Bang Bang, I am the Warrior

August 11, 2008 at 7:42 am 4 comments

On Friday night, whilst out for a few beers and fried snacks, I decided I wanted to shoot a gun. I don’t know if it was the beer or what, but I found myself asking my friend Michael to take me to the firing range the next day. Hell, I’m doing lots of things I haven’t done before lately, so why not go do something that absolutely terrifies me? I figure I can work up to my bigger fears later and maybe jump out of an airplane next weekend. 

(I am totally not jumping out of an airplane next weekend.)


I don’t think being terrified of guns is an unnatural fear. Guns kill, or at least the bullets they fire do. Sure, knives kill too, and I’m not at all afraid of knives. But then again, it takes a great deal more intent to do lethal harm when wielding a knife than when wielding a gun. I mean, people are killed accidentally with guns all the time. So, I suppose it’s not really guns I’m afraid of—it’s the humans that hold them. And I think I might be more scared of stupid or careless humans than I am of evil, murderous ones, because the former seems so much more abundant.



at this point I'm not scared, just nervous.

at this point I'm not scared, just nervous.


After I changed into my best Annie Oakley skirt and boots, we drove south for a few miles until we arrived at the Plantation Rifle Range, and turned left into the range for pistols and smallbore rifles. I heard the firing range before I saw it, and the sounds of explosion after explosion made my heart spin around in my chest a little each time – not unlike a spinning bullet chamber.


We brought foam earplugs for us both, but it took only a half minute on the range to realize the puny things weren’t going to cut it. I asked the parks employee who staffed the booth if he had any better ear protection, and he supplied me with some very stylish ear  muffs.



Note the position of our target to everyone else's. We are terrible shots.

Note the position of our target to everyone else's. We are terrible shots.


Michael seemed to want to throw me right in, but I told him I’d rather he fired a round before I did. We awaited the “cease fire” light to put our target up. Michael put the target up at 10 yards, which made me feel like we were losers, since everyone else had theirs at least 25 yards away.


I was even terrified at this point that someone from behind the bench would accidentally start firing. After all, the light is confusing! Green means “go” and red means “stop”, so surely CEASE FIRE should be red, not green. What if someone were to be confused? OMG MICHAEL BE CAREFUL OF THE MADMEN BEHIND THE BENCH!!! 



Much like 80s band Scandal, Michael is shooting at the walls of heartache.

Much like 80s band Scandal, Michael is shooting at the walls of heartache.


I calmed down and realized that no one was even touching a gun and had no intention of opening fire on all these nice people setting up their targets. When the red LINE HOT light came on and the ranger let us know we could all begin firing our lethal weapons, I stood by as Michael shot a round. 


This thing is not a gun. It is a friggin hand cannon. Everything about the experience felt amplified—the decibel of the explosion, the weight of the gun, and the amount of recoil. Even when Michael fired the gun I was taken aback by how much of a kick it gave each time he fired.



After firing my first round, my smile is replaced by an expression that seems to say, "HOLY SHIT, I'M SURROUNDED BY LETHAL WEAPONS!"

After firing my first round, my smile is replaced by an expression that seems to say, "HOLY SHIT, I'M SURROUNDED BY LETHAL WEAPONS!"



To add to my anxiety, every other gun firing around us was spitting out its spent shell casings, some of which flew into the stall we were in. Luckily, a revolver is nice and tidy and keeps the shell in the chamber. Michael showed me how to remove them after firing the round, and then told me to load the barrel. I trembled, trying to put peg A into slot B and, after a minor freak out, I handed the revolver back to Michael and made him do it.


The first round was terrifying, and I shot the second round so fast, I barely remember it. I resolved to go slower on the third round as Michael put up a target that only I would shoot at, so I could see what kind of target shooting prowess I have. 



Why yes, I did hang my target on the fridge. Please note the grouping by the lower 9.

Why yes, I did hang my target on the fridge. Please note the grouping by the lower 9.


This will probably come as a great shock, but the answer is: not that great. I am happy to report that I hit the target most of the time, but since that target was 10 feet away and the size of my refrigerator door, I’m not sure I can really consider this an achievement. I do have a pretty nice grouping near to the middle, so I think with practice I could be really scary. And the amazing thing is, I think I actually would go again. 


What’s funny, though, is that I’m still afraid of guns. But the nature of my fear is changed, to something less like seeing guns as a bogeyman and more like seeing them as powerful instruments to respect, and I now have a grave respect for that power having wielded it. 



This is what I was shooting. Everyone seems extremely impressed with the loudness. I was. again, VERY grateful for the ear muffs.

This is what I was shooting. Everyone seems extremely impressed with the loudness. I was. Again, VERY grateful for the ear muffs.


What also occurred to me, as I sat with Michael over coffee after we left the range, is just how emotionally taxing it must be to be in the military or to be a police officer; to know that in your line of work, you will likely (with varying degrees of likelihood between the two professions, obviously) have to discharge your weapon at some point. That, when you do, it won’t be at a paper target on a piece of plywood. You will probably not be wearing ear protection. You will be scared far more than I was shooting at that paper target, because the reason you’re firing that gun is that, if you don’t, someone else will. At you. You will need to, as Michael puts it, turn off your human brain and turn on your lizard brain, to do your job. I’m not sure I even have a lizard brain to speak of, but maybe I do. Maybe we all do. Maybe it’s just something automatic we switch on when our only other choice is to lie down.


