This month I decided to shoot a gun and I liked it.
I’ve been told to feel a lot of ways about guns – fearful, scornful, protected, in awe – but fear was winning out, especially in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting. For some reason, I didn’t want to let it rest. It would’ve been easy to say, “I hate guns, ban them all,” but for the reality that I’ve been raised constantly around guns.
My grandfather was a police lieutenant and always had a giant (locked) gun cabinet. I’ve heard stories about him whipping a gun out to protect my grandmother’s honor and laughed at the way it turned a man into a mouse. Many of my family members have concealed carry permits. They just tuck their gun into their hip or glove compartment and keep it moving. At first, it was jarring seeing them up close, but then I started thinking about them when I imagined my female cousin walking home alone.
So yes, while I hate watching people of any age or color get killed at the hand of a gun, I had to consider that I wasn’t obligated to hate guns as a rule. I gave them a shot (pun intended).
My brother is the person I trusted most to take me to the gun range. When you do something terrifying, it helps to have family by your side, but it also helps if that family member is extremely even-keeled. Lucky for me, he agreed to take me “soon.” Sometime soon turned into a spontaneous weeknight trip to the shooting range. I spent a whole day at work trying to distract myself from the prospect of getting my firearm cherry popped. They say fear and excitement both stem from the same thing, so I can’t tell you exactly how I felt, but I was ready to overcome whatever it was.
It was wild. Shooting a gun is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I’ll start at the beginning.
When I walked in, I had three jobs: get gear, get a target, and try not to act like a punk. I succeeded in all these things with the help of the staff who surprisingly didn’t laugh at me when that confused look fell on my face. What did I need eye protection for? They weren’t gonna stop bullets. I never saw people wear ear protection in the movies. What target should I get? I ended up getting a target of a zombie, because it seemed like it deserved to get shot more than the faceless silhouettes. (Oddly, the zombie had a mask of a white man with blonde hair next to his face and I briefly second-guessed myself.)
I walked into the gun range in a daze. I didn’t even read the sign about wearing ear and eye protection at all times. This is unfortunate, because I slid one ear free for a brief moment and learned that lesson the hard way. I picked the first stall the same way I pick bathroom stalls – I don’t want to be right next to someone and if someone new comes along, I don’t want them to have to go right next to me either.
Then, the lesson began. My brother taught me about the action, loading guns, unloading guns, and the difference between a bullet and a cartridge. Ten minutes in I hadn’t shot yet and I was worse off because I also learned that cases fly out when you shoot. And they’re not going the same direction as the bullet. Thus, the eye protection.
My brother let me pick up the gun and shoot and it was done. Just like that. I shot a gun, and nobody died. It was still stressful, though. Guns don’t just seem powerful, they are powerful. They send my little body flying back with each fire. I thought I was aiming for the zombie’s head, but I have no idea where those bullets actually landed. Over time I flinched more and more with each shot because I knew the bullet was bigger than me. I had overcome my initial fear, but my new challenge was to hold my own.
I fired more than two dozen rounds. I wish I could say my aim got better, but at least I learned a few things.
- “Hand off the trigger!” If you’re not immediately planning to shoot a gun, you better keep your trigger finger out of the trigger position. Oh, and point down the range at all times.
- Guns aren’t inherently evil. For competitive people, shooting a gun could be like throwing darts or firing arrows. I liked that part of it. I wanted to hit my target (as long as it was paper and cardboard.)
- Guns are still serious business. Guns can take lives and should be treated as such. I felt that power every time I fired and felt my own body shake. I won’t take it for granted.
I’m still afraid of guns, but I think that’s a good thing. I understand the gravity of gun ownership and use even better than I did watching other people talk about guns. At the same time, I’m glad I have a better idea how I could use one to protect myself. I might even go back to the shooting range. See if I get better, safer, less reckless. There’s always more to learn in this world.