Felicitations, Seekers of Cover!
Back in 2005 I had the good fortune of visiting my wife's uncle down in Texas. While we were there he offered to take us to a real, gen-u-wine firing range *slash* gun store.
The prospects of going there weighed heavily on my mind for days. This despite the fact that had plenty of experience dealing with ranged weapons as a kid. Dad comfortably displayed a vintage ten gauge single-barrel shotgun on the basement wall for years. Hell, with supervision, I was even allowed to play with it on occasion. Having said that, I have only the faintest memory of handing an actual shotgun shell.
And then there were the two BB guns that I was inseparable from as a kid. Way before I was allowed to even so much as look at one, my dad put the fear of Crom into me:
"Now, if I ever catch you friggin' around with that thing I'm takin' it away. And if I hear that you shot a bird or some other animal, you'll be gettin' up close and personal with the one down in the basement."
Needless to say I took this very threat seriously and pledged my unwavering adherance to THE RULES OF PROPER GUN HANDLING. As such, I was allowed to own two guns, the first was my beloved 111 BB rifle:
And the other was a Dairy Model 188 B-B pistol:
I proved so trustworthy that my parents even let me set up a home-made bullet trap in the house to use for target practice. It kinda looked like this, minus the big, dumb-ass, ricochet-alicious metal binder clip stuck on the front:
So even though I was no wilting flower when it came to slug-throwers, the prospects of going to a real firing range made me inordinately nervous. As a willfully disarmed peacenik Canuck, I still had a healthy fear and respect for guns. No matter how careful you are, accidents can still happen.
As I walked into the store my anxiety level instantly shot up. Suddenly we were surrounded by literally thousands of potentially deadly weapons. Hunting rifles, pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and even what appeared to be an M60 machine gun were displayed with the same casual, blasé abandon as a goalie stick at Canadian Tire.
After we picked out two guns to shoot, I was totally gobsmacked when the dude behind the counter asked without a hint of irony:
"So, we got two kinds 'a targets you can use: reg'ler and Bin Ladin. Which one you want?"
Stunned but still resolute, we politely procured two of each and then made our way out to the range.
As I paced back and forth waiting for my turn with the guns, I couldn't help but notice all of the spent shell casings clinking around on the floor underfoot. And then there was the intense gentleman who was in the range next to us. He was methodically and mechanically squeezing off one shot after another from a .45 as if he was working on his glutes at the gym. Also disconcerting was the myriad of bullet holes everywhere: in the ceiling, the floor and a Sonny Corleone amount of them in the wooden frame where you shoot from. Silently I couldn't help but wonder if this scene from The Simpsons had been re-enacted on this very same spot on more than one occasion.
I had a chance to fire two guns that morning. The first was a .22 calibre pistol; the equivalent of a handgun with training wheels. Honestly it wasn't much more powerful then the average CO2 pellet gun. Nope, I was not impressed. Where was the recoil? The stopping power? My intoxicating feelings of compensation? The drunken and inflated sense of ego?
Mercifully, all of these elusive qualities came part and parcel with firing the .38 special. It kinda looked like the sort of service revolvers that policemen used to carry in old Seventies-era cop shows. Even though it was physically smaller then the .22, it definitely packed a wallop in comparison.
On the way out I spent some time perusing the ample and intimidating hardware. I quickly realized that the .38 special we'd just fired would probably be ridiculed as a pop-gun by enthusiasts who had Glocks, Uzis, AK-47s, M1911 pistols, G3s, M-16s and AR-15s in their collection. As I began to roll a few frames of video to commemorate our visit a staff member hustled over to me and growled:
"Hey, whutareyewdoin'? You cain't video tape in here!"
Already more nervous then a cat at a rocking chair convention, I'm pretty sure that I visibly jumped. Sheepishly I shut off the camera and apologized profusely.
"Sorry! I'm so sorry!" I spluttered. "God, I didn't know! Oh God, I shouldn't have said God. Sorry! I'm just a stupid Canadian..."
Later that night my wife's uncle invited some friends over for dinner. Naturally, the discussion inevitably turned to firearms and gun control.
"I remember when I bought my first gun," one of the female guests said, sounding vaguely wistful. "Originally I was going to get something small and simple, like a .22 pistol. But after I told the clerk that I'd never fired a gun before he said that I should probably get a shotgun. I still remember his exact words to me:
"'Look, if you got some burglar or rapist chargin' atcha, it ain't gunna be easy to get a bead on 'em, 'specially if yer scared. But with a shotgun, all you need to do is lure 'em into a hallway and sorta aim it at 'em. Now granted, it'll prolly strip every bit of the paper off the all, but I guarantee that you'll put 'em down!'"
Between my trip to the firing range and the testimonials that night, I came away thinking that all Americans were paranoid, gun-obsessed lunatics. If the purpose was hunting, why did they need something salvaged from the flank of a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter? If they were protecting themselves against home invasion, who were the invaders? Agent Smith from The Matrix?
These events haven't crossed my mind for years, but the back-to-back horrors of the Aurora Theater / Sandy Hook tragedies have me thinking about it again. Ever since these horrendous events took place, I've been trying to pinpoint the real reason why Americans don't want to be parted with their ludicrously over-compensatory military hardware.
And after I share my epiphany with you, Dear Reader, it will likely surprise you for two reasons:
- Their logic kinda makes sense in a frighteningly real sorta way.
- It actually called into question my own immutable stance on firearms for the first time in my life.
THE "WHY AM I NOT SURPRISED" FAIL