Missed Part 1? Read it here.
I received specific instructions from the Range Master to be early. Not on time, but early. He knew me too well.
I left for the range at the crack of sparrows. I was running late, no breakfast, wet hair. I pulled out of the driveway and drove against the traffic whilst listening to the dulcet tones of Ira Glass. I pulled into the car park outside the range at 7:38am, a few minutes to spare on the early side of the Range Master’s request of “no later than 0745″. I grabbed one of the seats in the front row. I was one of the last to arrive and the least put-together of all of the staff in the room. It still baffles me how all of my colleagues appear to be morning people.
Safety is key!
First up was the Safety Briefing, which was almost three hours of essential firearm safety and discussion of the type of damage they can inflict on a person/animal. There was a plethora of guns laid out before us, each handle wrapped with blue tape, some with evidence tags. The instructors led us through the types of guns, their characteristics and popularity on the streets. I’d never touched a gun before and was struck by how heavy they were. In TV and movies, we see these guns pulled out and fired with a minimum of fuss. But there’s a little more to it than that.
I was very uncomfortable being around all of these guns and this only increased when we reached the live shooting section of the day.
If there were one take away from the day it would be this: safety is everything. Our instructors hammered this into us and continued to do so even whilst we were on the range. We were always reminded of where the tourniquets and medical kits were located at each of the four stations we visited. Seeing the instructors so keenly aware of everything that was happening around them was reassuring.
I thought I’d start with something small, working my way up to the bigger, more confronting weapons in the four live fire stations our instructors had set up for us. But alas — I was selected in the first group. And we were to start out with an AK-47 Assault Rifle.
Talk about being intimidated! I was downright scared. For a brief moment, I’d considered trying to become invisible so I didn’t have to do it. I was the last in my group to fire and my heart sank when they called my name.
Even though I’d watched my nine colleagues being instructed, it was all foreign when I got up there. The Range Master and Instructor were incredibly patient with me. They talked me through the correct stance to absorb the kick back of the weapon, helped me position the butt of the gun just below my right collarbone and showed me how to focus on my target using the two sights. I had the Range Master on my right, the Instructor on my left with his hand hovering near my shoulder to help steady me.
“Go for it,” the Range Master said. I hovered my finger over the trigger. I hesitated. I knew I was standing on my own personal precipice. There was no turning back. I was acutely uncomfortable, but then I remembered that I chose this experience.
I exhaled, and squeezed the trigger.
I paused to comprehend what the bloody hell had happened.
Six shots in total. I think. It was all such a blur, I don’t even remember aiming at the target after the first. And I’m pretty certain I swore after every single one. The most I remember about it is seeing a lot of the sky. The kick back was intense and I was certain there’d be a signicant bruise just under my right shoulder. I stepped away from the station, shaking and a little unsteady on my feet.
There was little time to recover before we reached the second station only a few paces away. This time, it was an AR-15. I was transfixed by the ejection of the spent cartidges as my colleages took their turn. Some of the cartridges flew high, others low. The only discernable trajectory they seemed to have was that they exited to the shooter’s right side.
“Can you see the target through the sight?”
The instructor adjusted the arm for me.
“What about now? Can you see it?”
“Okay, you’re left eye dominant. Close your left eye.”
“Ah! There’s a red dot!”
“Ok, you’re good to go.”
I could feel the difference in how the guns behaved, although I’m lacking in the proper vocabulary to explain it. Both weapons were significantly heavy, but this one felt smoother when it fired.
The third station was a 6-round revolver. Think Clint Eastwood in ‘Dirty Harry’. The weight of the gun really surprised me — I had to use my left hand just to hold it up. Compared to the two previous guns, it was certainly more straight-forward to fire. I didn’t have to hunch over or prepare myself for some serious kick back.
But you really had to squeeze the trigger hard to get it to fire. It felt as though greater force needed to be applied with each subsequent shot. I was more comfortable with this one – it was less wieldly and complicated.
The final station was a handgun, black and sleek, and looked just like a toy. It was easier to shoot than the rifles but not as easy to control as the revolver. We loaded the bullets into the magazine, and it was heavier than expected.
My first shot. Instead of being ejected to the right, the spent cartridge flew up and hit me just beyond my hairline, bounced up and fell perfectly into the back of my t-shirt. What are the odds of that?
Meanwhile, it was burning my skin where it came to rest just above the strap of my bra. I recalled from the safety briefing that you were not supposed to jump up and down with a loaded gun in you hand, so I squeaked something to the instructor. His response: “Keep focused.”
My mind was circling around. I was visualising the cartridge burning a hole in my back, singeing the layers of skin. A few heartbeats later, I’d already mentally accepted the horrific burns as well as the need for skin grafts. Would that mean time off work? How would I sleep comfortably with a burned back? Would I have to take anti-rejection drugs to stop my own skin from cannibalising the grafts?…
I had a loaded weapon in my hand. And five more shots left.
I picked a spot on the taget and fired.
Pause to adjust the burning cartridge in my shirt.
I handed the gun back, then wriggled about as though my life depended upon it. After the initial sting subsided, I was fine (aside from an overactive imagination and ability to be that person to whom strange things always seem to happen).
What I really thought about the whole experience
I had a chance to shoot a gun, and I took it. I was guided by serious and qualified instructors whose number one priority was keeping us safe. I couldn’t have asked for a greater bunch of guys to take me through the basics. They were the perfect people to introduce me to something that I’d always found intimidating and overwhelming.
There was a part of me that always secretly thought I’d get a real kick out of something like this, that there was a good chance that I would secretly relish the power and the adrenalin of firing a weapon. I could anticipate the conundrum I would face: so anti-gun, yet liked firing a weapon.
But I was wrong.
Did I like it?
Hell no! I spent the majority of time wishing it were already over.
Did I understand why gun nuts get such a kick out of it?
Not in the slightest.
I did get a rush of adrenalin firing these weapons, but it wasn’t enjoyable by any means. It was closer to something that would make me throw up. However, there is a quiet contentment that I have found in having more information about them and how to use them safely. Knowing the damage that these weapons — particularly rifles — can do to bodies makes me even more worried knowing that an AR-15 is a weapon of choice for gangs in the city.
I may be no closer to understanding that part of American culture, but it’s not for lack of trying. Now, based on my own experiences, I’ve reached my own conclusion: Shooting is not for me, guns are not my friends, and I want absolutely nothing to do with any of it. I’ll just leave it in the hands of the profesionals.