The gun was solid, heavy and black. Simply holding it was the closest I’d ever come to actually using a firearm. Not that I hadn’t been around them. Oh no, on the contrary. The problem was that growing up most of my experiences had involved how not to use a gun.
There was the time my friend’s father got drunk at her birthday party and he and his best friend sat up on the porch shooting at a for sale sign across the neighborhood. He and my friend’s mother are now divorced.
There was the time my uncle (by marriage, not by blood) thought it would be great fun to ride down I-40 waving his pistol at passing cars and laughing. He and my aunt are now divorced.
And then about 15 years later, there was the time I was at a party out in Cruso when my boyfriend decided to fill everyone in that I’d never shot a gun. Despite all the party’s requisite inebriation, it didn’t stop a partygoer from dragging me into the back bedroom, pulling out a pistol and begin loading it — which is precisely the moment the phrase “I’m gonna die, today I’m going to die” began repeating in my head.
I was unceremoniously dragged onto the porch and ordered to fire at the gas can, a can sitting rather immediately next to the campfire mind you. Rather than heed the advice “all you have to do is squeeze it,” I cowered around the side of the house with my hands over my ears and waited until they ran out of ammo.
That boyfriend and I are no longer seeing each other.
Not surprisingly, I have been what could loosely be described as “terrified” of guns. Granted, in each of the aforementioned situations it was the people involved, not the weapon itself that posed the danger. How these people remain a part of the gene pool never ceases to amaze me.
Having spent the better part of a year covering crime at a previous newspaper job down in South Carolina, and having come back home to Western North Carolina where guns are more of a way of life than a lifestyle, I thought it was high time I conquer my fears.
I’d met Sgt. Scott Buttery, a certified firearms instructor, at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office about a year ago while working on a story. I explained my desire to learn how to properly use a gun; he said he’d be happy to teach me.
And so there I was, wrapped in an extra camouflage raincoat, surrounded by lockboxes of ammunition, the shots of our fellow marksmen Kevin and Jennifer seeming to reverberate off my teeth each time they fired.
Jennifer, a Western Carolina University grad student and Southwestern Community College employee, had purchased a gun for her husband at Christmas. They’d both enjoyed it so much, she decided to go out and get her own. She was in the process of applying for a concealed weapons permit.
Unable to put off the inevitable any longer, I raised the Glock, closed my left eye and slowly, steadily squeezed the trigger. The gun bobbed slightly upwards. I squeezed again. And again.
Stopping to look at my target, a torso-shaped piece of cardboard with a black and yellow target in the middle of its chest, I was disappointed. My bullets had not pierced the intended area. But Jennifer, seemingly an eternal optimist, chimed in.
“You did good,” she exclaimed. “You killed him.”
I looked again. She was right. While I had not hit the target, I had shot my cardboard man in the head and chest — twice.
And so, with the sun breaking through the clouds overhead, I began a three and a half-hour long session, running through a clip, reloading, running through another clip, reloading .... The beauty of the sport is that despite the weapons’ awesome power, they are designed for precision. It is a competition against fellow shooters and against oneself — hit the target, hit the target more often, hit the target faster.
I shot the Glock, the MP5-K — a submachine gun, and the same model Sheriff Jimmy Ashe carries — the M4 — an assault rifle — the M1A — a military style rifle and my personal favorite, the Kimber 1911 (see target). When all was said and done, my arms were sore and I needed a nap.
Spending time at the shooting range has not become a regular sort of thing, which my mother greatly appreciates, but I’m not ashamed to say I had fun. So until next time — lock and load.