Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rule #2: Know How to Use the Gun

Before this adventure, I had never fired a real gun. As far as I know, I'd never even come close to one that wasn't in some police officer's holster or carried by a soldier at a European train station. I'd stare at them and think, gee, there's something that could kill me right there. Kind of like that feeling you get on the highway when it's late at night and you're alone with your imagination and think about how easily you could be dead in two seconds if you just yanked the steering wheel the wrong way. Not that I'd want to! At all! But as Jack Handey used to say: "If you're an ant, and you're walking across the top of a cup of pudding, you probably have no idea that the only thing between you and disaster is the strength of that pudding skin."

I wanted to know what it felt like. Would I get a sudden rush of power? Start cackling maniacally? Run out to the nearest ammo store to start my own stockpile? Develop a Charlton Heston fetish? There was only one way to find out.

Because I'm a Libertarian, I know several people who own handguns. Thanks to DC law, however, I only know a few who have them readily available (or who will admit that they do). One of those people is my friend Jason, who lives in Virginia and therefore doesn't have to worry. He and his friends do target practice at the National Rifle Association in Manassas.

He took me there with him this afternoon.

We stopped at the local Wal-Mart first to get some cheap bullets. They were all decorated for Valentine's Day and had an affirming message for me: Love is candy! Love is cards!

Jason got some SweetTarts while we were there. There was something great about the image of him holding a pink bag of candy hearts in one hand and a big box of bullets in the other, but I forgot to take a picture.

We drove over to the NRA. Jason was wearing black cowboy boots. I was wearing my Barbour hunting jacket with matching scarf and Ralph Lauren "shooting" sweater because I thought that would make me seem like I knew what I was doing. Or if I accidentally shot my face off, at least I would still be rocking a totally cute English-country-house look.

The first thing I noticed when I got there was the big sign that said NO PICTURES. The second was that the Sunday afternoon Northern Virginia firing-range crowd looks pretty much exactly like you would expect. Mostly white. Mostly overweight. A few conservative politico types like Jason, and a lot of other guys with black t-shirts and unkempt hair. Not many women, but the 2 or 3 others who were there fell into two categories: pretty girls taking flirty advice from strapping cop-type men, or bored middle-aged housewives flicking through "People" while their husbands unleashed semi-automatics on the other side of bulletproof glass.

Okay, I took *some* pictures.

The guy behind the desk waved when we came in. First time on the range? He said. Mine no, hers yes, said Jason. Great, welcome, said the guy. Then he shuffled out some papers and handed them to me. Here's a release and some range rules. Read read read, sign sign sign. Then (he added apologetically, rolling his eyes) you have to take this test on gun safety because it makes our costs much, much lower. It's open-book, and you can take it in the lounge or in the classroom down the hall. Now, did you bring a weapon or ammunition to the range today? I shook my head and pointed to Jason, saying he had it. Okay, said the desk guy, you can't bring weapons or ammo into the classroom. But you can have them in the lounge.

I peered down at the test on the desk and read a question out loud. "When someone calls cease fire, you should--"? The options included "stop shooting immediately" and something else like "finish your round and await further instructions." I looked up at the desk guy and shrugged dramatically. This was going to be tough! Desk guy rolled his eyes again. "COUGH it's for insurance COUGH," he said.

So I went and took the test. Other questions included "T or F: Bullets fall harmlessly to the ground after they have struck the target." In case that weren't easy enough, the "rules" handout that came with the test consisted of all the answers, only somewhat out of order. I felt like Michael Moore had given this to me to make some ham-handed political point.

I brought it back to Desk Guy, who was with a friend by then. Did I pass? I asked. With flying colors! said the friend. Excellent work, said DG. Not so much for the guy behind me, who had failed--failed--the test. But he could come back tomorrow!

Here are some things I never knew about guns. They are loud: so loud that you feel it in your scalp and your eyebrows, like a shock wave. So loud that it hurts, even with the headphones on. Shells go flying out of guns when they shoot, sometimes hitting you in the forehead, making you feel for a terrifying millisecond like you've shot yourself. Guns smell. The whole room smelled like phosphorus, like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Shooting turns your fingers gray with lead. You're supposed to wash your hands and face with cold water immediately afterwards. I kept thinking, how do people ever get away with murder? Just look for the grimy person who smells like a matchbook.

Guns are difficult. It's hard to load bullets into the magazine and even harder to shoot. Jason's 9mm and 45mm did not just go "pff" like an air pistol. They lurched backwards, jerking my wrist so hard that I screamed like a six-year-old the first time I shot one. If I didn't give myself a few seconds to aim, I shot wildly off-target. Jason told me that I'm ever thinking of getting a gun for self-defense, I should get a shotgun, not a handgun, because most panicked people couldn't hit squat with a 9mm.

At the end of an hour, I was covered in sweat and sore from nervous tension, kind of like the last time I tried something scary just to see what it was like. I was more drained than exhilarated. But I was pretty good, if ah do say so mahself. I ripped the heart out of an amorphous blue man* on my very first shot. Desk Guy was stunned.

I didn't notice the Rules of the Range poster on the wall until I was packing my bags, wobbly-armed. Jason was firing one last round at the blue men. For some reason, my eyes went to rule #2 first. "KNOW HOW TO USE THE GUN," it said. I heard Matt L's voice in my head--what on Earth is rule #1?

* * *
Hours later, I picked up my sister at the airport--she was just getting back from a weeklong trip to Ireland--and told her what it was really like to fire a gun. After I finished telling her about how hard it was, she was quiet for a moment, thinking. "So what you're saying," she finally said, "Is that Jack Bauer is even more awesome than we thought?" Yes, exactly.

Cost breakdown: $18 per person, per hour on the range, about $40 for bullets, and I have no clue how much Jason's guns cost but they were nice!

*NRA rules prohibit the use of targets with specific human features, unlike most other ranges in the US, where Osama bin Laden targets are common.

1 comment:

  1. Point 1: mmm...conservation of momentum. This would make for a great object lesson if it didn't involve giving undergrads guns. On the plus side, less undergrads.

    Point 2: I saw Batman valentines in the supermarket the other day. I was tempted for about 3 seconds. Then I started cursing the crass commercialization of my mass market, oversized media corporation intellectual property. May the people responsible be flayed alive by roving bands of goats and their still twitching remains sent to Japan for nefarious purposes.