(Or what’s a knee-jerk liberal doing in a place like this? )
by Libby Hellmann
I wasn’t brought up around guns. Except for the Lone Ranger cap pistol that belonged to my brother, no one in my house had a gun (although I loved how the caps exploded).
I went through the ‘60s thinking the barrel of a rifle was something you stuck flowers down. I did and still do believe the homicide rate would be much lower with strong hand-gun laws. I was pretty much your guns-are-for-boors, the-NRA-is-all-wrong kind of gal.
Then I started writing crime fiction.
It began innocently enough – brainstorming how to kill someone in a book. I began a flirtation with poisons, and for a while, explored all kinds of natural substances, chemicals, and biological agents. Then I moved on to knives and other sharp objects. The old icicle trick was especially clever, I thought. You know, the one where you kill someone with a sharp icicle, then watch the evidence melt.
However, as my knowledge of my craft grew, I began to realize that the method of killing wasn’t nearly as important as the reason why. That murder, as heinous as it is, is simply a vehicle to explore the “seamy underbelly” (thanks, Barb) of human character and motivation. With that in mind, a gun is the most efficient, quickest way to dispatch someone. (Btw, I hope those of you reading this understand we’re talking hypothetically here. Really.)
In time, I came to adopt the “Indiana Jones school of weaponry.” Remember when Harrison Ford -- I think it was in Temple of Doom -- was confronted by a man gesturing and writhing in a complicated dance, encouraging a snake to uncoil and strike Indy? Our hero shrugs, rolls his eyes, pulls out his gun, (a 45 wasn’t it?) and neatly shoots the guy. And his snake. Well, that’s my attitude. When it’s time to get rid of someone in my books, just pull the damn thing out and do it.
Sounds simple, right? Wrong. There are still a multitude of choices to make. What kind of gun should be used? A snub-nose 22? A 38-special, a 9 millimeter, a 45? A pistol or revolver? And what brand? A Sig (my personal favorite), a Baretta, Glock, or Smith and Wesson? And what ammo works with each? To be authentic, I had to find out.
Which brings us to the gun range. I went for the first time about 7 years ago when our Sisters in Crime chapter organized an outing. We spent the first hour learning about gun safety. Then we shot a bunch of rounds.
The feeling was, in a word, exhilarating! I loved loading the ammo into the cylinder of a revolver. I loved feeling the weight of the weapon in my hand. I loved slapping the magazine into an automatic and feeling the satisfying click. I loved pulling the slide back and having to sight carefully. I loved the muzzle flash, the smell of cordite. I even loved the recoil.
Most of all, I loved the holes I made on the target. It turned out I wasn’t a bad shot-- something apparently stuck from all those years of archery. Even when the target was moved back, I consistently hit the kill spots. Hitting the target was incredibly empowering, especially since it’s not as easy as it looks on TV. I was proud of myself.
Since then, I’ve gone to the gun range about once a year, most recently during Thrillerfest when I shot an M-16 and a 20 gauge shotgun. I loved them both, even though the recoil on the shotgun almost dislocated my shoulder. I wish I could say that I learned to shoot for self-defense, or hunting, or some other socially acceptable reason, but that wasn’t the case. I still remember how a particularly good shot sent a ripple of pleasure through me. For me, shooting is, well, fun.
At the same time, there’s no way I want a gun in my home. It would be too easy to use. The truth is, despite the high of shooting, I don’t want to be too comfortable around guns. I don’t want to lose that sense of fear when the safety is off. I don’t want the responsibility. Shooting at the gun range under tightly controlled conditions is very different than shooting on the street. And though over twelve million women in the country own guns for protection, I don’t think I’ll be one of them. I still believe in gun control.
Still, I can understand the power that comes from brandishing a gun. The elation of pulling the trigger and seeing your bullet hit the target…especially if that target is threatening. I’m a mild-mannered women by day, but in my dreams, I’m Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, and Belle Starr, all rolled into one.
What about you? How do you feel about shooting, especially our female readers?
Have a great weekend. And for those celebrating Rosh Hashana, L’Shana Tova.