E S S A Y Here’s something to know about me at the start. I’m not a fan of guns and not knowledgeable about them. Gun, rifle, pistol, even an Uzi. It’s all pretty much the same to me. Up until the time of the incident at the shooting range I had never seen a gun up close, much less held one in my hand.
It was a dreary Saturday afternoon in autumn, one of those days when you just want to eat hot soup and contemplate the coming winter. A young man of my acquaintance suggested to me that I ought to know how to handle a gun for my own protection. I doubted that. I immediately flashed on to a vision of a home intruder grabbing the weapon from my hands and turning its power on me. This is something I’ve read happens to inexperienced gun owners.
Exactly why you need to use a gun, the young man said – so that sort of thing won’t happen. I could think of another way to prevent it from happening: keep the doors locked and guns out of my home. But I remained silent on that point. He was a young, twenty-something relative, eager to please, and I was pushing sixty, a guest in his home, and wanting to keep harmony in the family. Besides, as I said, it was a gloomy day with nothing much to do.
We drove through a light rain to the shooting range, he chattering on about how I was going to love the feel of the gun in my hand, me mostly silent – no point arguing about it now. We were already launched on the mission.
The range turned out to be a large metal building, rather forbidding looking. If there’d been any sun that day it probably would have reflected off the walls in a blinding glare. But as it was, the building just sort of loomed at the end of the road as we approached it.
Once inside, I learned that I would have to read a handbook, see a short film, and then take a test on gun safety before I would be permitted to touch a weapon. I found that comforting. Good idea, I said, as the almost deafening sound of gunfire rattled around the tin can of a building. People were busy shooting all around me and I was glad to know they’d all passed the safety test. Or so I hoped.
It turns out I was the threat. I passed the test but somehow didn’t get the message that I should not point the gun at people when I’m talking to them. Here’s how it went: First, I was surprised, when I actually had a gun in my hand, at how easy it is to shoot it. It takes a little effort to release the safety but once you’ve done that you can almost shoot the gun by just looking at it. Of course it doesn’t tell you that in the instructions. I guess they assume everyone knows. Second, when you’ve spent your life looking at people when you talk to them it’s a hard habit to break. The rule is, set the gun down before you turn around so you do not point it at someone. Not once but twice, I turned around from the target to talk to my companion, gun in hand and waving wildly to make my point, and he hit the ground in a very admirable, quick reaction.
“Oops, sorry,” I said each time.
But really, can you be expected to change a lifetime habit after just reading a little booklet? The young man looked pretty shook up after the first incident, and just plain tired after the second, so we called it a day. I didn’t shoot him, of course, but I’m startled all over again when I think how easily it could have happened. I rolled up my Osama bin Laden target (he was the villain of choice just then) and we left the shooting range. The sun had come out, our spirits were at least somewhat restored and, best of all, we were both alive.
Norma Libman is a journalist and lecturer who has been collecting women’s stories for more than twenty years. You can read the first chapter of her award-winning book, Lonely River Village, at NormaLibman.com.