Sometimes I’ll be talking to someone and they’ll casually mention how their parents were a little overprotective when they were growing up. I’m not usually the kind of girl who always needs to one-up someone, but when it comes to overprotective parenting, my parents won the gold medal at the superbowl of perfect child rearing.
Besides not being allowed to watch any cartoons deemed “violent” or with characters that were a bad influence (Angelica from Rugrats), we couldn’t have any violent toys. No fake handcuffs, nunchucks, hulk hands or anything even shaped like a gun. Nerf gun? Nope. Water pistol? All of ours were shaped like animals, with the water coming out of a tiny elephant’s trunk or the mouth of a fish.
If I were a betting girl, I’d say that might have been the start of my desire to (safely!) fire a gun. But I could also situate it a larger cultural context. Guns are a big part of American culture, at least in some parts of the country (NOT suburban new jersey!) Furthermore, and more depressingly, Oakland has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the country. I’ve always wondered how deliberate of an action gun violence is, and having never even held a gun I couldn’t say with any certainty the amount of conviction it would take to point it at another human being.
I’m fortunate to have friends from all over the country, and after discovering that my friend Brannan owned a gun that he’d brought with him from Georgia I asked him if he’d teach me how to shoot. So yesterday I took the train down to South San Francisco, sat down at Brannan’s kitchen table and got a quick lesson in gun safety.
I realized that I’d never even seen a gun up close. It looked far “faker” than I expected, almost plastic, but heavy when I held it in my hands. Despite the fact that it was unloaded I still felt a knot in my stomach, a nervousness about what could happen. Realistically, nothing, but that didn’t take away the nerves.
I took a bit of time to think and realized that part of this list, part of what I’m supposed to learn from it, is to put aside preconceived notions and fight some fears.
After getting to the shooting range and signing a couple forms, I found myself standing in a room that reminded me of my parent’s basement except for the empty casings littering the floor. Even with hearing protection on, I had to fight the instinct to jump every time I heard a gunshot. Hello, childhood fear of popping balloons. Nice to see you again.
Brannan fired off the first round after showing me how to load the gun and get a bullet up into the chamber. I’ll be honest and say that after watching the gun kick back, the spark as the bullet left the chamber, and the noise, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be trying it. Mostly I was frightened of squeezing the trigger and then getting too frightened to safely put the gun down, which is a bit ridiculous since I can hold my shit together if I have to.
After watching him shoot a few more times so I could get used to the noise, I stepped up to the metaphorical plate. He loaded a single bullet for me and after some hesitation I pushed the cartridge in, stood with my hands in the proper position, aimed, and… stood there.
For probably a good five minutes.
I’m lucky that Brannan is patient because I thought I was going to stand there forever, just standing, just thinking and willing my body not to shake.
Finally, with a tiny rush of adrenaline, I squeezed the trigger… and missed the target entirely. But just knowing that I had done it and nothing terrible had happened, and I could do it AGAIN, if I wanted, gave me a pretty incredible sense of victory.
I fired another three times after getting the hang of how to aim, hitting the target twice. Not a bulls eye, mind you, but at least I hit somewhere on the target! After that I turned the gun back over to Brannan and let him finish off the rest of the bullets.
I’m probably not going to be a gun enthusiast anytime soon, but I did gain a tiny bit of understanding about guns and the culture surrounding them. Maybe it does have something to do with my upbringing, but just pointing a gun at a target? Terrifying. But I’m glad I worked up the courage to check this off my list. Every word that I write for school this week will seem easy in comparison.