beginners who attend training sessions than experienced shooters.
“I’ve had an interest in firearms all my life but I never had any chance to shoot so when I found out about this club I thought it was a great opportunity for me to start shooting and hopefully improve on accuracy and general things about guns,” said Bruce Hua, a UNT senior and new member of Texas Marksmen. “I can’t believe UNT actually has a club like this.”
The club also offers a chance for students to obtain a concealed handgun license (CHL) permit also known as a license to carry (LTC) through a semi-annual course. This course is offered once every semester and is open to everyone, not just students. There is a $20 fee for instruction and a $40 fee to obtain the actual license.
Although all UNT students and alumni are welcome to join the group, there is a vetting process. Interested students must join the Facebook vetting page for Texas Marskmen where they answer a few questions about who they are, why they want to join the club, and their experience with firearms. Van Dyke or Armitage will then add the student as a friend on Facebook and look through their posts and pictures to make sure there are no red flags. If everything checks out, the student is then accepted into the group.
Van Dyke says there have never been any mishaps with members in the group. No one has ever been injured, harmed, or used firearms for purposes other than target practice or hunting. However, vetting is necessary to ensure that no Texas Marksmen member ever does something illegal involving a firearm that can be linked to the group. According to Van Dyke, there has only been one instance in which a potential student was denied membership because they were a part of ANTIFA.
As for political views, the members keep politics out of the shooting range, but Armitage has a strong belief that gun control of any kind is a violation of the Second Amendment. What the students learn from this type of training is how to use a firearm for self-defense which is generally learning to make two shots in the center mass and one shot to the head if still needed.
But Armitage still warns of the mental capacity needed to follow through. “If you touch your weapon, you have to be prepared to take a life. A firearm is a lethal weapon,” he said. According to him, every person needs to decide for themselves whether they are capable of defending themselves in this way. Firearms are certainly not for everyone but Armitage feels that those who are prepared to use them for self-defense should be able to do so without restrictions being placed on them.
In most states, a club like Texas Marksmen may be out of the ordinary. But in Texas, where firearms are popular, access to guns is easy, and there are laws like campus carry and concealed carry, the existence of this group as a university student organization is not a surprise.