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Monday, 21 July, 2003, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
Women who 'shoot to kill'
Vanessa Collingridge at Gunsite Training Academy
Reporter Vanessa Collingridge shoots at a target
As Tony Martin finishes his sentence for killing a burglar, the BBC's Vanessa Collingridge visits an American scheme teaching women how to shoot intruders.

Phoenix, Arizona - a place where the ghosts of gunslingers like Doc Holliday and Sheriff Wyatt Earp lurk in the old-style saloons, the granite hills and the scorching deserts.

This is classic cowboy country and here the people treasure their right to bear arms as dearly as their ancestors treasured their hard-won land.

I have come to Phoenix to learn how to use a handgun. Here, it is not only legal for me to possess a gun, I also have the protection of the law if I use it to shoot and kill an intruder.

Learning to fire

Bob Young runs the Gunsite Training Academy out in the Phoenix desert. He says that he pities the British for our lack of similar rights in the UK.

However, despite our relative ignorance over handling and shooting guns, he claims he can turn even a total novice into a crack shooter in less than a week - a claim I'm about to test out.

My first job is to register for my hunting licence and then to be fitted with a ammunition belt, holster and a Colt 45 pistol.

After a series of lectures on the mechanics of guns and how to to "shoot to stop" - a more pleasant way of saying "shoot to kill" - I'm taken out onto the firing range for some individual tuition.

Bob tells me my stance is not 'aggressive' enough; my heart is pumping, I've lost all but tunnel vision

Vanessa Collingridge
This is much-needed. Unlike all the other course participants, I've never even held a loaded gun before, let alone fired one.

But after another quick demonstration Bob leads me up to the target, gives me my ear-defenders and tells me to pull the trigger.

A loud bang, the clink of an empty cartridge hitting the dust and I look at the target: the bullet struck dead centre.

The practicalities of firing a gun are worryingly easy; the emotional side, less so. A few more rounds and although my aim is still dead centre, I'm shaking like a leaf.

Women 'empowered'

The realities of actually shooting another human being are firmly brought home when we go round the "house" - a building with armed and unarmed cardboard intruders lurking around every corner and behind every door.

Bob tells me my stance is not "aggressive" enough; my heart is pumping, I've lost all but tunnel vision but even so, I still "stop" each cardboard gunman dead.

Women shooting
A course at the Gunsite Training Academy costs about $500
Most of the course participants are here to improve their gun skills - not for sport but for their own protection.

Mosa Laren, a primary school teacher, raved to me how "empowered" she now felt, while Randy, a musician from Nashville, argued that Americans must defend their constitutional right to bear arms so the Government can't take it away.

Clearly, for many in the US, guns are part of what makes them Americans.

Here, and in many parts of the United States, the British farmer, Tony Martin, is something of a hero.

US teenager killed

There is widespread incredulity that someone has been jailed in Britain for defending themselves and their property - even if the end result was the death of an unarmed 16-year-old.

Recently, however, that mood was tempered in Salem, Oregon, where 16-year-old Anthony Choate was shot and killed after drunkenly wandering into a stranger's garage.

Once inside, he lit a fire - something he often did in a stove at home.

Homeowner Linn Stordahl heard a noise and went to investigate. On opening the garage door, he found smoke and flames and shouted a warning to the shadowy figure beyond them.

'No tolerance' sign in window
Many Americans feel it is their right to defend their property
But when the figure came towards him, Stordahl pulled the trigger and fatally wounded him in the neck.

A Grand Jury later cleared Linn Stordahl of all charges, though Stordahl now faces intimidation from local teenagers - and perhaps the depths of his own conscience.

It's a sobering tale to those who call for American-style gun laws in the UK.

Talking with Anthony's family and friends who are left to deal with the pointless death of a loved-one, there is a heart-felt frustration that an unarmed boy has been shot.

But Stordahl's neighbours - as well as the law - give him their full support, no matter how tragic the consequences.

There is no easy answer for the grief or the fear of crime. I leave America feeling that while it may be a very easy matter to learn to shoot to kill, you can never be truly prepared to live with the consequences of taking another human life: pulling the trigger is a beginning, not an end.

Real Story: Monday 21 July at 1930 BST on BBC ONE and the Real Story website.

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