Know your enemy. This is an appropriate credo in the ongoing gun safety war being waged between logical people like myself and associations like the NRA and the ever-growing NAGR (National Association of Gun Rights). It is especially pertinent given their positions; which range from unreasonable to bat-shit crazy. How could I, an inner city, pseudo-intellectual liberal, ever understand the staunch if not fanatical stance of a prototypical, rural, god-fearing, pistol-packing gun nut?
I simply could not. Unless, perhaps, I tasted the object of their indefatigable blood lust.
And so a week ago, with great reluctance, I visited The Range 702; a large, family-oriented and tourist-friendly gun range in downtown Las Vegas. My mother lives in Vegas with her husband Matt, who arranged the activity for my older brother and us.
It is notable to add that Matt is not a card-carrying member of the NRA, and thinks “They are a government sponsoring organization with too much power for all the wrong reasons.” He holds this position while, at his apex, boasting of a personal armory of sixty-seven handguns; which he collected strictly for their aesthetic value.
“How would you like to shoot a machine gun?” He asked after my mother informed me of the outing, his face engulfed in a wide grin. It took me about three minutes to respond with some sort of grunting affirmative acknowledgment.
My family knew full well how I felt about guns. They also knew that we were a week removed from the Senate’s failed attempts to strengthen gun safety and they shared in my outrage. The gun debate is one of the few issues capable of driving my virtuous mother to profanity.
“It might be fun,” she said with the effervescent joy that emanates from her pores. I looked at her and forced a smile. “I’m sure it’ll be a blast.”
The Range 702 is enormous; replete with a grill (that shockingly and gratefully does not serve alcohol), a gun store and even a VIP lounge with a billiards table. They offered a variety of gun packages where, after providing comprehensive instructions, they hand you various firearms for you to fire at your leisure.
We opted for the Zombie package, which included the following:
- a single-barrel, pump action shotgun – 5 rounds
- an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle – 25 rounds
- an AK-47 full-automatic assault rifle – 25 rounds
- a Glock 9 MM handgun- 10 rounds
It was called the Zombie package because they gave you a Zombie target and, presumably, because all of the included weapons could efficiently slay Zombies. ‘This’ll be fun’ I thought. ‘It’ll be just like a video game…except with live ammunition.’
When instructor Zach asked who wanted to go first, I stepped forward assertively if not desperately. I didn’t want to stand around, reflecting on how I was betraying my principles, abandoning my core values and taking a veritable shit on my own soul. I just wanted to squeeze the trigger and start ‘having fun’.
Earlier, I said we would be handed the firearms after ‘comprehensive instructions.’ Zach’s comprehensive instructions lasted thirty seconds and then I had a Glock in my hand. It was lighter than I thought it would be and the kick was manageable. The shots, muffled by the headphones, were startling. The gun felt mildly familiar in my grip, having been an avid Duckhunt fan in my younger and more vulnerable years.
When I retrieved the target, the instructor nodded in approval and my mom beamed with delight. Of the ten rounds, most were center-mass and head shots. Had this been ‘real world’ and not a ‘training op’, the Zombie would have been dead six times over.
“You want your mom to take a picture?” Zach asked? I shook my head ‘no’. I didn’t want any photographic evidence of this.
Next up was the shotgun and again, I opted for the Zombie target. I wasn’t ready for the legitimate target because I was just horsing around and shooting Zombies. “Look at me mom”, I said before taking the gun in my hands, aiming and firing. This one kicked. I felt it in my shoulder, my teeth rattling, the shots ringing a bit louder than the Glock. The odor of gunpowder filled the air; a scent akin to a chemical fire seasoned with peppercorns.
Again, my aim was true and the Zombie was dead; his head and chest cavity obliterated. Mom was delighted. “You’re a natural!” she exclaimed. I said nothing because deep down inside, I felt that there was nothing natural about this.
“You want a picture?” Zach asked. Again, I declined.
