20 August 2012

The Unlikely Topic of Guns

Earlier this week, I did something I never thought I would do. I shot a gun.
Keep your pants on, it was under supervision. By a marine. And I didn't have to aim this gun at a person, because I was on a shooting range, with targets made out of discarded election signs, and a handful of gun-aficionados with an impressive panoply of gear and gun-related accessories, not unlike that of D&D players. A fascinating display of firearm-nerdiness, in other words. Kind reminder that I am, in fact, still in America.

This experience was offered to me as a favour so as to not only give me a proper introduction to shooting and the various instruments that accompany this task (it was also my first time being in the same room as a gun, to my knowledge at least – this was the hardest part for me) but also diversify my American experience: it allowed me to familiarize myself with what was (and to a great extent, still is) foreign and scary to me, I was explained the instrumental as well as sport-related side of guns, and we discussed the laws that surround them. Am I still scared? Yes, but about different things.
The first thing I noticed, which took some of my fears away, yet replaced them with others, is how hard it is to properly aim a gun. Though what I got to shoot was a pretty lightweight form of a rifle (my friend introduced it to me as "the gun my dad taught me to shoot on when I was 8"), I still got to hold, and shoot, a revolver. After two shots, I was done with the handgun variety though; heavy, hard to aim, and it did a lot of kicking. Not a pleasurable experience for me. But it also made me realise that just because someone decides to walk into a store and shoot the place up, it doesn't mean they are automatically a good shot. Not that that's much of a comfort, but what I gathered from this, albeit short, exposure to the world of firearms, is that the people who own them know that they are weapons to be taken seriously, and, more often than not, it seems they know that owning them comes at the condition of respecting, as well as knowing your weapon, i.e. abiding by the safety measures.
I'm definitely not saying owning a gun makes everyone a serious, responsible person by default, and that is partly where my remaining aversion to them comes from; however, I no longer sit in the swampy conviction that guns are inherently evil and whoever owns them is invariably missing the majority of their braincells and will end up killing us all. That being said, I still believe their possession should be restricted and that their proper handling should be taught mandatorily, much in the way I think car licences shouldn't be given out like candy (but that's a different story). Then again, I do not live in the US, and guns are not anywhere near as commonplace a phenomenon in Europe as they are here, (which explains why it's taken me 25 years and a trip across the Atlantic Ocean to get up close and personal with one) so I suppose in that respect, this shouldn't be my judgement to make. I'll make it anyway because this is my blog and I get to do whatever I want.

What about my experience in itself, you ask? In a sense, and totally unexpectedly, I somewhat enjoyed the experience. Yes, me, the person who works up a grump whenever people fan-boy/-girl over guns and shooting, who cannot comprehend the simultaneous execution of balancing on the back of a horse and aiming at a moving target, and who, every time a shooting in a public place makes the news, hides under her blanket for the next three days, moaning that humanity is slowly consuming itself. Speaking of shooting for sport, i.e. hunting: experiencing the difficulty of aiming a rifle from a sitting position at a perfectly still target 25ft. away gave me a whole new sense of respect for one of my friends who actually counts hunting among his hobbies.
That being said, I presume one of the reasons I liked shooting ("liking" includes the rifle experience, but not the revolver, who was way too fickle and kicky for my taste) has to do with the fact that I usually like things I don't completely suck at. Not bragging. I just expected myself to do so much worse than I did, and I hit the target pretty much every time... except for when I hit my friend's target instead. Yeah. They look alike from a distance and through a small black tube. I have excuses. I also have bad eyesight, which is one of the reasons I politely declined a friend's invitation to join him on his archery range a few years back; despite strict safety rules, I was afraid I might impale someone on accident. Good thing the shooting range didn't have anyone but us on it the first time I sat down with the rifle and thought "Oh god, it's going to jam and explode in my face."
But then I aimed and pulled the trigger (lightly, because I had no idea what was going to happen) and it wasn't as loud as it had seemed the first time my friends fired to show me what it looked like. With each round I increased the number of bullets I would shoot, and while the weapon still felt heavy against my shoulder, it became less scary. I started focussing more on aiming it properly, taking my time, rather than shooting to be done with it. And I started feeling like the pink, ankle-length, flowery dress I'd thrown on that morning in the mist of sleep, looked less out of place, less like a statement about my reluctance to be there in the first place, and more in tune with what was surrounding me (the range is beautiful, surrounded by those high, spiky evergreen trees that I will miss when I leave) and comfortable with the visual paradox. Or maybe I've seen too many films that juxtapose weapons and girly attributes in a search for the ultimate beacon of badassery. Whatever. The point is, I was offered to do something that wasn't me and I went through with it. Has it changed my opinion about guns? Somewhat, but only in the sense that my opinion about them was warped in the first place, to say the least, and this has only "normalised" it. Is it something I am now passionate about? Not really, but I understand the appeal. Am I going to do it again? I'm down to my last week in America before I hop on a looooong plane ride back to Europe, so... probably not. 

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