"Welcome to the dark side", said the moustachioed man with the car load of guns after a day at the shooting range. I shook his hand and thanked him for the experience.
"What the hell have I done?" I wondered to myself as my hands continued to shake for another hour after I got inside and began to reflect.
On Friday morning, my friend and colleague Anand and I were invited to a shooting club outside of Kingston, Ontario.
Dave, our guide, gave a tour and safety talk before we set up at the range we would use.
"This is a safe place to shoot. We've never had an accident," said Dave. "That's really what this place is - a safe place for people to shoot guns."
Dave made it very clear that his intention was to show firearms in a different light than the one propagated by movies and the media. He is a retired member of the Canadian Military and has a breathtaking amount of knowledge regarding firearms. With each gun he produced from his truck there came an in-depth lecture on the make, model, and history of the weapon.
With me, Dave's greatest concern seemed to be my lack of vision and whether or not I would hit the target. There was a noted mix of surprise and slight disappointment when I managed to put some lead through the paper target. Surprise that I had done it, and disappointment that it really took no great gift to achieve exactly what the tool was designed to do. Sure, I would never be a marksman, but then - I have absolutely no desire to be.
There were rounds being fired all around us, the ground shook and the air was shattered sporadically throughout the hours we spent on the firing range.
"What do the members of this club argue about?" asked Anand,.
"Nothing. We don't argue about anything."
Right - there's no disagreement. Just shoot. Pull the trigger.
It was very easy.
I must admit that in the moment I fired it was too damn easy. The first gun fired before I even realized I had touched the trigger. I thought maybe it was a hair-trigger, but Dave assured both Anand and I that it wasn't in the slightest.
Thankfully, there were no consequences, really. We were shooting at paper targets 20 yards away.
Well - that is the realm of the imagination, and I'm afraid we aren't all cursed with that little gem.
What stops a person from jumping from the platform into the path of an oncoming train? Imagining the grief of your loved ones, perhaps. Imagining the mess someone has to clean up. Imagining the horror…
I am blessed/cursed with an imagination and I can't shake the feeling of pulling a trigger… the sound… the recoil…
And what was I hitting? Well - it was a piece of paper.
That's an important distinction. It was, after all, just a piece of paper.
I fired pistols, handguns, shotguns, high powered rifles… an AR-15.
(When I got home I researched the AR-15 which was a foolish thing to do, I suppose. I discovered that it is the weapon favoured by mass-shooters in the US. Yeesh.)
My first target was nothing more than a black triangle on a white piece of paper. Innocent enough. From where I stood, some 20 yards away and with less than 9% vision, it was a smudge on the horizon. I held the guns at an angle I felt was somewhat right, and then pulled the trigger, not sure what I was going to hit…. By luck and happenstance, a couple of bullets pierced the paper. The sensation of pulling the trigger and the recoil of the weapon made my arm shake for a minute or so afterwards. I muttered to myself, "what the hell am I doing?" which became my refrain for the next couple of hours.
As another weapon was loaded and offered, I resigned myself to at least trying it… after all, I'd come all this way. To turn back now seemed like a waste of gas.
The sound of the guns going off made me flinch and shudder. I hated it.
I couldn't name the feeling. Fear seemed about the closest thing.
Point and shoot. It's like a video game, only louder and it shakes you to your very core…
The next target Dave stapled to our wooden stanchion at the far end of the range was called a "Charging Ivan" - the figure of a man in army fatigues, holding a rifle and rushing forward. Dave explained that these were standard for military target practice. In his days they were named after the Russians, but they could be called anything…"Boris", "Mohammed", "Donald"… something relevant to the current conflicts in the world.
I got a look at our "Ivan" as he was being stapled to the wooden mount. A man with a stern look on his face.
Why are we shooting at a man?
Dave further explained that armies don't tend to put convenient targets on their soldiers…Anand made the comment that it would actually make a lot of tactical sense for an army to put false targets on their soldiers to confuse the enemy - something just a little to the left of the man, as it were.
No jokes allowed.
This is serious stuff, after all. This is shooting.
Again, from where I stood with the gun in my hand, "Charging Ivan" was nothing but a blur. This time I was handed a shot-gun and told to brace it against my shoulder and line up the sights. My left eye and my right-handedness made sighting impossible. So - I held it at hip-hight and took my best guess.
I'd heard this gun go off already and gritted my teeth for the volume and the shock of it.
The recoil was a jolt to the spine. No idea if I had hit anything. We had to walk forward to see…
Patterns of holes adorned "Ivan"… I had hit him.
I had hit it.
We must be clear - that piece of paper is not a "him" - it is an "it".
And this is where that damn imagination gets the better of me…
My imagination races.
I imagine firing a few rounds into "Ivan" and then suggesting to Dave that we change the target.
I wonder how far we could take this thing. It is only a small step from a triangle to a cartoon "bad guy".
Is it a big step from the "bad guy" to a cartoon of me?
My imagination can take me to the very edge, and what stops a person from going over?
That's the question I have for the Dave's of the world… what stops you from going over? What stops you from turning a bit to your left or to your right when you're on the range?
My imagination stops me.
I must admit that I have wrestled to find the positive and the good in that day. My immediate response was visceral and traumatic. I suppose that the first and last take away is "respect". I had held in my hands several tools designed to disfigure, disable, damage, maim, and kill. It is an incredible, terrifying power.
It took a lot of writing and processing before I had a good night's sleep. While my friends and family have diagnosed me as being "sensitive" I can't help but want to feel settled about my experience. I dearly wish I could shake it.
I'd expressed as much to my mother, who in her infinite wisdom replied, "maybe this is one of those experiences that you shouldn't be comfortable with."
She has a very good point there.
When I pulled the trigger, adrenaline pumped through my veins and the experience would seep into nightmares and horrid thoughts as yet unfiltered and unprocessed.
I have, since my day at the target range, thought more about murder, suicide, carnage, and the horrors that a gun can do than I really want to admit. For someone who has been hospitalized with suicidal thoughts, that's kinda' saying something
And now that I have this experience, my imagination needs no further fuel.
Respect the weapon, but I will not be comfortable with it.