Of Arms and the Girl

A few weeks ago, I got an interesting invite from my friend Deborah. Deborah is a young woman who is known for being a little on the unconventional side — not in that “I’m indie and hip” sort of way, but rather “I’ll do whatever the hell I want and I don’t give a damn what you think” sort of way, but without the swearing. She’s very wholesome while doing occasionally rebellious things. She has gorgeous red hair down to her knees, composes music, swing dances, surfs, runs her own business (selling marine equipment of some sort?) and lately has taken up shooting. Not with a bow and arrow, no, with real live guns.

Deborah’s boyfriend is in the Canadian Navy, stationed in Victoria, and some weeks ago he took her to a gun range for the first time. She’s an adventurous sort, and took to it like a duck to water. For his birthday over the weekend, she decided that she’d invite all of her friends to come out to the gun range to try it, too, since she figured that most of us would never try this under our own steam (she was right). It was, well, it was an experience, and let me say that I can now say I’ve fired both a handgun and a rifle, and I can check them off my life’s To Do List.

Honestly, I was freaked out by them initially, but I was surprised at how simple the whole thing was. Every single step was so, so easy. Renting a gun was literally easier than renting a car. You walk in, you fill out a photocopied form where you check off things like, “I acknowledge that this is a risky activity that can result in grave injury or death” or “I will ask for assistance with a firearm if I don’t know how it works,” or, even more discomforting, “I will not practice drawing the gun from the holster.” Eeesh. And then you fill out your address, your driver’s license number, and then you hand over your ID if you’re renting, or just the form if you’re sharing the range with someone else. There are fees for renting the guns, you purchase ammunition, targets, and per-person lane fees, and then you go in. I guess you can ask for instruction if you need it, but the guys I was with had handled weapons before, so we were just handed the guns and ammunition, and off we went. Very lax, very unnerving, esp. because though I’d seen them up close (I have a friend who is an FBI agent and carries one with her at all times), I’d never handled one.

(It turned out that Saturday afternoon is a very popular time to go to the gun range. Who knew? So we ended up waiting around a while for a free lane to open up. As we waited, we spent some time reading the flyers they had available, including the pricing list. I discovered, with some glee, that Tuesday is “Ladies Day” at the range! Woohoo! 1/2 price lane fee and free gun rentals! The boys pouted at this, and one of them commented, “that’s not fair!” Of course, the only reply was, “Well, gentlemen, we are the fairer sex!”)

On our lane, there were three of us – Mike, Andrew and me. Andrew had rented us a handgun and knew what he was doing (mostly). The first rule with guns, I was learning, is that whether they are loaded or not, you treat them as if they always always are, and never ever point them at anything that you wouldn’t want to shoot. This is reasonable, as they are very dangerous indeed. But learning to handle them – especially as you learn to load bullets into the magazines, load the magazines into the guns, turn the safeties on and off, is a curious mix of fascination and fear.

Over the last couple days, I’ve been thinking about this, this fear of guns, because it is different from our fear of other kinds of weaponry. Much of our fear of them is a learned fear – movies, TV, culture. But, guns are machines — they do not look dangerous when you get up close to them, aside from their heft and weight and blackness. When handed a gun – even a loaded one – despite knowing that I should be afraid of it, my impulse is to turn it over, look at it, pull the lever, to see what it does. It is this mechanical nature that I think makes them so lethal, so dangerous. They are not like knives which are so obviously dangerous just by looking at them. Guns are curious things — I want to poke and prod and pull apart, I want to look down the barrel. They inspire tremendous curiousity. And firing them! No wonder people get so excited about owning guns! You hold an explosion in your hands, without getting burned! It is tremendous!

When you first walk into the firing range, the first thing that hits you is the smell of gun powder, and then the second thing is the compressions in the air as the people in the other lanes fire their guns. It’s even weirder that you eventually block these things out. The first time Andrew fired the handgun next to my ear, though, I jumped about a mile. When it came to my turn, I was still shaking. As I loaded the magazine into the bottom of the handgun for the first time, it slid into place with this heavy, satisfying click. But I picked up the gun, my hands trembling, pointed it at the target, sighted with my left eye, and fired, missing the target completely. It kicked back in my hand, hard. (I could see a puff of dust as it hit the dirt on the far side of the range.) Ooops. Must sight with the dominant eye! Ok. Nine more rounds to go. I can do this. I breathed deep, sighted with my right eye, and fired again, this time hitting the target, forty feet out, within five inches of my target. Hoooooooly crap. Whoa.

Over the course of the next hour, we cycled through three more times. I’m a surprisingly good shot. The guys in the next lane had a Marine Beretta rifle that they’d rented — something sleek and black and terrifying, and they offered to let me try my hand at that, too. Hell, why not? Dear God, that was frightening machine, and I hit my target straight in the same place, twice, 50 feet out. Christ. It scares me now how easy it all was, but the adrenaline high was really intense, and the crash an hour later was even more so.

All in all, it’s an experience I’m glad I’ve had. It was definitely enlightening, and I certainly understand now why there are NRA folks and gun enthusiasts out there. It’s a drug of a different choice, I think. And, if Deborah invites me out again, I may go once more. But, I don’t know that I’d go under my own steam (even if it were Ladies Day!).

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~ by ecp on February 19, 2008.

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