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Students concerned that crime is turning the campus into Dodge City can take heart that on their side is the most accurate gun in the west. West Philadelphia, that is. Roaming the streets every evening to protect law and order is the University Police Department's master marksman Sergeant Thomas Messner, owner of one of the best shooting eyes in the state. The competition is open to any law enforcement officer, including police, sheriffs, correctional, Fish and Game, Secret Service and Treasury officers. Officers compete in a minimum of four competitions during the year and their scores are averaged. Contestants have 150 shots from distances from seven to 50 yards. Each shot is worth 10 points. Messner placed 19th with an average score of 1447.25 out of a possible 1500 points. Six of the 20 officers work with the Philadelphia Police department. "It's the highest honor that you can get as far as your ability with your firearm is concerned," Association President James Bramhall said. "This is the ultimate goal in the state. The only thing above it would be your rank nationally." Messner said placing in the competition has been a goal of his for a few years. He has entered the competition twice before. He said there is a national "President's 100" award but that is "just about beyond my dreams." Messner joined the department in 1983 and has served as its firearms instructor since 1986. Until he took a firearms course as an officer, he never had a real interest in shooting. The course, he said, "really whetted my appetite" and he began to enter competitions. Although inexperienced, he shot well. "I was fortunate I won a match early," he said. "Once I brought the first trophy home, I was hooked." Now, he said, shooting has become his hobby. Because the department sends its officers to a shooting range only once a year, Messner has joined a private shooting club in the city. He said the experience, although expensive, is worth it. He and Bramhall said many of the competitors have an advantage in that their departments sponsor them or they are full-time shooting instructors. In those cases, they said, contestants are able to spend more time on the shooting range. But Bramhall said Messner is moving up in the ranks anyway. "Every year you see an increase in his average," he said. "He's got a lot of ability. You can pick these guys out. He's got a lot of potential and he's coming up there real good." Messner compared shooting to golf in that it is a sport based on skill, not natural physical ability. "It's such a disciplined sport," he said. "You don't have to be able to run fast. You don't have to be able to jump. You don't have to have bulging muscles." But even though he enjoys shooting, he insists he's "not a gun nut." He said as a police officer, having this skill can be reassuring. He said he's had to draw his gun on several occasions but has never had to use it. If needed, however, the extra practice can make a difference. Having confidence in his shot can allow him to wait an extra second before having to fire. "Most people don't question me because of my size," he said, standing at just over six feet. "But knowing that I'm proficient with my revolver helps so if it ever came down to it I think I'd come out on top."

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