Here’s a little fact about me: there are certain things in life I am sure I am going to be great at, despite never having done these things before. Shooting was one of those things. I have always assumed that I was bred to shoot, being that my dad comes from a long line of gun-owning farm people, and because I’m pretty okay at Big Buck Hunter and because I once shot a whole heap of plastic Batmen with a pellet gun. How can you argue with such strong scientific evidence?
On the trip we had a bucket list, and on the bucket list was shooting and Las Vegas seemed the perfect place to shoot guns. In fact, I would argue Vegas itself makes you want to shoot guns and not in a peachy keen nice way.
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen or held a gun. My grandad, Pete, had a locked room in their house, filled with rifles. I remember it being scary, mostly because it was right next to a really dark staircase that I was constantly afraid of falling down. When the government had the gun buy-back, Pete sold a lot of guns and spent some of the cash on Christmas presents for his grandkids. So to me, guns meant: Batmen, scary staircases and awesome Christmas presents.
How could this fail?
This is how: the first person who teaches you to shoot probably shouldn’t be carrying a concealed weapon he’s more than happy to tell you is legal to do if you have the correct drivers licence, attend and eight hour course and are not the crazies. I misheard and thought he said eight day course. Because that would make sense to me. If you’re going to legally hide a thing on your person that can kill people, surely you’d need at least eight days to understand what that meant. No. Eight hours and you could have a Glock strapped to your person, and you can do some damage with a Glock. I know, because I went on to do some damage with a Glock.
We had entered a hive of proud gun nuts and they thought it was very, very cute that we were alarmed by the release we had to sign which essentially said: ‘Oh yeah, and if you happen to get shot on this here premises where people are just walking around with handguns then … that’s kinda your problem. Guns don’t kill, people with guns kill guns, wait … what?’
It was very formal.
We all chose to shoot fully automatic M4s and Glocks and we lined up very quietly while we learnt things like: don’t put your hand here or you’ll slice your thumb when you fire; bullet casings are really hot, you may get hit in the face with them and if you do, you should let your face burn rather than panic and turn around with a gun in your hand; Fiona’s nickname is Bambi and/or Baby Rambo; the Australian government is weird for having such tight gun laws; wear your shirt over your concealed weapon because if you walk into a convenience store that’s being robbed, you don’t want that guy to see your gun, you want to “assess the situation” and surprise him with it.
Needless to say, by the time I had the M4 in my hands, I also had a mouthful of bile and was seriously having to question what I would do if I peed my pants in public. I would definitely not turn around with a loaded gun, that’s for sure, lest Shooty Shootenstein next to me wanted target practise. I could just see him mounting my head (in the taxidermy sense) and saying to his buddies ‘And this one here, this one’s a ‘Stralian. Weird breed that one, had some real crazy ideas …’.
I swallowed hard and repeated to myself ‘Do not let this man mount your head (in the taxidermy sense), Julia. Do not let this man mount your head’ and I aimed and fired.
I hated it. I was so disappointed that I was not a natural gun nut.
I can’t explain what firing a machine gun felt like, except that suddenly I realised the damage a bullet would do to a body, how fast it would happen and how you could never, ever take it back. Shot bullets are much like puppies at Christmas time, kids. They are for life.
Downcast, I watched the others take their turn, my new sneakers now scarred with marks from falling red-hot casings.
Then it was time to shoot the Glocks, which I was sure would be even more terrifying. They looked like toys and they are small and allowed way more space to spin around from the target. What if they recoil was so strong that I spun around and found myself facing my friends, or them me? Nobody would be getting a puppy for Christmas, that’s for sure.
Again, with a great deal of trepidation, I fired.
I loved it. I was so relieved! Maybe I was a secret gun nut after all!
Glocks pack a punch, for sure, but suddenly the fact that they look like toys and a much less unwieldy than an M4 was awesome. I forgot I had two magazines to shoot and I actually skipped back to my instructor when he reloaded for me and told me I got to have another go.
I toothily grinned and thumbs-upped Fi and Marty and Kel.
Then Kel stepped up and shot bulls-eye after bulls-eye. The gun nuts were silently appraising her, and during re-loading her Glock, questioned her self-proclaimed very limited experience with guns. I could tell they were thinking of mounting her, and not in a taxidermy way.
Throughout our trip, we visited seven states and spent time chatting to locals in conservative and liberal pockets all over and opinions varied. I had dinner with Americans in Seattle who didn’t understand their country’s own gun culture; I drank with a guy in Tucson who used to own guns and now chooses not to, though he came from a family of bonafide gun nuts in Chicago; I contemplatively chowed down on a salmon burrito one night out in San Francisco while the guy across the table from me slapped the table and told me he owned several guns because his constitution said he had the right, dammit!
Would I shoot a gun again? Yes, because I don’t like not being good at doing things I assumed I would be a gun (ho, ho!) at and I can appreciate that there’s skill to being able to target shoot well, but I can’t imagine any circumstance where I’d want to own one or that I’d ever be able to point one at anything with a pulse. Mostly, I think if I had my time again I’d shoot with people who didn’t get their pulse rates up by shooting at targets printed with photos of lecherous men holding kids hostage, because honestly? Combined with the tight jeans they all had hitched up practically to ther armpits, it was all just slightly weird.