I am mildly inured to fictional violence, as is anyone raised on television and film. But even fictionalized, I’m not terribly comfortable with harm. As a child I much preferred the ‘Pow’ ‘and Zowee’ of Batman than the guns used in Superman. As I grew older I preferred Quincy’s methodical crime solving than the gun-wielding villains of Baretta or The Rockford Files. Growing up in and around a major city guns were (mercifully) fictional or only associated with illegal acts. There wasn’t any (visible) recreational use and not much second amendment chatter.
I didn’t see a real live gun until I lived in a (very) rural community. People carried them in and on their cars and trucks. They weren’t in the process of committing a crime, they just liked guns. Sometime during this exposure to real live guns I decided it would be prudent to know how to use one. Perhaps by feeling more comfortable around guns I would understand people’s affection/fervor.
Fast-forward a decade and there I am, in a gun club of the seediest kind in a New Jersey suburb known for many nefarious doings. The storefront facility on a dead end street smelled of dust and gun powder. In that fake wood paneled (no doubt part-time porn set) store the jarring smell added to the uneasy ambience. The faded posters and scratched glass cases filled with guns (including a pink model for the ladies) jolted me into the realization that ‘gun club’ is not a euphemism. People pay dues and come regularly to shoot. They bring their guns in fancy cases: intimidating versions of a bowling bag or cue stick case.
Down on the range, goggles and earphones on, I was told to pick up the gun. Bathed in sweat, my stomach lurching, I stepped back. The desire to learn a skill or conquer a fear is not a bad thing. But staring at that semi-automatic gun it became crystal clear that there is only one reason to pick up that gun in real life. Knowing how to shoot a gun is not like knowing how to drive a stick shift or performing CPR. It is not a life skill it is a death skill. The only reason to pick up that gun is to shoot a bullet into a person. That is a lot to consider in mere seconds. Confused by the realization and conscious of the muddling nature of fear, I chose to just do it. I made it through two rounds (that’s a bunch of bullets) and hit the bull’s eye each and every time.
I went immediately home, poured a large glass of wine and got into the tub. There was no sense of accomplishment, no feeling of conquering a fear: a heaving stomach and a heavy heart was all I had. How could anyone want to ever shoot a gun let alone own one (or several?) People enjoy what just made me physically sick. I don’t pretend to understand anything or anyone anymore than anyone else. But after my certificate earning shooting experience I understand some people even less. I wanted to believe that (like bowling) shooting is an activity that is for some but not everyone. I wanted to believe that it was about honing a target skill, like archery. Maybe for some people it actually is. For me, it was violent and frightening and very upsetting.
I don’t understand wanting to shoot. I don’t understand owning guns. I cannot even fathom having guns in a house with children or compromised adults. However, I do understand people’s sense of entitlement and I will fight it any and every chance I get.