I started writing this post a little differently than I’ve done in the past. I started by googling murder.
In the five years [and counting] that I have lived in Baltimore, 1058 people have been murdered. That number will climb, probably this week. Probably today.
Of these deaths, the overwhelming majority were gun related.
Knowing these facts, and having been raised in a liberal, democratic family who support gun control and abhor physical violence, I am naturally terrified of guns. Terrified. Until last Sunday, I had never seen a full gun in person beyond the handle of one poking out of police holsters.
I refuse to live my life in fear, though. There are things beyond my control - Guns exist. People use them, often for terrible, horrible things. I don’t have to be happy about either of those points, but I will never ever say I haven’t tried to walk in all peoples shoes.
And so, I wanted to know exactly what I can expect from a gun. The noise, the smell, the feeling of what the person holding it must have. And no self-respecting planner for the Zombie Apocalypse should ever pass up the opportunity for new skills.
So, I asked my friend, Matthew, an officer and a gentleman, to help me face my fear. He responded enthusiastically, and we set a date.
In the few days leading up to the Event, I was extremely nervous. I freaked out to everyone I could, including my dear friend, Rachel, who happens to be Matthew’s older sister.
What? It’s perfectly valid terror, okay?
“Do you think they’ll know I’m a democrat?” I ask Matthew, half-joking. We’re pulling into the parking lot of the range.
“Aaand that’s why we took my car.” he says, all chipper and matter-of-fact. I think of the OBAMA 08 magnet on my perky, import sedan, with its fuel efficiency and general liberal projections. I’m pretty sure nothing would have happened to it, but I still think it’s a sweet gesture.
We can hear the gun shots from the parking lot; a rolling stream of pops coming from a completely unassuming building at the top of a hill.
There are picnic tables outside and Matthew sets his bag-o-guns down to fish out ear and eye protection.
“Wait here,” he says, jamming orange ear-plugs into his ears.
I stand there, making furtive glances at the duffel bag that I know contains three guns and a whole mess of bullets. How can we just be walking around with this stuff? I mean, objectively I know why - because he is a police officer and therefor licensed for this sort of thing - but HOLY CRAP THREE GUNS AND A MESS OF BULLETS.
I keep my cool.
He comes back, and says the range is a little full and we’ll just wait here until a few more people clear out. I nod; it seems like the thing to do. He makes me try on the ear muffs, and decides I don’t need to wear extra eye protection since I’ve already got on my glasses. Okay, I tell him. It seems like the thing to say.
Inside my head I’ve got a steady mantra going of holy crap holy crap holy crap. I’m mostly not paralysed with fear. I mean, I can make my legs work, and Matthew is extremely reassuring.
“You’ll be great,” he says. I try not to laugh hysterically at his woefully misplaced confidence in my abilities. There are a lot of things I’m trying not to do. Vomit. Run away. Trip. Drop the deadly weapon I’m about to hold. Vomit.
We enter the range proper through a curtain of plastic flaps, and now I can really smell the gunpowder. My friend Casey warned me that it was a really great smell, and he wasn’t wrong. It’s, and I’m sorry to perpetuate any kind of stereotypes, but it’s kind of a sexy smell. Dark, sharp. Combined with the constant noise and people all around, carrying extremely dangerous things, I am giddy with fear and excitement.
Holy crap holy crap holy crap.
At this point, I can’t really hear anything Matthew is saying to me. I watch with close interest as he unpacks two semi-automatic pistols from a plastic carrying case. The clips are loose and empty and he sets everything out in a row. Next, he takes out a few boxes of bullets and arranges them just so, before opening one of the boxes and spends a few minutes telling me what’s happening.
All dialogue from now on is fuzzy, but I’ll try to recall as accurately as possible.
“We’re going to shoot the baby-Glock first,” he says, casually jamming bullets into the clip. I nod, pretty sure he didn’t tell me we’re shooting baby ducks. Matthew’s not a hunter.
