I turned 49 last week and wanted to celebrate my birthday by doing something different, something I’d never do. A friend of mine jumped out of an airplane on her birthday, but I found that the planning time took a bit more time than a day. So, on a lark I decided to visit a gun range and shoot a gun.
When I came home and told my 15 year old daughter my plans, her reaction was “who are you and what have you done with my Mother??”, but as I explained my logic she came to understand why I thought this would be an important learning experience.
Before going further, I should state here that I’m avidly anti-gun. After Columbine, 17 years ago, I worked closely with the anti-gun lobby to close the gun show loophole. It was a very high profile bill and eventually passed. One of the things that struck me is how much middle ground there is on this issue, but like many political issues, it’s the polarized views that get the press. Most of the responsible gun owners I’ve met through the years (including a number of law enforcement professionals) see the wisdom in sensible rules for gun owners, including waiting periods, safety classes, and even some limits on the types of guns available.
That being said, Colorado is a gun-happy state. With several horrible mass shootings, a high rate of accidental shootings and other gun related crime issues, Coloradoans still love their guns.
According to an article on the Huffington Post, and to FBI Uniform Crime data, in Colorado in 2011 there were 147 homicides and 50 percent of those involved guns. That is an increase of 12 percent since 2010. However, Colorado’s murder rate in 2011 was still at less than half that of the national average. As a result of all of this, gun sales have seen a huge increase. Despite a sagging economy at the time, the number of background checks done for the purchase of a firearm has grown 58 percent since 2007, The Denver Post reports.
Honestly, I didn’t get it. In the spirit of education, I felt it made sense to go shoot a gun and see if I could figure out what all the fuss was about.
So, what’s the appeal? Why are guns so popular? I was fascinated when my post on Facebook that I was going to visit a shooting range met with such popular appeal (although most of my liberal friends were obviously absent in their comments). Pro-gun folks seem to want “us” to understand them, and I wanted to give it a try!
The shooting range I visited was “Shoot Outdoors” in Broomfield. The people there were nice (and again, very excited I was going to do this for the first time). I went in, signed a waiver and within minutes was given a target and they brought a gun to me on the range.
From recommendations on Facebook I started with a .22, also shot a 9mm and another larger gun (which I didn’t like very well and so don’t remember, you can see it pictured here). The .22 was the easiest to shoot, but probably the most complicated to reload.
The 9mm had more of a kick, but was easy to reload and frankly a little scary in it’s simplicity. You could reload and release the safety and fire it in seconds. It also created more damage to the target (duh, bigger bullet, bigger hole). On a very tactile note, the whole thing smells and is messy. Gun cartridges fly everywhere (I found a few in my purse afterward) and the gun powder stinks and stays around long after I was done shooting.
So, what’s my takeaway? It was fun. I was good at it. Does this make me feel better? Not really – now I know I could easily pick up a gun, load it in a few minutes and shoot with enough accuracy that I could take a life. Gun owners see that as a positive, I see that as frightening reality. I guess it’s all in your perspective. Do I want to know I can easily take someone’s life – very personally – no.
As one of my friends on Facebook (one of the few liberals to post on my “adventure”) so appropriately said “I think everyone should know how to shoot to make these weapons seem less foreign. Know how to use the tool then do not use it. Know it’s power.”
One cringe-worthy comment on my Facebook page was: “Aren’t you glad we live in a free country where you can still own a gun? I love shooting. My favorite is my .32 Beretta, small and very accurate!” – what’s my response to that? Yikes! I know it sounds cynical, but I really don’t think a country that’s free is one that allows anyone to have a gun and shoot it accurately – but again, that’s my opinion. I know there are plenty out there who disagree with me.
Several of my friends compared my shooting range experience with archery (which I’ve done quite a few times) and while I can see the hobby parallels, I think that’s inaccurate. Archery takes a huge amount of skill and power within you to make it work and aim with any precision or accuracy. I can say with some conviction that I doubt I’d ever be accurate enough to shoot someone with an arrow and do any real damage. Especially after only 5 minutes of instruction.
Guns contain all the power themselves and we’re merely a vessel to help control and aim that power. I can see the appeal, but I think whitewashing this to compartmentalize it as a hobby is a bit simple. I can now see where even an inexperienced gun owner, in a fit of rage (any hormonal woman can relate to this) can, in a few seconds load a gun, shoot and take a life.
On the other hand, I had a few friends who were horrified that I would even try shooting a gun and commented it was “slippery slope”. This puts a bit more power and allure into guns than I think is apparent. The American culture, right or wrong, contains guns as a basic way of life. By judging it without knowing enough about it is ignorance and I don’t think ignorance is a way to understand and come to any successful conclusions about guns as a social/political issue.
In the end I have no desire to do it again, but I’m glad I did – I feel I “know it’s power” and am smart enough to not use it. Personally, I think it’s a frightening ability and one that we should all not take lightly or as a “right”. Know that owning a gun is a responsibility and knowledge is power. My own brother, after hearing my thoughts said “You’re such a liberal”, but the best part of being an American is we’re all allowed our own opinion. I just hope mine doesn’t get me shot.