My First Trip to a Shooting Range
My wife likes guns. She is by no means an expert, but she has fond memories of taking target practice with an assault rifle during her “military training” back in China, where all college students are required to undergo some basic training during the first few weeks of school. And when I say “basic,” I mean basic. Students are not allowed to load the weapons themselves; rather, an instructor loads the rifle and hands it over for the student to shoot at the target.
In any case, my wife recently saw an advertisement for a Concealed Carry License (CCL) course and told me that she wanted to take it. Now, I’m not a fan of handguns — in fact, to be honest, I have always been rather afraid of them since they have the power to deliver death instantly and irrevocably with the mere touch of a finger — but I said to my wife, “If you really want to do this, I’ll go with you.” So she signed us up. As it turned out, we first had to take a “Handguns for Beginners” course, so we signed up for that as well.
I looked forward to the courses with a combination of nervousness and excitement. I was interested. In particular, there was one thing about handguns that I had always wanted to learn: how to remove a round from the chamber without firing it (and without chambering another round). This is something that might sound easy and obvious to people who are familiar with guns, but this story about a police officer who killed himself after demonstrating incorrectly how to do it suggests otherwise.
The day of the beginner’s class arrived, and we drove to the instructor’s house to begin our training. He’s an interesting character who clearly loves guns. He grew up shooting from a very young age, he competes in speed shooting competitions, he makes his own cartridges (i.e., he assembles the cartridges from bullets, casings, gun powder, and primer), and he teaches handgun courses out of his own house. You really can’t get any more enthusiastic than that.
“A gun is just a tool, like a computer,” he began. Then he paused, and said, “Well, let’s not compare guns to computers.”
He seemed to be recalling a past discussion that didn’t go so well. Perhaps someone had pointed out to him, as my wife pointed out to me, that you can give a computer to a child without worrying that the child will kill someone with it, but you can’t really do that with a gun. My suggestion to gun advocates who wish to make this sort of analogy would be to compare guns to cars. Like guns, cars can be used for good purposes, and they also give the user the power to kill people with great ease. (Unlike guns, however, cars were not designed primarily for the purpose of destroying human life. Yes, I know that there are guns designed specifically for sporting purposes, but we must admit that historically, the motivation behind the invention and improvement of guns has been for the purpose of killing humans — whether in offense or defense.)
Tangentially, I would like to point out that new drivers require a significant amount of training before they can operate a car safely. Every car user must have a government-issued license, and every car must be registered with the government. Furthermore, both license and registration must be renewed periodically, and every driver is also required to have insurance. I don’t hear people complain very often about these restrictions on drivers’ rights, yet for some reason, the idea of applying similar regulations to guns is anathema to many gun advocates.
Anyway, we completed the basic safety and handling portion of the lesson, and then it was time to go to the range and actually shoot a gun. The range was just a few blocks from the instructor’s house. We got there, signed a waiver stating that we would be responsible for our own deaths, rented a 9 mm Sig Sauer, bought two boxes of fifty rounds, and went through the door that led to the shooting area. My wife took her turn first.
Good GOD, that gun was loud! It didn’t help that the floor, walls, and ceiling were concrete. The report of every shot reverberated through the range and seemed to rattle my inner organs. I could not suppress an involuntary jump every time a shot was fired. How do people get used to that? I wondered.
Then it was my turn. The instructor set up the target and guided me through the process of loading the gun. And then he had me shoot: Stand squarely. Grip the gun in both hands. Aim. Breathe out. Pull the trigger. BOOM!
To fire a gun is to hold an explosion in your hands. It’s a powerful event that gives you a powerful feeling. It can be addictive.
I had soon fired all of the rounds in the magazine and had to reload. The instructor moved the target out farther, and I continued shooting and reloading. I was hitting the target dead on, and the instructor became excited and started giving me more complicated instructions.
“Triple tap!” he shouted.
I fired three times.
“Triple tap followed by a double tap!”
Three shots, and then two shots.
“Yes!” the instructor yelled. “Keep going!”
Only, I had gone through my fifty rounds already. He and I both looked with disappointment at the empty ammo box. The lesson was over.
“That can’t have been your first time shooting,” the instructor said as he retrieved the target for me. Those words made me feel good. They made me want to come back and shoot some more.
When we went back to the front desk to return the gun, there was a monkey sitting on the manager’s shoulder. And no, this is not some bungled idiom or metaphor. There was an actual monkey there, and I was just as surprised to see it then as you are to see me write about it now in this post about guns.
“What’s with the monkey?” I asked.
“It’s our mascot,” the guy replied.
My wife leaned over the counter to look at the monkey. It reached out, grabbed her hair, and pulled. It took her a minute to extract her hair from its grip. I looked at a gun that was sitting on the counter, then at the gun holstered at the manager’s hip, and then back at the monkey that was crawling around and grabbing at things with unbridled curiosity. Surely, if a gun range is to have a mascot, it should be an animal without hands and without a tendency to pick things up and play with them — a fish, for example, would be more suitable, I think.
As we walked back to the parking lot with the instructor, he told us that we were much better than the couple he had taught the day before. He really seemed enthusiastic about teaching students who showed an affinity for shooting, and his enthusiasm rubbed off on us.
“See you in two weeks for the CCL class,” he said.