Some of you who know me a little better may be intrigued and slightly disturbed by this post’s title. Alas, it is as it seems. Despite heavy protestations, my Houstonian friend insisted I experience all of Texas’s fabulous culture, including having a go at shooting. That’s right y’all, these hands have lost their purity (no dirty jokes please…). They have wielded a gun and proven relatively good aim. Watch out.
And to those of you who know my clumsiness a little better, I know what you’re thinking: in charge of a gun? She surely shot off a toe. Oh ye of little faith, I shall ease your fears. I return home ten-toed.
Alas, that same concern occupied my mind on the drive to the range. While I imagined a hyped-up building something akin to a tenpin bowling range, I was met instead with an unobtrusive low brick building, shared by the Memorial Shooting Centre on the right, and – in true Texan fashion (a melding of their two passions) – Crosspoint Community Church on the left. In front of the gun range sign, a small placard advertised ‘Vacation Bible School’.
Enter, shoot, repent.
The gal behind the counter welcomed us with typical Southern friendliness and a good flourish of the classic y’all. We all were told that as first-timers, a quick briefing was required. ID was handed over, our firearms arranged and with a few flicks of a pen, I had full authority to hold and shoot a gun.
In a small classroom, our instructress placed semi-automatic handguns and shiny golden blanks before us and I stared down at my Smith and Wesson with a great deal of apprehension. Its very design looked formidable, bulky, angular and shaded a black that swallowed the light.
We were told firstly to always aim the gun downrange, our instructress emphasizing this point severely, and then adding that ‘what we like to tell the kids is to imagine a laser emanating from the barrel’.
I tried to prevent my mouth from dropping, but my Houstonian friend looked unsurprised that children took lessons at a gun range. This is the US, after all. I suddenly realised that the ID wasn’t requested to confirm my age.
We were briefed on how to pull back the slide to check if bullets were in the chamber, and then practised pushing blanks in the magazine before inserting the magazine into the handle of the gun. Pulling back and releasing the slide loaded the chamber and made the gun ready to shoot, whilst doing the same action three times emptied the chamber of unused rounds.
And those were our instructions. We donned safety goggles and earmuffs and entered the crazy arena that is the ol’ shooting range. An almighty pop (imagine ten times louder than a party popper released next to your ear) made me freeze. The movies certainly don’t depict such an ominously emphatic, terrifying sound issuing from a bit of plastic and metal. Yet it was anonymous, the cause of the sound hidden by the partitions separating each individual shooter.
We had been warned about the noise. Only yesterday, the instructor told us, a woman walked in off the street to join a shooting class. Once they’d entered the gun range, the same noise startled this woman. She slammed down her gun, yelled out ‘OH HELL NO”, and marched out of the room. I must have appeared equally horrified, because the instructor checked that all was good before my noncommittal nod allowed her to continue.
Before we could be left alone, we had to prove our capability with the deadly weapon in our hand. She told us to load two rounds (two bullets) into the magazine and ready our gun.
With shaking hands, I picked up a cold, metallic bullet, a real bullet, a bullet that could kill, inserted it into the magazine and slotted the magazine into the gun. On her command, I raised the gun and, following the line of the target-finder, aimed it uselessly at the middle round circle on the paper before me. My hands were shaking too much to seriously contemplate a bulls-eye.
Shoot when ready.
I pressed down on the trigger, that horrible sonorous pop resonated in my ears, the shell ricocheted against my glasses, the recoil pushed my arms up involuntarily, a burst of heat grazed my hands, and a smell of burnt gunpowder, bringing to mind New Year’s Eve firework celebrations, pervaded the air.
With such a response, I thought that surely my gun misfired, or what with the thrust of my arms upwards, I would find a bullet somewhere near the ceiling. Alas, I found a hole not far from the middle circle on my traumatised sheet of paper.
We were given fifty rounds each and upgraded to sheets of paper detailed with the natural-green silhouette of a human torso. Beside me, a shooter popped his rounds into the image of a poor tortured zombie. In such an environment, it was easy to dehumanise the torso in front of me and I made sure I avoided shots to the head (that just seemed cruel).
One would think that after fifty rounds, my aim was sure, my confidence elevated, my arms steady. But I finally slipped out the emptied magazine and rested the gun on the bench with a good deal of relief. I won’t admit to not being thrilled by the danger of it, and of course, by the novelty. At the same time, I don’t aim to hold a gun for a good long time to come. These sullied hands need repentance. There’s always the church next door.
More American travel stories…
Texas is a funny place, I won’t deny it. But there’s plenty of awesomeness to be had, both there and across the rest of the US. Check out my other American travel stories today, from unravelling the mysteries of baseball to marvelling at the big Mother N of Yosemite National Park and plenty more.