My mom recently won a silent auction item for a NRA-sponsored gun safety and basics class. She invited me and several women from her women's group to attend. I was a little nervous to say yes, but I have always wanted a proper introduction to firearm safety, so it was too good to pass up.
The class was three hours, and we spent the first hour or so in the classroom, learning the basics: proper safety and handling, the different type of guns and their parts, and about ammunition. The emphasis was on proper handling and safety; we had all the time in the world to learn mechanics later, but we would be firing live rounds in just a few minutes.
The range was very loud, and very cold. I never thought about the mechanics behind ventilating an enclosed space full of gunfire, and it was fascinating to observe an environment I had only ever seen on TV or in movies. Between the ten ladies in my class, and regular range visitors, it was crowded. And loud. Really loud. Even with ear protection. Involuntary jerking, twitching and eye blinking is absolutely par for the course... especially when someone a few lanes over is repeatedly firing a large bore shotgun. I found the noise annoying at first, but I quickly became grateful, because it provided a rapid desensitization. After about fifteen minutes, I barely noticed, and was able to better pay attention to my instructor.
I was paired up with my Mom's good friend Chris, and together we learned from our instructor Chris, a calm and lovely woman who is an expert in black powder firing (think Civil War musket loading and firing). She is a skilled teacher and I would study with her again in a heartbeat. Partner Chris went first, and I observed over their shoulders as they reviewed proper handling, ammunition loading, aiming, firing, and ammunition removal.
We each spent about thirty minutes getting the feel of the guns we were using: one revolver (Smith and Wesson 6 shooter w/single and double action) and one semi-automatic (Ruger Mark II w/10 round clip and bottom release).
We were each given fifty rounds of .22 caliber ammunition; Chris started us both on the semi-automatic, then moved to the revolver. The firing experience was not dramatically different between the two, but it was different in subtle and elegant ways. The revolver was heavy and a bit awkward to fire, and for me personally, far more accurate. The semi-automatic was a more comfortable fit in my hands, with an easier trigger, but my aim varied from shot to shot.
My fourth shooting round was my second time with the revolver, and as you can see above, I did quite well. Roland's litany circled round and round my head:
I do not aim with my hand;
He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
I aim with my eye.
I do not shoot with my hand;
He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
I shoot with my mind.
I do not kill with my gun;
He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.
I kill with my heart.
I had two big takeaways from the three hour experience:
- Firing a gun can be a very zen experience. When focused on proper handling and proper technique, there is little room in the brain for anything else. The gun was just a machine, not a scary weapon of doom, and I was just a person learning how it worked.
- Firing a gun is a physically tiring activity. I had no appreciation for the amount of muscles involved in the process; I was fatigued all over by the time we finished. I now understand why there is so much muscle strength building included for men and women who learn to handle firearms for a living.
I can see myself taking up target practice as a hobby; it is a form of self-competition, like beating one's time in swimming or running. I always thought I might be interested, but there was only one way to find out, and I am so glad I stepped a bit outside my comfort zone and learned how to pull the trigger.