Expats’ weapons course teaches defense as a state of mind

A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
Katherine Hernández Juárez negotiates a test in a simulated building and then shows off her accomlishment.

Your hands sweat, heart races and mind goes in circles of what-if scenarios as you hold one of the world’s powerful weapons, a handgun. Slowly you pull the trigger backwards, close your eyes and hope the bullet finds the target as a loud boom explodes around you.

To an inexperienced gun handler all these emotions are common. Atenas resident Paul Furlong works to counteract this and teach his students how to properly react in stressful situations. He presents a three-day course called Shoot Right Pistolcraft.

A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
Paul Furlong is pleased by the battered traget backing

One part of the course is “thinking tactically as a life’s habit, not something fashionable you wear for certain occasions. To be a pistolero is to be awake, alive to the realities as well as the beauty people miss as they trudge through their days on earth. Victims waiting for selection,” Furlong read during his concluding speech.

Another is a “culmination of the above, plus the spice of surprise when, instead of begging for your life, you attack aggressively and ruthlessly with cool, controlled anger and indignation. This is the heady mix of honor, valor and ability that have won the day since we stood erect,” he added.

Shoot Right Pistolcraft began a year ago after Furlong was placed in a situation where he had to save a person’s life. He heard someone kick in his neighbor’s door. When he arrived at the scene, one of four armed men had a gun to his neighbor’s head. He shot the gunman and saved his friend’s life.

“It wasn’t until a year ago, after the shootout, that people started
asking me to teach them,” he said.

Since then, he has offered lessons to Costa Ricans and expats with the promise to make his graduates dangerous to anyone who intends to do harm, said Furlong.

“The course isn’t based on by the hour. It is how much you can get into a person that sticks,” he said.

During the class, Furlong teaches about the weapon and mental readiness that accompanies owning a gun.

“We create a mental set condition in which you will make certain decisions that are premade so when the elephant walks in the room, you are already ready,” he said.

“Mostly it’s an awareness you carry about you, somewhat like someone who is a second or third degree black belt. They carry this awareness of quiet confidence that allows bad guys to smell it, know it is there and leave them alone.”

Each day, the student gets time to practice at the range. Each time the practice gets more complex. On the last day, the student goes through a series of scenarios to test their reaction, skill and speed. By the end of the class, most students burn through 150 rounds of ammunition, said Furlong.

At the shooting range, the course resembles a SWAT battleground field with a table of the weapons and ammunition and a field of obstacles. The training ground is set up with screens that serve as walls with paper and several metal targets on the other side. Furlong describes the metal plates as toys for shooters because they make a ringing sound when hit. One even falls backwards when struck.

Furlong’s scenario is that these people are intruders in a house. At the words, “He’s got a gun,” student of the day, Katherine Hernández Juárez maneuvers skillfully to take down her attackers.

Ms. Hernández is taking the class at the request of her Canadian husband. She has found joy in her three-day adventure.

“I didn’t want to, but my husband said it was important, and I’m glad I did it.” said Ms. Hernández . “This class taught me how to defend myself. He really shows you how to have confidence in the gun.”

Furlong praised Ms. Hernández, a real estate broker, as an excellent student, “She’s doing very well. I’m almost running out of things to teach her,” he said.

He has such success stories for most of his students. He uses lessons he’s learned along the way to guide his teachings.

“My mentor Jeff Cooper taught thousands of people. He always said, ‘My students always survive. They make mistakes, but they always survive.’”

When it comes to shooting, Furlong teaches in a way that stops the aggressor with the minimum amount of damage. The handguns are shot in a way that creates a wound and not death, he said.

“We don’t shoot to kill. We shoot to stop someone from attacking,” Furlong said. “One of the things I tell my students is if you want to kill someone, please use a Buick. We have a lot of trouble with press already,” he joked.

One of the things practiced in the scenarios is speed. It is ideal to shoot a person within an eight-inch radius in the chest. When attacked, it is best to stop the fight as soon as possible, he said.

This means that the knowledge of knowing how to shoot should not be taken lightly.

“There is a karma stamp on every bullet and every weapon you own,” said Furlong. “If one of the bullets finds a person that doesn’t deserve it, shame on you. It makes one have to be careful about where he shoots.”

The same can be said for someone who leaves a gun in a place that is easily accessible to others, he said.

Costa Rica does have a self-defense law which allows one to defend themselves and others. In Furlong’s case, he didn’t have any problems with the courts for shooting to protect his neighbor.

“If the paperwork is in order and the gun is legal, they are really going to investigate,” he said.

Another thing Furlong teaches is situational awareness through color conditioning.  He then continues the lesson as game where a person earns points for being observant in their surroundings.  For instance, in the street they may earn 10 points for seeing a transit cop but lose 20 points if they don’t.  Over time it becomes habit, he said.

“You learn to join in and participate in the world, so you aren’t going to be surprised.

This habit, along with your shooting schools should always be practiced, he said.  Both his wife and daughter also know how to shoot, and they go over drills in the house, moving through rooms, checking for danger and covering each other’s back.

Also, graduates have the option of coming together at the shooting range for club meetings.  Here they are able to practice skills with Furlong.

The shooting range is called Poligono La Garita and is located in La Garita de Alajuela.  Enrique Rodriguez, a former top policeman, opened it in the 1960s as a place to shoot large caliber guns.

“Now we have a lot of neighbors,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriquez served five years in a U.S. airborne unit. He opens the range to the public, but only if reservations are made in advance.   However the owner is careful about not letting just anyone on the premise to shoot.

“The main thing is safety, so I select the people,” he said.

The range has four different levels of instruction.  They are basic, defensive, technical and some competition.

Furlong’s teaching career goes back to the 1970s, when he lived in the United Sates. He spent two years in the Navy, but got out because he wanted to continue working with motorcycles.  He also has a motorcycle touring business where he takes people across Central America by bike.

Over the course of time, he has had close to 100 weaponry students.

“I picked up an old sport and started teaching people.  I think people want it.  They recognize the need.”

He doesn’t describe himself as an excellent shot.  However, for him the activity is not a sport but a defense mechanism.

“It’s something I don’t do practically well.  I’m an average shooter, but there’s a certain point where gamesmanship gets left behind.

In the grand shape of the world, Furlong said he believes that an armed society is a polite society. He said he believes that when people are left to their own devices, they usually do what is right.

“When you become a good shooter, it make you more polite.  It keeps you out of places of trouble.”

“Those people who are passing moral judgment expect you to defend them when the time comes,” he said.

A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp

In the case of recent United States shootings, Furlong believes that if others were allowed guns, it would have saved victims.

“In the movie theater, all it would have taken was one guy with a gun to stop him,” said Furlong in relation to the June 20 shooting in a Colorado movie theater.

Educating people to use guns, is a way to keep things safe, he said.

“The thing that scares me, is all the people with guns who don’t know how to use them.”

In the Costa Rican gun law, someone must be a citizen or a permanent resident to own a gun and be at least 18 years old.

The gun owner is allowed to have between a .22-caliber and .45-caliber handgun, or up to a 12 gauge shotgun.  The gun can be either semiautomatic or a revolver.  Automatic guns are illegal.

According to Rodríguez, the concealed weapons test has three parts, and can be taken at the La Garita range.  Participants must pass an interview with a psychologist, a written test from the police, and a shooting test.

Enrique Rodríguez

The written test asks questions about the gun and the gun law and is in Spanish.  English speakers have the option of bringing an official translator.

In the practical test, persons are given 10 rounds and they have to hit a 9.5- by 11-inch paper target at least seven shots with a .22-caliber handgun.

More information on Furlong and his class is availableHERE!

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