“Don’t you think I should at least know how to hold a gun?” I asked my husband as he choked down the last of his chia, Vita-Mixed probiotic smoothie.
“Please,” he said, “I can barely swallow this organic poison you’re passing off as a power breakfast, never mind the thought of you twirling a sidearm ala Annie Oakley.”
“All I really want is to try out a gun. Where can I check one out?”
“Try out a gun? How the hell would I know where you could get a gun? Maybe you could ride the ‘L’ downtown; 7 people were shot on the Brown Line over the weekend. I’d say by the law of averages your seatmate is more than likely packing heat, perhaps he could steer you in the right direction. Then again maybe while you’re being robbed you could casually ask the thief where he purchased his weapon.”
My husband’s tone suggested that I was on my own so I tracked down a gun class and met Mr. NRA who predicted that in no time at all I’d be warning friends that they’d have to pry my weapon from my cold dead hands.
“I forgot to ask if you got any felonies, but you don’t look like a felon and I’m guessin’ you’re ‘bout 29 so you’re of legal age,” Charlie said when I showed up for Guns 101. “Have a look around and get comfortable.”
Comfortable? The place was a mass murderer’s dream—rifles hanging from hooks on the wall, glass cases filled with revolvers, shelves of guns everywhere. My eyes landed on a rifle-type thing that was different from the others.
“Charlie, I know zero about guns but is this what I think it is?” I said pointing to a really odd weapon. “Is this a sawed-off shotgun?”
“See you know more than you think you do,” he said with a grin. “Now why do you want to learn about guns?” he asked handing me a copy of THE BASICS OF PISTOL SHOOTING.
“Well soon we’ll have Conceal and Carry in Chicago and guns freak me out. My friend said that in Arizona all of the women carry tiny purse pistols. What if a little gun falls out of someone’s purse when she’s paying for groceries at Whole Foods?”
"So you wanna purse pistol?” he said.
“No, no, I don’t want a frigging gun even if it’s the size of a tube of lipstick. I just want to know what to do in an emergency, like if one falls on the floor. Do you throw a trash can over it or a blanket? Do you shout Stand Back! Do you yell GUN or is that like shouting FIRE in a crowd?”
Charlie had the same ‘you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me’ look on his face that my dog has when I ask him to get off the sofa.
“Open the book, Dorothy, we’re leavin’ Kansas now,” he said as he began the lesson.
I was surprised to find that there’s a difference between a bullet and a shell and a cartridge and that the numbers on a cartridge indicate power so a .22 and a .38 are different and damage their targets differently. I learned that guns flash, that revolvers are pistols and so are semi-automatics, that there is a whole other definition for magazine besides Vogue. I learned about dummy bullets and rubber bullets. We discussed straw purchasers and silencers and Saturday Night Specials. We even talked about the Geneva Convention and why “shoot to kill” is not the first choice even in war. Perhaps this was stuff that boys learned along the way as they grew up, but to someone who never even watched police shows on television, this was overwhelming, complicated and much more involved than expected.
Successful pistol shooting requires aim, breathing control, hold and trigger control and follow-through which explains why there are so many innocent bystanders sacrificed in Chicago’s gang warfare. Anyone can shoot, but competence is the part that escapes our urban cowboys though that doesn’t slow them down. Seventy people were shot over Father’s Day weekend; two died. Over the Fourth of July weekend, there were eighty-two shootings that resulted in 16 deaths--this despite Chicago having some of the nation’s toughest gun regulations. Apparently dope dealers didn’t get the memo about gun registration and gangbangers don’t have time to waste on criminal background checks.
After determining my hand/eye dominance, honing my grip, practicing my aim with sight alignment and focus, working on breath and hold control, we moved to the shooting range. Charlie lugged the locked metal toolbox up a half-dozen rickety stairs and then unbolted the padlocks and chain on the backdoor of the monster truck.
“Who’d ever think this was a shooting range?” I said as I got my first whiff of the sulphur-laden air while my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the fifty foot long tunnel lit by a single bulb connected to a battery with jumper cables. There was a table at our end and a bullseye board at the other; the entire floor was littered with Good & Plenty-sized cartridges. Behind the target, Charlie said, there was a six foot wall of shredded rubber tires to stop bullets. I thought of the eleven-year old at a sleepover who got a bullet in her head because the walls of her friend’s house afforded no such protection from the stray shot of a gangbanger. Right through the wall that bullet flew; the little girl never stood a chance.
”This is one eerie place,” I said as Charlie handed me ear protectors, a gun and ammunition.
“We’ll start with a .22—it has no kick—load it up, get in position. Now we’ll see if you paid attention when I was talkin’.”
I pulled the trigger and with that first BAM! Dorothy morphed into Thelma minus Louise. I fired all my rounds, the shots interspersed with my witless babbling. Oh my god, I can’t believe this, this is wild… Charlie handed me a different revolver with a longer barrel. “A little kick to this one,” he said, and I gripped, aimed and filled the trailer with even more smoke.
“Am I hitting the target? It’s dark at that end—I can’t see very well.”
“Yer' hittin’ it alright, and yer' consistent, Little Lady—you are a very consistent shot—a little off center but all the bullets are hittin’ within an inch of each other. Lotta’ women are better shots than men when they start--yer' hand/eye coordination is better ‘cause a all the sewin’ you do.”
Sewing? I wanted to tell Charlie that the last time I knotted a thread my cat aspirated the needle into her esophagus and wound up in the ER, that poor Coco Chanel was in ICU for three days. Instead, I went back to the firing line--this time with a semi-automatic and a loaded magazine. I concentrated on my aim with my dominant eye.
“No way I’d want to meet up with you in a dark alley,” Charlie said, macho code for Lady, good shot! I hit the target so many times in the same spot I made a hole way bigger than the bullet hole. Way to go, Thelma, I thought as I blew away the bullseye with the last of my ammo, ambivalent about my new skill set which abolished many of my misconceptions and made me a bit less intimidated, though it did not convince me to join the 100 million Americans who own 300 million firearms.
“You can apply for your FOID card now,” Charlie said when I handed him my gun. “Yer' trained and yer' competent--you can defend yerself and you’ll make the streets safer.”
“Oh, I'm not locked-and-loaded material, Charlie,” I said. “I don’t buy the idea that the answer to gun violence is more guns. By the way, would an ultraviolet light show gun powder on my hands?” I asked, as I held up my mitts. “Yep, you got residue on ‘em,” he nodded.“Well, I’m going to wash it off, Charlie, and wash my hands of guns. Conceal and Carry has motivated me to learn to shoot, but it won’t stop the mayhem. While Moms are marching for gun-control and you all spout the Constitution, the death toll mounts. The police chief juggles homicide statistics and the mayor distracts us with a Star Wars Museum. It's crystal clear, gun control will be decided by the last man standing.”