Originally Published: September 26, 2006 4 a.m.
America lost a national treasure Monday, but most Americans will never know it.
Yet many of those Americans may be alive today because of John Dean "Jeff" Cooper, who died Monday afternoon at the Sconce, his beloved home near Gunsite, the shooting training center he founded about 10 miles north of Chino Valley.
Most people who know anything about guns and shooting know who Jeff Cooper was. They rightly called him "The Gunner's Guru." He was the world's foremost expert on small arms (rifles, shotguns and handguns).
He was born John Dean Cooper on May 10, 1920. He earned a master's degree in history and taught history. He also served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II, Southeast Asia and Korea. He separated from the service as a lieutenant colonel and most who knew him called him "The Colonel."
In the course of his military combat experience and shooting contests he organized in Big Bear, Calif., in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he developed the "modern technique" of using a handgun for personal protection.
In 1976, he founded the American Pistol Institute or Gunsite, near Paulden in 1976. Since then, nearly 18,000 people have received training there in how to use handguns, rifles and shotguns to protect their lives and the lives of others.
The students have included celebrities such as Tom Selleck, but most have been in the military, bodyguards for heads of state, law enforcement officers and many civilians who took responsibility for their own protection. Since the War on Terror began, the number of military students has increased.
Col. Cooper strictly enforced his four rules of gun safety and in his Internet essays, "Cooper's Commentaries," he frequently reported on police shootings and other incidents in which people ignored the rules at theirs and others' peril:
All guns are always loaded.
Never let the muzzle point at anything you don't want to destroy.
Never put your finger on the trigger until the sights are on your target.
Always be sure of your target and what's beyond it.
Cooper was a prolific and lucid writer. Even people who are unfamiliar with guns but love good writing would do well to study his books, which include "The Art of the Rifle," "Another Country," Sports Car Annual," "Fireworks," "To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth," "C Stories" and "Gunsite Gossip," Volumes I and II, as well as the many articles he wrote as editor at large for Guns & Ammo Magazine.
He was the recipient of the 1995 American Handgunner Award and St. Gabriel Possenti Society Award. St. Gabriel is the patron saint of shooters.
He held himself to high moral standards and demanded the same of others. He could and would defend articulately his strong views on life, liberty and honor and did not suffer lightly fools who couldn't do likewise.
His motto and frequent salutation/admonition to other shooters was "DVC" Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas Accuracy, Power and Speed.
As noted, most Americans don't know what a treasure we have lost, but a Louisiana police officer may have said it best recently on an Internet discussion of the colonel's final illness:
"He is perhaps the only man I've ever met more arrogant than I am. But unlike me, he rates to be arrogant. No matter who you are or what you've done with a big bore handgun, you do it better because that man lived."