It was at some point during his twelve-second tutorial on the AR-15 assault rifle that I decided I would write about this. The gun he held looked different than the pictures I had seen on the news in the wake of the Aurora shooting. And the Newtown shooting. This one was green and fitted with a 25-round clip, not the shockingly-still-legal 100-round drum magazine James Holmes jammed into his rifle before going to the movies.
I used a standard target this time, wanting to genuinely gauge my accuracy with a weapon that, for me, was synonymous with both mass-shootings and the excessive clout held by the gun lobby.
I squeezed once. The shot was loud, the kick surprisingly slight and compact. I squeezed, twice, three times. I could see the target flutter with each shot. I squeezed again, and again, in rapid succession, the shells discharging, some bouncing off my head before sprinkling to the ground. Having never fired a gun before that day, I fired twenty-five rounds in twenty seconds.
And I never missed the target.
“You want a picture?” Zach asked. This time I nodded and turned to face my mother.
If you look at my target, you will notice the above-average ‘grouping.’ I had never shot a gun, let alone that gun before. Yet after ten seconds of ‘comprehensive instructions’ and twenty seconds of firing, I could do that to a target. Yet my expression in the photo is not the pride and joy one would presumably experience with a fun and thus far successful day at the gun range. I admittedly felt exhilarated but also nauseous as I handed Zach the gun and glanced around. Was there anywhere nearby that I could take a shower?
I felt dirty. And wrong. Despite the advanced ventilation system, the scent of gunpowder was getting thicker. I watched without a hint of surprise as my brother and then my stepfather squeezed off their twenty-five rounds in twenty second intervals; each doing so with startling accuracy.
All three of us agreed…the AR-15 was fun and easy to shoot. It didn’t matter how strong you were or how experienced you were or how psychologically stable you were. Any person could legally pick up this weapon and fire up to a hundred bullets in one minute without re-loading…and do so quite accurately.
And even in the wake of numerous mass shootings, anybody could still do so without the pesky hassle of a background check.
God Bless America.
The next and last gun I fired was the AK-47. This was a machine gun. Fully automatic; a weapon that is still legal in this country but requires background checks and has other safety valves in place; an approach that should be extended to ALL firearms.
I pulled the trigger and three shots sprayed out. This was a weapon that I could not control. I pulled again and four shots peppered the target, some missing the silhouette entirely.
A piercing pain shot through my shoulder, my hands and my jaw, which I was clenching. I pulled again and five more shots, more pain. Five more shots, even less accurate, even more pain. I turned and handed the gun to Zach.
“Get this fucking thing away from me,” I said. He laughed but I wasn’t kidding.
He removed the clip and one last time asked, “You want a picture?”
My target was a mess; with bullet holes splayed all over the place. As I watched my brother and stepbrother fire away, also struggling to control their grouping, I reflected. No human could possibly have a need for these weapons beyond the battlefield.
I theorized as to why a person would NEED to fire a hundred bullets in a minute.
- To protect their family from an invading militia?
- To fend off an escaped psychiatric ward of violent psychotics?
- To single-handedly take out al Qaeda?
- To protect a casino from Ocean’s Eleven?
- To protect one’s children from a posse of pedophilic burglars?
But the only reason that made sense was this.
- To kill a large number of people in a short amount of time.
In day-to-day life, that is the AR-15’s only practical reason for existing.
You want fun? Learn to dance the Salsa or go windsurfing.
You want sport? Play racquetball or fantasy football.
You want safety? Get a single-barrel pump-action shotgun and, trust me, you’ll feel safe. The sound of pumping a shotgun is enough to make anyone stop dead in their tracks.
I got back to my hotel and I still smelled gunpowder. My ears were ringing louder than usual and I had what looked like a hickey on the front of my armpit. The range let us keep our targets and my mother insisted. I told her to burn mine and I thanked my stepfather for a ‘fun’ afternoon.
I now ‘knew’ my enemy. And I understood him.
But instead of sympathy, my empathy just left me with more confusion and rage tan the already substantial amount I had previously harbored.
Because now that I knew my enemy…I hate him more than ever.