I have never been a fan of guns, nor have I had a strong opposition to them. No one in my family hunts and I think it is a barbaric diversion, but I admit to enjoying a good shoot-em-up movie and fantasizing that I can leap through a window, gun in hand, empty both clips into the bad guy and rescue the girl. The closest I ever got was paintball, laser tag and video games, which was enough for me. Plus, I never really had an opportunity to fire a real gun. It would be easy enough to find a place where I could pay to shoot one at a target, but it was never that important to me.
A few weeks ago, my new roommate, John, asked me to go range shooting with him. Since it remained low on my list of things to do with my day off, I didn’t clear my schedule for it. But last weekend, I had no reason to put it off any more. Besides, I didn’t want to look like I was too much of a wuss to go shooting.
Admittedly, for several reasons I was a bit nervous. First off, I had held a gun all of once in my life and that was in the presence of numerous police officers for a media event. It was a sniper rifle and I fired it once. I didn’t even technically hold it, since it was mounted on a table; I just pointed it and pulled the trigger. Second, we were going out into the hills to shoot. We drove plenty far away and there was not a soul around for miles, but for all I knew the Invisible Man would happen to be out for a walk in the desert outside Reno that morning. Third, it’s a gun! Loaded. With bullets. Those things hurt!
But I swallowed my nerves and played it cool as we drove. Under Washoe County Code 50.092, you have to be at least 5,000 feet from any homes to fire a pistol, rifle or other firearm. We were much farther away than that, deep into the rolling hills west of Lemmon Drive. Far enough away that no one would find my body for a while if my roommate turned out to be psycho. Add one more thing to the list.
We pulled off the road at a spot near some radio transmitters with a wonderful view of Reno and the whole valley. We launched a few spuds with John’s (the roommate’s) potato gun and then hauled a hay bale from the bed of his pickup. John pinned some paper plates with targets drawn on them to the hay and pulled out a case with his Glock 33 in it. He loaded the bullets and handed me the gun. I held it gingerly by the handle, letting it dangle between my finger and thumb as I carried it toward the target. I pulled the barrel to cock the gun and felt the rush shoot up my arm. The feel and sound was just like in the movies and suddenly I was invincible.
Until I shot the gun, that is. No matter what I did, I couldn’t hit the target. From about 30 feet away I lined up the sight and squeezed the trigger. But nothing. No holes in the plate, not even a spray of shattered hay. Just a small cloud of dust behind the bale. To add injury to insult, the kick of the gun put some nasty scrapes on my thumb that bled like crazy. I had to stand 10 feet away to actually hit the target, and even this I still only landed three out of 10 shots.
I did manage to shoot my ego full of holes that day, but despite my lousy aim I felt a little bit more manly. The steel in my hand and the forceful kick when I fired it were very empowering. For just a minute, I pretended John Wayne and Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis all rolled into one and that hay bale was an outlaw or bank robber or terrorist who had to be stopped and I was the world’s only hope.
In reality, I am goofy sidekick and John is the hero; he hit the bull’s eye more times than I could count. At least someone in the house can handle a gun.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go to the arcade to practice my aim.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.