Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Guntastic! A Cautionary Tale

Last Monday night I did something that until recently I thought I might never do. I fired a handgun, a 9mm Glock. And it was exhilarating. The frightening power, the awesome danger, the experience has left me pumped up and at the same time really really scared.

It began  months ago when Laurie, my wife, sent me an email containing the latest Groupon. For $15 you could get the 45 minute "Ultimate Handgun Experience" at the new Gander Mountain Academy just minutes from Madison. Instead of laughing and hitting "delete" I thought of how much she might actually enjoy doing that. Then a thought occurred to me, as some do, that this "experience" would be excellent research for my writing. You see I have never shot a gun, a real gun, of any type. I don't think that before last night I had even touched a real gun. How could I write convincingly about a detective or a zombie killer. I wrote her back and said "let's do it."

I told a few friends at work and Cindi got excited. She booked hers immediately as did Laurie and I. It was done. We decided to make an evening of it with dinner afterwards. Though I wondered that being in Wisconsin we might have done it backwards, getting dinner and drinks after our handgun shooting.

Last Monday was the night. We arrived at 6:00 on a quiet Monday evening. We turned in our Groupons and watched a safety video filled with happy smiling people holding guns. Wow, is this what it's like? Everyone looks so happy and nice and normal. Maybe I had the wrong idea. Maybe guns really are cool.

We met our instructor (he had trained by Israeli Security Forces and did a stint as a Personal Body Guard but was now married and living happily in Wisconsin) and we were each carefully handed an official Gander Mountain green reconditioned faux Glock. Powered by a cylinder of compressed air it would simulate the recoil of a real one. We start small, on the simulators, and end up big, on the live range.

The three of us were very excited, joking nervously with "our new best friend" as he led us to the gun range simulator. There we were taught how to grip the gun, how to aim the gun, how to draw the trigger, and after firing how to put our fingers back to the Rule #1 safety position.

Then we fired our first shot.

Wow, right on target, but that kick. I felt it all the way back to my shoulders. Keeping my gun level I relaxed my shoulders and fired again. Another hit. I looked over at Laurie. The smile on her face was wonderful. We did 6 rounds rapid fire. These were all on the target board but all over the place. After more practice, more tips on my stance and my grip, my shots were back on target. I could feel the effects of the recoil in my arms and my shoulders. It wasn't much but it was there, a stiffness, a tension. But I was too pumped to relax.

Next he took us to the 180 degree simulator. Here targets were on our left and on our on right as well. Here we had to hit the targets in order in the fastest time we could. Here the ladies made me go first.

Nine targets, nine shots, nine hits, all in 11 seconds. Not bad for a first try. I went again. My second try I used 12 shots but got my time down to 9 seconds. That was so cool. Am I actually good at this? Cindi, who was our ringer, she had been shooting before, went next and she was quite good, much better when she wasn't laughing. Laurie took up the last position. Her first try was fine but after some instruction, and I'm sure I will never hear the end of this, she hit all nine perfectly, and in 8 seconds.

Cindi taking out a target
Laurie on her winning run

Let me say now that target shooting is fun. I enjoyed tremendously. It is challenging and exciting. I did not like what came next. The 300 degree room.

In this new simulator six screens surrounded you giving a target the opportunity to pop up behind you. But the simulations in this room weren't just abstract shapes and targets, the simulations in this room were people. Now you had to interact with the simulation. The scenario would change depending on if you did or didn't react to what was happening, and if you did or didn't shoot.

For the first scenario you stood at the intersection of a number of rooms and corridors. You have drawn your gun because person or persons unknown are loose in the building. At various times someone would pop out of a door or come around a corner. They may or may not be armed and dangerous. You had to decide and let them go or try to stop them.

My next scenario had an unknown person wandering in the backyard of my home. I found a man trying to pry a screen off the back window. I yelled "Freeze!" and told him to drop the screwdriver just as his partner came up behind me. I was startled, turned, and almost fired. But his partner, a young woman, put the gun down on the ground. I came so close shooting her. It scared me. My heart was pounding, and I hoped no one could see how much my hands shook. I came very close to shooting someone, sure it was a simulation but for a brief moment I thought "what if it wasn't?" I didn't like this feeling.