Don’t get me wrong, I had fun when all was said and done, but it was a very new sort of scary fun, not like a roller coaster or speeding down a hill on my bicycle with my arms up. Because it wasn’t just the risk of hurting myself that made it scary, but the fear of hurting someone else. And I must admit, that fear is far greater that I could ever have imagined. It was a humbling experience, as terrifying and chilling as I’d expected, and I kind of can’t wait to do it again. 




Actually, that’s not true. I think I’ll need a while. But I definitely want to do it again, to see if I can improve my control and breathing and the involuntary trembling of my hands. I figure, if I can shoot a veritable hand cannon without losing my shit, and manage to do so with a fair amount of accuracy, I can handle just about all the stress I’ll most certainly incur this upcoming school year. The perspective alone would be tremendous, since I can be grateful that in my line of work I’ll never have to discover whether I have the mettle to fire a weapon at another human being.


Entry filed under: life stuff, work. Tags: , , , , .

Guns are Loud. Pittsburgh

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. kdiddy  |  August 11, 2008 at 8:00 am

    awesome. I’ve been wanting to check out a firing range for some time. I’m rather terrified of guns and have a rather profound distaste for much of the culture surrounding them, but I think it’s important to get a sense of what it is to fire a gun.

  • 2. Ed  |  August 11, 2008 at 8:20 am

    Jesus H. Christ and his brother Shmuel, your first shot EVER was a THREE FIFTY-SEVEN MAGNUM!!??!! That is absolutely not what I would have given a first-timer trying to get over their fear of guns. That’s like getting over your fear of heights by walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon.

    It’s not the biggest hand-cannon I’ve ever fired, but it’s up there.

    I think the best way to turn a fear of guns into healthy respect is to shoot as wide a variety of them as possible. At the low end there’s the .22 caliber rifle. Compared to the .357, it’s a pop gun, but my son, who for a long time couldn’t stand the sound of a flushing toilet, handled one just fine without ear protection. The kick is nearly nonexistent. OTOH, the standard 50-foot target’s bull’s-eye is not much bigger around than the slug.

    Then there are middleweights like .32 and 9mm pistols, which have a totally different feel from revolvers. Rednecky fun before putting the empty beer cans into the recycling. If you’re feeling masochistic, try skeet shooting with a 16-gauge shotgun–I’ve never hit a clay pigeon.

    The biggies, .357 magnum, .44 magnum, .50 caliber, are fun for the experience, but the ammo is damn expensive. I like the little ones where even the good bullets are cheap enough that you can shoot and shoot and shoot until you can draw designs on your target.

    If I ever own a gun, I’ll keep it at the shooting range, because that’s the only place I’d ever need it. But it’s good to have friends who have huge gun collections.

    In any event, congratulations on pushing through the fear. I know firsthand how hard that is.

  • 3. As if my options wouldn't be limited enough, post apocalypse.  |  August 13, 2008 at 11:07 am

    This chick Susie once said she’d show me how to throw a tomahawk. Man, I wish I’d taken her up on that.

    Why I’m Afraid of Guns
    By Hannah

    Periodically I get this strange, desperate need to learn what I think of as “survival skills”–talents that would make me useful in a post-apocalyptic world so that no band of ravaging mutants would kill me for my meat. This sounds like some put-on eccentricity, I know, but I’m totally freakin’ serious. Thanks to this urge, I now know how to generate emergency power in four ways that have nothing to do with city electrical grids (and two ways that do). I should also note here that the only reason I ever learned to read electrical schematics was to add to my apocalypse survival skill set. I have a lot of standard identify edibles, start fires, navigation type survival skills. I practice climbing shit all the time. You never know when you’ll have a need to get to higher ground.

    From time to time I’ll think, “Hannah, it’s time you learned to fire a fucking gun, like, for reals.” ‘Cuz really, when it comes time to confront the post-apocalyptic mutants, what if they’re too starved for human flesh to recognize my usefulness? Shouldn’t I be able to blast them apart and cause them to fear me and my mighty boomstick?

    But there will certainly be confusion after the apocalypse. We will be busy establishing fiefdoms and competing in thunderdomes. Also, killer mutants. And in all that confusion, what if someone mixes in magic bullets with the normal bullets? And what if one of the bullets I put in my gun is enchanted to only kill the shooter’s one true love? And what if I shot that bullet?

    Anyway. You just got me thinking about the root of my fear of guns. Your writing is strong, Ambs. You’re so un-possessive of your feelings. Yes, I know, I did it: “un-possessive”. Deal with it.

  • 4. perfecthannah  |  August 14, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    PS: Until I take time off from work/school/bands to design and deploy my own little wobsit, I’m gonna drop my turds into this toilet. Nice and easy media integration, here.


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