I haven’t held, nor pulled the trigger on, many firearms in my lifetime. It was never really an interest of mine but the list starts when I was around late elementary school age. I had taken a Hunter’s Safety course because my brother had and I wanted to be like him. He once took me to what we called “the rifle range” which was a long sub-level room at the middle school. One end, near the entrance, was storage cages, benches, and a padded platform about a foot high where shooters could fire small, .220 caliber rifles from the prone position. At the other end, maybe 50 meters downrange, was a metal wall, slanted 450 toward the shooting platform. If I remember correctly, there was a wire hung over a sandpit in front of the wall and this was where the targets were clipped. Everything was supervised and with the help of some sandbags, I gave it a try. I did pretty well, too. But that was probably a function of the sandbags doing all the aiming and stabilization work for me and my skinny arms.
It liked doing that and I did it again with my friend John once I got to middle school. It was an after-school thing and I remember the smell of cordite and gun oil, the pops of the rounds, seeing if I could get a good score on the targets, and the cycling of the bolt. A different John thought was cool too, so he did it multiple times once he’d spent his allotted 10 rounds (the clacking of the metal sounding ominous and powerful.) I, being a bit of a follower at that time, did it too and we were all subsequently told not to do that. It wasn’t a good thing, just potentially damaging to the weapon.
Maybe Other John, despite being told no, still held the thought that it was cool and good. Later, maybe Other John joined the military where he could rack an M4 once he’d slammed home the magazine. Because in the end, it is kinda cool. That sound. It’s why they do it so much in the movies. “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine…”
Fast forward another few years and I’m in Boy Scouts. At one summer outing, perhaps a canoe trip, or a few weeks at Lake George, NY, we were given the opportunity to shoot skeet using 12-gauge shotguns. Mr. Scrawny arms here figured “why not.” The gun was heavy but I hit a few clay pigeons and it was fun enough. My shoulder hurt like hell the next day though.
Fast forward another seven or eight years and I’m out of college and making friends at work. I’d moved to Colorado Springs, CO that year and had made a friend who, unlike me, was into guns. One day he asked if I wanted to go up Front Range Road, a packed dirt road into the foothills of The Rockies, and take target practice with his nickel-plated, six-shooter pistol. There is a small range that was off that road which was frequented by types such as he who liked the sport. A bunch of nice guys who respected that special hum that firearms have. That’s how I found myself holding an AK-47 and aiming it at a three-quarter-inch piece of steel hung on a bracket stuck into a dirt berm 100 meters downrange.
“Don’t shoot at the plate!” several of those present yelled as I snapped off one shot, hitting the plate.
I wasn’t a gun enthusiast and probably shouldn’t have been holding an AK-47 in my hands, to begin with. I had a lot of respect for the weapon because few people don’t know what these things can do and the reputation they have…But I didn’t know everything about it; not like I should have. So, I took a breath and swallowed, apologized. No one said, but I’m guessing a ricochet was possible and if it found its way back to us, well, that’s would have been bad. I felt a little foolish but pulled the trigger another three or four times in rapid succession (into the dirt berm this time) and handed the weapon back to its owner. I felt outside of the gathered group because I was not as familiar with firearms as they were. Safe enough, but maybe not as safe as could be. When dealing with firearms, safe enough wasn’t enough and it was a little uncomfortable feeling that way. It didn’t reduce the utter power I felt firing that gun. The crater left in the metal plate from my single shot was impressive and scary at the same time.
I haven’t fired a weapon since then (nerfs don’t count, obviously.) I took a National Institute of Justice firearms examination training class and I’ve thought about getting training on handguns at a local firearms shop for more practical experience. It is in the vein of “that’s something I’d like to know” interest than an interest in acquiring a firearm or pursuing guns as a hobby. Like getting my drone cert from the FAA. I like aviation, I have a Single Engine Land cert, why not get the drone cert, too. Because I could. Maybe someday I will visit the firearms store just for the knowledge it could bring.
And with all that, and a fast-forward several decades, it was a strange thing to be handed a shotgun and an AR-15 style rifle, and then to be carrying two M4s down the hall of the police station so they could be booked into the Property Unit as evidence. An M4 that belonged to an officer who’d just fired it.
But that’s for another essay.
Photo by amirali mirhashemian