Do you remember coming home from school as a child having drawn a pretty picture that you wanted to show your Mom or Dad? Let’s say you got a good grade on a test that was very difficult or brought home that much-improved report card? Do you remember having a smile on your face that you couldn’t wipe off? It was having a sense of excitement to share this accomplishment with your people at home and hopefully receive further accolades from them.
“Look what I made!”
“Look what I did!”
I had a similar feeling this week. No, not a pretty picture, not a much-improved report card, but close. I was on my way home from the gun range where I was taking my second private instruction in shooting pistols and I had several paper targets with beautifully (in my mind) clustered bullet holes. I excitedly wanted to show them to people.
I was just as excited at the end of this second lesson as I was after the first. I had worried that I might not be. On the way there, I remember thinking, what if the novelty wears off? What if it isn’t fun anymore? It was a lot of fun the first week – repeatedly firing the 22mm revolver and the same size semi-automatic pistol. Fun? Yes, Fun! And doubts aside, it did continue to be fun this second week as well.
I suppose when I say, “It’s fun,” it may sound a bit juvenile for a woman my age. It’s empowering. It’s confidence building. It’s interesting. It’s exciting. It’s fun. If it weren’t fun the other “It’s” wouldn’t really matter. I don’t need something outside of me to be empowered or to build confidence. I am fairly self-entertaining most times. But this is just fun. And I am good at it. Eighty percent, by the way, better than most beginners, my instructor said at one point. Then later after he gave me his larger caliber sidearm to shoot, he shifted it to 90%, in spite of the fact that the larger caliber gun was a bit daunting for me.
I can’t explain it, really. I couldn’t hit a target in college with an arrow during archery for my physical education requirement. I have trouble hitting the pins in Wii bowling – or real bowling for that matter. I often walk into walls and doors. For some reason, when I hold up a gun in my hands at the ends of my outstretched arms and I close my left eye, the sites just line up and bullet flies directly into that square in the middle of the target. During my first instruction, the young man asked me towards the end to hit the center of the target at the top. Did he think hitting it in the middle was a fluke? Was he testing me? I raised my sites a little higher and hit it where he had requested.
I heard him behind me exclaim, “Wow!”
I had never picked up a gun before taking the Massachusetts Basic Fire Arms Safety Course two months earlier. This is the course that you need to take in order to begin the lengthy process of applying for a License to Carry Certification in Massachusetts. I had never touched a gun before. I wanted to know, in very controlled circumstances, with professionals on hand, how I might react to holding a gun and even shooting a gun. Initially it was not about the license so much as this experience. The first time I took the class at a police department in a town near me a couple of guns were passed around the room as we watched a very quick PowerPoint presentation and took a test as a group. Needless to say, we all passed and were handed our certificates on the way out just two hours after beginning.
I don’t think I was the only one in the class surprised by the lack of hands-on experience included in the course. Most people were relieved to be dismissed so quickly so that they could get on with their weekend. I felt like my big “Why” for being there was completely unaddressed. This was all I needed to apply for a license and purchase a weapon that can kill? I was surprised, but it was true. This was all that was required prior to the application process. I did not feel I knew enough about myself in this situation to apply for a license based solely on this class.
A friend directed me to the Fire Arms School where I am currently taking instruction. I retook the same class there. It was quite a bit more involved. There was a sense of the gravity established immediately as the instructor spoke to those of us embarking on the path to gun ownership. Midway through the course we learned how to load each a revolver and a semi-automatic pistol. That was considerably more “real” to me than passing an unloaded gun around the room. Everyone, except those who had experience, had some shakiness to their hands as we took great pains to keep the barrels pointed away from us.
At the end of four hours, we were ushered in small groups to the indoor range where we put on safety goggles and headsets to protect our eyes and hearing. It was oddly important to me to be one of the first. I did not want anyone to see when I completely missed the target or worse yet, freaked out by the explosive sound of a bullet leaving the barrel, started to cry. To my surprise, neither of those things happened. The last slide on the presentation was an image of the sites you would see on a gun and how to aim so it was fresh in my mind. In case I forget, this is also the logo of the school and it is prominently displayed on the chest of every instructor.
I stepped into the private cubicle with one of the assistant instructors. There were two guns waiting on the counter and a target out in front of me. We had six shots with each gun. I picked up the revolver first. I copied the stance I remembered from the class earlier and took aim.
It is surprising how much squeeze you need to put on the trigger (unless you cock it manually first, then it is nothing, I learned much later on). Pop! I saw that first one hit the paper target within the square in the middle. Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
Most of the shots that followed were clustered around the first in the upper right corner of the square with a couple straying outside the square. Wow! I thought. Wow! I handed the revolver to the instructor supervising me. Then I started to wonder if someone else had hit my target and I actually might have missed? Was that possible? I picked up the semi-automatic. My hand was shaking, but I felt oddly calm. I apologized repeatedly for shaking.
“Don’t worry about it. It happens to everyone,” he said.
Five shots again clustered just near the others, with one stray off to the side. I knew from somewhere in my reading or television watching that clustering was good. I was oblivious to the couple not in the center.
“Good job!” The instructor said and pointed towards the door. They had nearly forty people to get through this part of the class. “Now, go wash your hands, cold water, remember.” I nodded. Cold water washes off the gun powder on your hands. Hot water might open up the pores and lead could get into your system. I left through the double doors and entered the hallway carrying my paper trophy. I took off my glasses and headset and hung them back on the rack.
Another set of students was waiting in the hall for their turn.
“How did you do?” One asked. I held up the paper target.
“Wow! Killer!” someone said. I smiled and headed for the restrooms.
Back in the classroom where even more were waiting, there were more complimentary sounds and another “Killer!”
I gathered up my things and carrying that first paper target as carefully as possible made my way to the car. Like a picture I had colored as a six-year-old, I did not want it to get creased or damaged in any way before I could share it. I photographed it after I got home, a drive filled with alternating doubt and excitement. Had I really hit the target every time? Had I really clustered those shots myself? I shared the image on social media and the responses were similar to those from the class members.
Each hour of private instruction that followed that initial course ends the same. I carefully take the targets with me proud of the accomplishment. It’s exciting to learn something new and to discover new talents.