“We started up in January of 2016,” recalls Tharp, noting that when ISIS hit Paris in late 2015, many people feared terrorism was headed for our turf. “People were calling me asking, ‘Hey, can you train me in firearms?’ They were concerned about where the world is heading these days. I held my first class the end of last January and I’ve trained over 80 people since then.”
Employed at the Decatur Police Department as a full-time officer for 17 years and a firearms instructor for 15 years, Tharp is well-known in the community. As folks considered the purchase of a gun for protection, they turned to Tharp training to go with the weapon. Although he had considered launching a firearms training business at some point in the future, possibly near retirement, requests from those in the community encouraged him to speed up his timeline. The classes are a compilation of the extensive training Tharp himself has taken over the years.
“I took my first NRA class at age sixteen,” he recalls. “At seventeen I joined the military and shot with the military police pistol team.” Later, he attended the firearms instructor program through the police department.
Tharp offers a variety of training sessions for families, civilians, and those in law enforcement. Each class focuses on a particular firearm – handgun, carbine rifle, or shotgun. Students bring their own gun and ammo to the class. Training consists of approximately eight hours of instruction divided between the classroom and the shooting range. Tharp purposely limits the size of each class to eight or nine participants so he can provide one-on-one instruction and offer real-time feedback to each individual at the shooting range.
“There’s instruction on the various parts of the gun, how to hold the gun, how to stand when shooting, and site alignment,” he shares. “Then it’s on to the maintenance of the gun.” Tharp instructs students on the proper way to break down the gun, clean it, and then put it back together.
“We also cover the mindset of owning a gun,” he says. His instruction stresses the practicality and responsibility of both owning and using firearms as well as the importance of gun safety education in the home when small children are involved.
“In every class, the biggest thing is safety, safety, safety,” Tharp says. “We reiterate safety all day long.”
Advanced classes cover topics like concealment. “If you’re carrying a firearm for personal protection, you must be conscious of where you go, what you do, and how you present yourself in public,” he says. “If you’re going to use a firearm, it should be the last resort.”
Because there are some places you cannot carry a firearm such as an airplane or into court, Tharp also teaches an unarmed self-defense class. The three-hour introductory class is taught at Anytime Fitness in Decatur. Both men and women sign-up for this class that stresses the need for situational awareness.
“Awareness can prevent a person from getting into situations that would be dangerous,” he says.
Tharp’s youngest class participant to date was age thirteen and the oldest a seventy-five-year-old who had never shot a gun. While anyone under eighteen must be accompanied by a parent, Tharp is often asked how young is too young to participate in a class, a decision he leaves up to the parent.
“You know your child best,” he notes. “Can they sit through four hours of lecture that touches on adult topics? Are they responsible enough to listen at the shooting range?” Tharp also shares with parents the mature subject matter discussed in the self-defense class and asks them to take into account the maturity of own their children before enrolling them in the course.
Tharp enjoys educating the public on the proper usage of firearms. “When you take a first time shooter who may be afraid and they shoot well, the sense of pride and the look on their face, that’s what it’s all about,” he says. “But it’s a perishable skill. You have to practice. If you own a gun, please go out and get some kind of training. We don’t want you to get hurt. The more you can be educated the better.”
Tharp looks forward to what may be in store for the future of the business including the possibility of the sale of firearms. “If I get to the point of retirement and decide to start selling guns, the name is already there.”
Classes are held mainly on Saturdays or Sundays, with the occasional weekday class to accommodate students’ and work schedules, at the St. Mary’s Bluecreek Conservation Club at 34 N 650 E, Decatur, where Tharp is a member. The classroom instruction takes place in the clubhouse. Firearms are dry handled during classes meaning there is no ammo in the classroom. Students experience hands-on training on the shooting range in the valley behind and slightly to the north of the clubhouse.
The $125 class fee includes a one year membership at the club, which allows participants to practice their skills. The rate for students under age eighteen is $75. Ongoing membership at the conservation club is just $20 a year. Range safety officers are on duty at the club six days a week with hours that vary by season.
Tharp may be reached through the Tharp Firearms and Training Facebook page or by telephone at 260-301-1897.