Last weekend I did something that I don’t usually do. I played with guns. Real guns. With live ammunition.
We were in Texas, celebrating Joe’s dear mom Sonia’s 80th birthday, and on Saturday we all needed to come up with some fun activities that would address the broad demographic range within the family. Most of the Democrats went to see the movie “The Tree of Life.” And ordinarily I might have done that, too. But for some reason, I decided to buck the stereotype, and I went to the shooting range with the Republicans and the one other trend-bucking liberal. I’m sure that my conservative Texas father-in-law and brother-in-law were both surprised that I decided to go with them. But I was just balancing out the group dynamic, along with my fun-loving, Illinois biologist brother-in-law, and the biologist’s 11-year-old son. (That really smart boy knows all about guns, and he owns and is training to use a compound bow, of the type that has to be registered with the state as a lethal weapon.)
So last Saturday I somehow ended up at Red’s Indoor Shooting Range. I had never been to a shooting range before, and for an overly sensitive pacifist with an exaggerated startle response, such a place takes a fair bit of getting used to. But once I had made the initial BIG cultural and sensory overload adjustment, I noticed that the folks who ran the place actually had an aura of real mindfulness about them. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by that; after all, it would quickly become a bleak venue for The Darwin Awards if shooting range managers did not embody and foster an attitude of mindful presence. Still, it was eye-opening for me to notice their mindfulness, especially given my casual, unexamined assumptions about gun-toting Second Amendment types.
Father-in-law Harry had brought his Sig Sauer 9 mm, and Andy brought his Beretta 387. I shot both guns a few times. On my second shot with the Beretta, the hot bullet casing ricocheted directly and perfectly into the tiny space between my glasses frame and my face, lodging there securely. The burn mark is still visible a week later; but I set the gun down carefully and mindfully before I started jumping around, yelling and clawing at both my protective safety glasses AND my normal vision glasses. (Being kind of a reactive-nervous-system type, I hadn’t been really sure that I could actually be trusted to even be safe around guns; so I was glad to note that I treated the gun carefully even when in sharp pain reaction mode.)
The guys had already fired several times each by the time Andy’s Beretta was passed to me, and the target had bullet holes all over it. So instead of clustering my shots in the same center area that everyone else had been aiming for, I pointed the gun at a diamond-shaped sub-target in the lower left corner of the printed target sheet. I thought that several new holes appeared in the immediate vicinity of that diamond, and I was pretty sure those were my shots; but I couldn’t say for absolute certain that those holes hadn’t already been there when I took the gun. “How can you tell whose holes are whose,” I yelled to brother-in-law Sam. He disappeared briefly, and reappeared with a fresh, new target just for me. They put the target up in Harry’s shooting slot, and I changed places and switched to Harry’s 9 mm.
As I took my TV-cop-show firing stance, Harry stood behind me and put his hands gently on the backs of my shoulders. (I was quite touched by how sweet and supportive he was being; but he told me later that he was just making very sure that he was well out of the way, in case I shot wildly.) I lined up the two aiming marks on the gun, breathed in, and on the second half of my out-breath, I gently squeezed the trigger. The major recoil nearly knocked me over, but I just barely managed to absorb the shock and remain steady on my feet. I paused, adjusted my stance, aimed carefully, and brought my focus of awareness to my breathing again three more times. “Oh my God!” yelled nephew Isaac, sounding shocked. “Aunt Russ is a really good shot! ” On the fresh, new target, there were 4 bullet holes, all within just an inch or two of the circled heart. My father-in-law seemed to look at me with new respect, and he remarked several times that day about my shooting prowess. Somehow I felt very validated by that.
Going to a shooting range was really a marked departure from my usual type of activities. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the folks there would have been as friendly to me as they were if they’d known who and how I really am in my normal life. I happened to be wearing a dorky fishing vest with a lot of pockets that day, so, at first glance, I might have almost passed for a person who routinely carries bullets around in her pockets, just like the guy behind the counter. But I knew how different our world views were, and I was actually kind of nervous about just being around people who were so into guns.
However, after shooting those big pistols, I could really feel at a visceral level how target practice, and maybe even shooting in general, could be really appealing. There’s a certain mindful stillness that’s really required in that activity. Maybe that’s how the folks I think of as “Second Amendment types” get in touch with that side of their nature. Maybe meditation and shooting actually kind of appeal to a somewhat similar impulse in people. I don’t know for sure. But it’s an interesting possibility to consider.