The First Time I Shot a Gun
When I decided that my next book would include a gun, I went to a firing range for the first time—and loved it
Wearing goggles and noise-blocking headphones, I followed him through the two airlock doors into a gun range that looked like a smaller, less-elaborate version of the ones you always see in TV and movie thrillers. There were no separations between the small tables where people were sitting, but again I felt private because there was only one other person firing, and there were half a dozen vacant positions between us. The target wasn’t human-shaped as I’d expected, since the facility’s connected to the local university and the Board of Trustees has forbidden those. It was a sheet of 8 1/2 x 11-inch beige paper with a black circle in its center that was only 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Hanging 4.5 meters away, it looked tiny.
The instructor patiently took me through the Ruger .22 pistol, repeating what we’d discussed before, showing me how to load the clip five bullets at a time, put the magazine in, push down on the slide stop, position the gun in my right hand aiming at the target, curl my right pinky, ring finger, and middle finger around the grip, and secure those with four fingers of my left hand holding the right steady. I had to make sure my index finger was along the barrel and my thumbs parallel to each other and down below the slide, which would pop out when the gun was empty. Last move: clicking down the safety with my right thumb.
I kept waiting for something, anything to feel weird. Instead, I was fascinated, attentive. When I was ready, I took my first shots. There was no recoil with this caliber of gun that I could feel, but the spent cartridges popping out the right side were odd, something my instructor explained would happen but still felt mildly peculiar.
“Have you done this before?” he asked.
I answered, “Never.”
“That’s a very good group.”
He pressed the button to bring the target sheet up to where we sat, and the shots were all inside the black circle, within an inch of each other. I moved the target back half a meter, and half a meter again as the session continued, and wasn’t quite as accurate further away, but still had surprisingly good grouping. Breathing correctly during firing wasn’t difficult for me, but remembering the right order of loading the gun was, which made me grateful for his suggesting only five bullets at a time. Repetition of the steps helped my middle-aged brain absorb the new information and helped my hands learn new skills.
On the way out, another instructor asked me what I’d thought of my session.
“I loved it!”
I left with plenty of data for my book, but also with something totally unexpected: a revelation for myself. I enjoyed target practice. I enjoyed holding a gun. It didn’t seem remotely foreign or bizarre. It felt natural. And I never once thought of my father and the gun pointed at him decades ago.
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