A pastor with a Modesto church is recovering from a gunshot wound he suffered in a firearms safety class in Modesto.
Tom Smith, a pastor at The House Modesto, was attending a course taught by Phillip Rushing at the Personal Protection Institute on Woodrow Avenue just west of McHenry Avenue when the incident occurred Dec. 5. The institute’s website notes that classes have been canceled until further notice.
During the course, Rushing was using a training gun, a rubber fake with no firing mechanism, said Heather Graves, Modesto Police Department spokeswoman. But as the class was ending, she said, he removed that prop from his holster and replaced it with his real handgun.
About that time, Graves said, a student asked Rushing to demonstrate what to do if attacked by someone armed with a knife. Smith volunteered to portray the attacker in a role-playing exercise.
“During the scenario, the instructor drew the firearm and it accidentally discharged,” she said. She did not know whether Rushing forgot he replaced the training gun or whether he knew he was drawing the real gun.
“When it fired and he realized what happened, he immediately dialed 911.”
Smith, the church’s family ministry pastor, was struck in the waist, above a hip, Graves said. He was taken by ambulance to an area hospital, where he went into surgery, she said. She had no additional information on his condition. A post Friday on a Facebook page associated with The House says: “He is still in much pain but pulling through the physical therapy.”
Police have not charged Rushing, Graves said. The department’s investigations unit is determining the next steps and could send the case to the District Attorney’s Office, she said.
A message left for Rushing at the Personal Protection Institute was not immediately returned Monday afternoon.
Rushing’s biography on the institute’s website says he has studied martial arts for 43 years and taught them for 33.
“He has added to his studies law enforcement and firearms training to enhance his knowledge base. ... He has developed his own system of Combative Encounters. Combative Encounters encompasses practical self-defense tactics with firearms and knife fighting as part of the regular training,” it says in part.
Another local firearms safety instructor said that he felt badly for the pastor and the instructor, but that a real weapon never should have been present. Safety training on a gun range is inherently risky because effective training has to include live rounds, said Dan Gray, owner of and firearms instructor at Trident Firearms Academy in Modesto.
“If you’re a firearms instructor long enough, you’re going to see accidents happen,” he said.
But having a real gun in a classroom “should never happen,” Gray said.
Whether Rushing thought he was drawing a rubber gun or a real one, he said, “unfortunately doesn’t matter. You never allow a real gun, loaded or otherwise, in a training environment when role playing. But he’s not the first and probably won’t be the last to have something like this happen.”
Gray said that in his classes, “we triple check” with signage, verbal instruction and pat-downs to ensure that no one – not instructors, not students – has a gun.
“I use a bright-orange plastic pistol,” he said. “It looks like a Glock, but it’s bright orange.”
He uses as an example in his classes a case within the past couple of years of a Baltimore police officer who was leading a training simulation but had both a fake gun and a real gun. Accidentally pulling the wrong gun, Gray said, the officer shot and killed a police cadet and was sent to prison, convicted of negligent homicide.
“This is why you don’t allow a real gun in a classroom,” he said.
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327