I felt much as a secret agent, or a confidential informant must feel, settling in among strangers, listening to them talk, wary of my surroundings. But I was one of them, wasn’t I? No one forced me to attend. I chose to be present, and for no apparent ulterior motive.
Yet I had never set foot in a gun club before. And, until recently, the idea of obtaining a pistol permit seemed far-fetched, if not ridiculous. I’ve called for repeal of the Second Amendment, after all, a result of bearing witness to lethal gun violence in a series of murder trials, killings that occurred more often than not for trifling reasons: disputes about a girl, a bottle of liquor, an insult.
Even the occasional death threat from some of the folks whose paths I have crossed, and whom I have offended, angered or otherwise frustrated, was not enough to drive me to get a permit. But there I sat not long ago, seeking instruction in the dark art of using a pistol, in a class sponsored by, of all entities, the National Rifle Association.
The class began with a slick video featuring an NRA spokesman. He spoke about the Second Amendment as though it were chiseled in stone and brought down the mountain by Moses himself – from God’s lips to my trigger finger. I wanted to hiss as the man spoke.
But I kept silence, mostly out of respect for the other class attendees. I kept my occupation to myself. Indeed, I revealed no personal information at all. Several of the young men present were also silent, but one man, older even than I am, was chattering on about liberals, and about folks who “went too far” with their love of guns, arming themselves for Armageddons the unhinged among us now create in the form of mass shootings.
We were tested about gun safety: never place your finger on the trigger until ready to shoot, keep the barrel pointed away from people – always, and remember that a safety is a mechanical device that can fail. Respect the weapon. It is a weapon, after all, a lethal instrument capable of killing.
I am afraid of guns, I confess it. Not long ago, I watched a YouTube video of man withdrawing his pistol quickly from a side holster, shooting himself in the leg in the process. “That would be me,” I thought, and think. Can you spend enough time with a gun ever lose wariness about what it can do? After acing the exam on gun safety, it was off to an indoor range to fire a small caliber pistol at a paper target under the close supervision of an instructor. Squeeze the trigger slowly, so slowly that you are surprised when the gun goes off. Sight it carefully, breathe just so. Hold the gun with two hands.
I aimed, and fired, and fired again, and again.
The instructor told me I was doing a great job, and had obviously had experience with guns before, a partial truth, as I have experience with rifles. The pistol was new to me.
Even with glasses, I could only see the target, the concentric circles defining the bull’s eye, but not the strike of my bullets. Was I hitting it? Once I was done firing, the instructor toggled a switch, and a long wire drew my target toward us. My shots were all clustered up and to the left of center. The clustering was a good sign, I was told. A friend later told me that being up and left of center suggested I pulled the trigger too hard. So much to learn.
I was given my certificate. I am cleared for gun ownership. I’ve earned the NRA’s seal of approval in a process that was suspiciously easy. But why? Why this desire to own a weapon capable of killing? I suppose Paris and San Bernardino are to blame. Call me a casualty of the war on terror. Somehow these latest attacks scare me in a way the World Trade Center did not. The world’s political violence suddenly became personal, very personal – personal enough to have me ready to kill.
I’m not sure what I think of this new world, this new skin, I’ve chosen to inhabit.