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“Always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction,” he said. “A safe direction is the direction that would result in the least amount of damage.”

The second rule urged gun owners to keep their fingers off the trigger, while the third rule reminded them to keep the gun unloaded when they’re not using it.

Jack Cochran, an NRA instructor assisting Mr. Chiapparoli, chimed in that the other two rules are moot unless the first rule is followed.

“Why is the No. 1 rule important? If you fail two and three, you’re not going to kill anybody.”

For the next 5½ hours, Mr. Chiapparoli led the class through the basics of handgun mechanics, handling and safety, as well as etiquette on the shooting range.

“The best safety is here,” Mr. Chiapparoli said, pointing to his head. “The best safety is the three rules. The safety [button] can fail.”

While Maryland law only requires a person to fire a single shot for their license, Mr. Chiapparoli had each member of the class fire 25 shots while being watched by range instructors and observed by a peer partner.

The range time was not without its incidents. One man cut his thumb on the hammer recoil because he was gripping the gun incorrectly, while another student accidentally began shooting before an official direction to commence fire and spooked the class. But other students proudly showed off their bullet-riddled targets and high-fived their partners.

“I urge you to keep shooting,” Mr. Chiapparoli told the class. “It’s the only way you’re going to get better.”

Ms. Wachsmuth, 40, of Germantown, said she had taken a couple lessons in the shooting range, but the qualification class was a good addition to fill in the background on safety.

Petite, with a blond ponytail, Ms. Wachsmuth said she was interested in a gun for self-defense but was still uncertain about whether she might get one.

“We learned stuff I would never have known,” she said. “I might not ever buy a gun” she added, “but just knowing if I need to “

People who take the class don’t have to make up their minds about a gun purchase right away. Completion of the class will fulfill the handgun qualifying license’s instructional requirement for three years.

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