People Don't Kill People, Guns Kill People

Joey, six other friends and I went to the NRA shooting range at the NRA Headquarters in Virginia last night.  The first thing I noticed when we pulled into the parking garage was the three burly soldiers leaving the range with their steel gun cases in tow.  As we made our way down the ramp, we spotted a "PHOTOGRAPHY IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED" sign, much to the chagrin of George and me, as we both really wanted our picture taken shooting the gun.  This was quickly forgotten as soon as the door opened and you could hear it.  I think Sujata put it best: "I thought they had raquetball courts here too until I realized those were guns firing."  Even behind the glass the sound of guns was so loud!  I winced every time one went off, and with 12 lanes of people firing guns, that was a lot.

We were greeted by two men with handlebar mustaches and shaved heads and one petite, twenty-something girl, all in their red "NRA Shooting Range" polos.  She gave us a safety test and ushered us off into a classroom; she told us "cheating is encouraged, because we want you to know the answers."  Twenty-five questions later, we were back at the desk.  While one of the handlebars checked us into two lanes, the girl made us NRA shooting range identification cards.  Then half of the group went to the waiting room, and I put on my headphones and goggles and headed into the range with Joey and Lee.

Lee was in the Navy, so he has some serious experience with shooting, and was nice enough to let us use his guns - a 9mm and a glock? - 42 caliber pistol maybe?  Anyway, Lee got us set up in the lane with the guns and the ammnuition and then left Joey to instruct me on the art of shooting.  The night before, all of us gathered at our friend Tom's house.  Lee brought his guns to Tom's house for an instructional session on how to safely use them.  So we'd practiced picking up the gun safely, not ever pointing it at anyone, even if its unloaded, putting the magazine in the gun, checking the chamber, etc.  Handling an unloaded gun is kind of cool.  Its like, wow, this is a gun.  This could kill someone.  But its still abstract when there are no bullets and when you are not surrounded by the sound of gunfire.

And oh my God, the sound of gunfire - I thought it was loud on the other side of the glass.  Once we entered the actual range - I don't even know how to adequately explain it.  It was like gunfire - everywhere - and every gun sounded like a canon - and the headphones made every other sound so muffled that it was like listening to people talk underwater, peppered every few seconds with a blast.  My earlier wincing turned into jumping and I can't even imagine what I must have looked like, dressed in my multi-color minidress, black cardigan, black tights and ballet flats, wearing bright blue headphones and safety goggles, cowering over my purse and jerking every time a gun went off.  Thankfully, I believe every man in there was completely engrossed in his gun(s), so no one was looking at me.

So once Joey put the magazine in the gun and handed it to me, I started sweating.  No longer was killing some abstract concept associated with the gun.  The reverberations of the guns firing so close on either side, coupled with the empty casings flying everywhere, and the weight of a loaded gun in my hand were a very stark reminder of just what deadly power I was holding and I did not like it.  First of all, I am clumsy as all hell and just the idea that if I accidentally dropped this thing it could kill me or Joey or some other unsuspecting fool was really overwhelming.  Then, when you are so close to all these other people firing their guns you can see the kickback from the gun when you shoot it.  I was so nervous that when I fired the gun I wouldn't be able to control the kickback and it would fly out of my hands and the gun would fire at me instead of down the lane.  (Nevermind that once I fired the gun the bullet would be long gone, even I did drop the damn thing, but when you've got gunfire all around you and this heavy killing machine in your hand rational thoughts aren't really available.)  Anyway, Joey patiently showed me again how to hold it and how to fire it and helped me get it in my hand right and so I aimed it at the target and thought "well, its now or never, you can stand here all night pointing the damn gun" so I fired it.

OHMYGODITWASSOSCARY!  The recoil from the gun is even worse than it looks and I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest.  That thing is heavy and when it fires it really moves your whole upper body!  Also, I had one of my thumbs on the wrong side and the chamber hit it when it fired and that freaking hurt (didn't draw any blood unlike when Tom made the same mistake later).  So Joey helped me move my hand and one of the mustached guys came over and told me to really get a grip on the gun with my whole palm and so a little shaken but determined I firmly grasped the gun and fired again.

OHMYGODITWASSOSCARY!  Really not any better this time.  In fact I am pretty sure I hated it even more.  But I thought, "okay, maybe you just have to get used to this" and so, sweating through my cashmere cardigan, I shot one more time.  Same.  I put the gun down, looked at Joey and said "Okay, I'm done."

He looked at me, a little surprised and said "That's all?"

"Yes, I'm done."  So he picked up the gun and fired the rest of the magazine into the target, pulled the target toward us, handed it to me, and off I went into the waiting room to send another of our friends into the range for their turn.  My head was buzzing as I settled into one of the leather chairs and waited for everybody to take their turn.  After about an hour, somehow I got talked into trying it one more time (I think it was after watching Sujata march out there and shoot three freaking bullets right into the heart of the target her first time out that I was like, okay, Melissa, man up, go try again).  So I put my headphones and goggles back on and luckily this time there were less people in the range.  Only three other lanes were in use besides our two, so instead of twelve different guns firing at once, there were only five.  Joey quickly showed me how to hold the gun again and I pointed and fired and

OHMYGODITWASSOSCARY!  Seriously, I really don't know any other way to describe how freaking terrifying shooting that gun was.  I really thought that my second time in, after watching everybody else do it and survive, that it would be better but no, I'm pretty sure it was worse.  Joey looked at me and said "Calm down" but I really couldn't.  I fired three more times, each time completely terrified that the recoil was going to throw the gun out of my hands and then I put the gun down again.  The overwhelming knowledge that this weapon is deadly was just too much for me to handle in good conscience.  Joey told me later that everytime I picked up the gun my whole body started shaking.  I thought that was just on the inside!  So again, Joey finished the magazine, I took my target and went back to the waiting room and filed my nails until everyone was finished. 

While I watched everybody take their turn shooting the guns, I couldn't help but notice how out of place all of us yuppies looked.  One man to the right of our lane was dressed in a camel colored tee, white-washed jeans and hiking boots- he had a big gun in a holster on one hip and a little gun in a holster on the other hip and in between shooting those guns he shot his giant, laser-guided, M-14 air-rifle.  That puppy was LOUD.  Seriously every time he fired that it shook the room a little bit.  He was in there the whole time we cycled through and he shot from his feet, from a chair, laying down on the ground.  Intense.  And creepy.

A few lanes down from that guy was group of rednecks, outfitted in straggly long hair, tank tops, ripped jeans, flannel and trucker hats.  They took turns firing off their guns at paper plates (targets cost 50 cents each) about ten feet from their face.

Next to them was the most intense dude in the place.  He was wearing khaki cargo pants, a short sleeved khaki oxford, a khaki utility belt and military boots.  He had a shaved head and carried several guns, including one in a massive case.  He would get into a stance, quickly grab a gun from his holster, fire it a few times, grab another magazine from his utility belt, fire the gun a few more times, grab another magazine and fire the gun again.  He'd look over both shoulders and then fire and it was seriously like he was doing drills of some sort the whole time.  I'm pretty sure the emblem on his giant rifle case was Marines, and he definitely looked like a mercenary.

My target - most of those bullet holes were made by Joey.
Suffice it to say (8000 words later), while the NRA range was an exper- ience I will never forget, I don't think I ever want to go there again.