All around us, the popping is never-ending. We’re close to the end of the pistol stations, and to our right, there’s a row of people stretched out on the rifle range.
Matthew is talking about safety, when I feel something small land on the top of my head and fall down in front of me. I look down at the ground, which is littered with brass, and then up at Matthew, and he laughs.
“Yeah, those are just bullet casings. No big deal.” It’s all so absurd. This is my Sunday, standing here, getting peppered with bullet casings. For many people, this is routine.
We grin at each other and get back to business. The baby-Glock [Glock 27] uses the same S&W .40 bullets as his service pistol, the Glock 40, but has a shorter handle, and I think, a slightly shorter muzzle. He puts the clip in, checks the chamber, and then shows me how to hold it so that I won’t break my thumb, which I appreciate. He tells me how to stand, to lean forward a little to prepare for the kick. I nod. He tells me not to even put my finger on the trigger unless I’m intending to pull it right then. I nod. He shows me how to line up the sights. I nod.
And I’m suddenly there in front of the target, holding a loaded gun. Everything kind of quiets to a hush, and I can feel my heart pounding in my mouth.
Holy crap holy crap holy crap.
I take a deep breath, and as I let it out, I squeeze the trigger.
My hand jerks, and I feel the kick all the way down into my feet. It’s loud, it’s startling, but I haven't hit anyone! In fact, I haven't even hit the target.
"Good!" Matthew says, "Now, try again, a little higher."
I nod, and fire again. In the dirt. A few more times, and I manage to hit the board. Guns are heavy, and my hands are shaking more each shot. I let Matthew take over for a little bit while I think about things.
Shooting is fun, y’all. I am not even going to lie. It’s a visceral rush each time you pull the trigger. But, really, it is terrifying. It’s an extreme responsibility, and one that I wish people didn’t take so lightly.
That doesn’t stop me from trying some more. We move on to Matthew’s service weapon, the Glock 40. It’s larger, heavier, and when I fire it, I like it more immediately. The kick isn’t as extreme, and I manage to hit, not the bulls eye, but the same general area of the target a few times in a row. It’s not inside the widest circle, but, dammit, it’s on the paper.
We take turns for a while and then Matthew decides it’s time to bring out the .38 Special. “The gun of Sherlock Holmes,” Matthew tells me. It’s a five-chambered revolver that’s smaller than either of the Glocks.
Matthew loads it and tells me something surprising. I don’t know if it’s true with all revolvers, but with this one, you don’t have to cock it each time you pull the trigger. All my gunslinging preconceptions out the window! He hands it over and tells me to have at it.
The grip is awkward and small. I’m not sure what to do with my left hand since there’s really no room to wrap it fully around my right. I settle for a lady-like cupping and pull the trigger.
I do not like it, Sam I Am. The kick is much harder, and there is no cushion for the shock. I only fire it twice, before handing it back to Matthew to finish off the chambers.
We load the Glock 40 again and I shoot a whole clip on my own. Matthew, being the good teacher he is, coaches me through each shot. “A little to the left. A little lower. Look! That was the bulls-eye! Okay, that was the dirt, but look at that nice cluster on top.”
A cease-fire is called. Everyone has to unload and stand back while the range officers sweep away some of the shells and replace the targets. People are allowed to go and collect brass or take their target. A couple of range officers fix a target board that has been knocked sideways.
I don’t know exactly how long we’ve been there, but I’d estimate about forty-five minutes, maybe an hour. I am wiped out. Guns are heavy, and combined with the shock of each firing, my arms are tired and a little noodley.
The cease-fire ends and we pack up and make a donation to the range on the way out. It’s been quite an experience.
I’m still terrified, I still support gun control, strongly. I’ve never witnessed one of these Baltimore murders, and I hope to God I never will, nor be a victim.
But now I’ve asked the questions for myself and taken the time to do my research. I hope others are able to do so. Don’t ever say you haven’t tried to walk in everyone’s shoes.