We did a few other scenarios. Laurie and Cindi wandered into the middle of a  robbery in a convenience store. An agitated young man approached me in a parking lot and I ended up getting a simulated kung fu kick in the head because I didn't shoot him.

The ladies really got into the role playing. They had fun with it. The shouted, they postured, they yelled nasty things as they shot bad guys left and right. No such luck for me. I was happy to leave the 300 degree room.

Finally the time had come. The moment (as trite as it may sound) we had waited for. The next stage was the live range where we would fire a real gun with real bullets at a real target.

We were given our ear and eye protection and we followed our instructor through one security door and then another. I was elected to go first again. I slid the clip into the gun, I cocked the gun, I raised it to sight the target, and I drew the trigger.


Holy crap! hat the hell was that?!

That was so different from the simulation with the faux Glock. The flash of white orange smelling of burnt powder and smoke, the pop loud even with the ear protection, the recoil traveling up my arms and landing in my shoulders, the casing flipping out and hitting me on the top of my head. I stood there for a few very long seconds until the instructor asked if I was okay. I nodded and looked at the target wondering if I had even hit it. I had, just on the edge of the target area, right on the white line.

"When you're ready," our instructor said.

I took a deep breath, sighted the target and drew the trigger. Pow! Pow-Pow! Pow-Pow-Pow! With each firing I was getting fired up. I went through the first clip. I popped the clip out and I was handed a second one.

This time there was no hesitation. With my heart racing I pumped the target full of 9mm lead. The power I held in my hands was intoxicating. I was in control of a weapon, a real gun, I was firing with deadly force, I was a bad muffa fudda, I was getting carried away. In no time the second clip was empty. My time was over too quickly.

Laurie and Cindi followed. From behind I got a different perspective. I saw the flame shoot out of the gun barrel with each shot. I saw the bullet pierce the cardboard target and disappear into the padded rear wall of the gun range with a quiet little green puff of smoke. I saw their fear relax and their excite build.

And then they were done too.

We looked at the clock. 8:15. for $15 we had each gotten our full 45 minutes. That was an exceptional deal. We thanked our instructor and went to a nearby Irish pub for some food and liquid cheer as we tried to come down from the rush.

I can say that I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would have. I would target shoot again, easily, in a heartbeat. But thinking back on it now I will also say that I respect a gun more and possibly fear it more as well. I know what it can do. I've felt the power in my own hands. And I also know how easy it is once you get your adrenaline pumping, how easy it is to make a mistake you may regret for a very long time. That gun you hold was made to shoot, and it wants to shoot, and you want to too.

In Wisconsin now we have concealed carry. Our new governor and his rubber stamp party majority made that a first priority in his "job creation special legislative session" last year. (Yeah, I don't see it either.) Our State Attorney General, of the same political affiliation, did the right thing for once and demanded a minimum amount of training before someone would be eligible for a concealed carry license. It was agreed and signed into law.

But last November the legislature with backing from the NRA made a few changes. These include:
  1. Elimination of any time requirement for the firearms safety and training course
  2. Elimination of the word test from the definition of firearms safety and training course
  3. Elimination of any time requirement for firearms instructor training
  4. Elimination of the instructor’s signature from the certificate affirming they taught the course to the student
  5. Elimination of any instructor contact information on the certificate
  6. Elimination of the location where the training was provided from the certificate
Why in heaven's name would they all but eliminate "training"? How does that make us safer? What good does that do for the gun owner and the public in general?

It's funny but after going through with this I am now more in favor of gun control than ever before. I will never own anything more powerful than my Nerf Maverick Rev-6 which I got at an office xmas party a few years back. The simulations in the 300 degree room showed me that with a loaded gun in my hand how very easy it is to make a very bad mistake and possibly shoot an innocent person. I never want to be in a position to have to make that decision. More guns do not make me feel safer. Having an untrained adrenalin junky carry a loaded weapon while walking down State St. does not make me feel safer. having idiots in teh State legislature does not make me feel safer.

I know it's trite but with great power comes greater responsibility. Train these people for Christ's sake!

Okay, Bill, take a deep breath. You can cross "shoot a real gun" off the bucket list. That was so awesome. What's next?!

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