Tuesday, September 21, 1999

By Anthony Sommer, Star-Bulletin
Carl Oliver, Kauai Police Department marksmanship trainer,
right, demonstrates night shooting techniques for his fellow
KPD officers. This month, Oliver won his fifth title as the top
law enforcement pistol shot in the state.

Shoot, this Kauai
officer is state law
enforcement’s best

KPD's Carl Oliver captures
his fifth title as the top pistol shot

By Anthony Sommer
Kauai correspondent


LIHUE -- He isn't really a Jedi Master, but to the circle of Kauai police officers gathered around him at the pistol range and hanging on his every word, Carl Oliver could be Yoda himself.

It's weapons training day at the Kauai Police Department, and Oliver is showing them how to use a flashlight and shoot a pistol at night by holding the objects side by side. In a few minutes, the officers will go into a completely dark indoor range and shoot, using only the beams of their flashlights.

"Don't do that old FBI thing they still show on TV," he tells them, holding the light away from his body to demonstrate how not to do it. "You just illuminate yourself and become a better target."

Most of the time, Oliver is a patrolman just like they are. His sector is in the Poipu resort district.

In his spare time, he shoots. Either for the police department or for himself.

This month, Oliver became the state champion law-enforcement pistol shot for the fifth time in 11 years of competition. He collected the Governor's Cup at the annual tournament with a score of 2,379 points out of a possible 2,400.

So when Oliver tells his fellow police officers gathered for training to clean their weapons every time they're fired, they do it.

And when he tells them the days of aiming all shots at the middle of the torso (center mass, in shooting jargon) are gone, they remember that, too. Now it's two shots center mass and then one to the head. Lots of bad guys wear body armor these days, Oliver reminds them.

It's not "shoot to kill," but it is "shoot to stop."

"A 20 percent casualty level may be OK in the military, but the only acceptable casualty level in police work is zero," he says.

Oliver is both marksmanship training officer and armorer for the department. In the latter role, he's happy to tailor their department-issue Smith & Wesson .40-caliber semiautomatics so they fit just right.

Cops with small hands have trouble with the S&W's small magazine-release button on the side of the pistol frame. Oliver swaps the factory button for an oversized replacement and the empty magazine pops right out.

Officers with big hands have trouble positioning their finger on the trigger. No problem, Oliver says, putting on a set of custom rubber grips.

"Use 'em myself," he tells the officer. It could have been Mark McGwire handing a kid an autographed bat.

Maybe it's Oliver's influence and maybe it isn't, but every Kauai police officer on the range agrees with him that the Second Amendment -- guaranteeing the right to bear arms -- ranks right up there next to the Bible in significance.

"Every place where they've allowed law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons, the crime rate has dropped dramatically," says one officer.

"I joined the (National Rifle Association) just to protest Hawaii's gun laws," says another. "No civilian in Hawaii can get a permit to carry a gun without endless hassle, and it's just plain stupid."

Oliver, who turns 51 this year, received his first gun -- a single-shot, .410-gauge shotgun -- for a Christmas present when he was 7.

"In Pennsylvania, everybody grew up with guns," he explains with a shrug.

You don't get to be state law enforcement pistol champ year after year without taking this shooting stuff seriously.

The competitions -- which include shooters from agencies ranging from the local police departments and the state prisons to the Internal Revenue Service (two armed tax collectors competed this year) -- involve four rounds of shooting, one each with a stock revolver, a customized revolver, a stock semiautomatic and a customized semiautomatic.

The format is shooting at silhouette targets from a variety of stances with strong hand, weak hand and two-handed. Old-timers call it "combat shooting," but in a more politically correct era it is now officially termed "practical shooting."

Oliver uses the same gun for both the revolver categories: an off-the-shelf Smith & Wesson Model 686 .357 Magnum with a 6-inch barrel.

His stock semiauto is a .40-caliber Glock Model 35 with a 5-inch barrel. His customized semiauto is a tricked-out .45-caliber Colt Model 1911.

Oliver loads his own ammunition. Competition shooters usually experiment with bullet weights and shapes, and different weights and brands of powder and velocities -- a chronometer to clock bullet speeds is part of the gear -- looking for the best combination of accuracy and low recoil.

Until they get it just right.

"I have a separate loading machine for each caliber I shoot, and I never change the settings," Oliver said. His wife, Sylvia, loads the primers.

And when he isn't competing or teaching or tuning up the SWAT team's brand new submachine guns, does he like to shoot just for fun? "Oh, I dunno," he says. "Hey, what are ya doin' Saturday? I've got some guns you really ought to try."

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