Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Gun Range

(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.


Tasha Alexander said...

Hey, Libby!

You hit a nerve here. I'm as mild-mannered as they come, but I've got this secret desire to learn how to shoot a gun. Not because I want to be able to protect myself, but because I want to shoot a really cool gun.

One of these days....

Eliza said...

I own two handguns, and my husband owns three more (and a few rifles he's had since he was a backwoods kid). We each have one for their historical value (his is an authentic Colt 1911 that traces back to WWI and mine is a Colt 1903 .32 that still shoots fine, but is so light that the kick throws off my aim). I write historical crime fiction, so that's why he got that particular gun for me. He also has a Springfield 1911 (yeah, he likes the way the 1911s are put together) and we each have Glocks. I got the .45 36 and he has a .40 22.

I was fortunate enough to learn to shoot from the guy who wrote the FBI handgun manual. Yeah, I think guns-in-fiction are cool. I cheer for Jack Bauer and David Boreanaz when they pull good form. But when it comes down to it, the idea taking a life, human or otherwise--

I have a really big problem with it. It's funny-since I became a mom (last year, as of tomorrow!) my entire outlook on life has changed. If someone's threatening my baby's life and I have the power to stop it, I don't think I would hesitate. But even hitting a leg can kill someone, not just maim 'em like in the films. And on the other hand, what happens when you do pull the trigger and hit someone in the chest or arm and they still keep on coming at you?

I took a self-defense course from our local police department. The cop said that the problem with packing heat (or carrying any kind of weapon with you, even pepper spray) is that you've got something that can do -you- damage. If you're not a hundred percent sure you can beat the bad guy, don't carry the weapon.

I still love to shoot at the range, too. It feels good, and I like knowing that if it ever comes down to it, I'm not powerless. But turning a gun on a person in real life? The thought freaks me out bad. This may explain why I haven't fired a weapon in nearly two years.

On a lighter note, the Sigs are really nice, aren't they? Too pricey for us, though. I got to hold an HK last weekend. It was small enough for girly hands like mine and it felt really good and heavy. Give them a shot (pun totally intended) if you ever get a chance.

Christa Faust said...

I don't currently own a handgun because I keep on foolishly squandering all my hard earned cash on groceries and rent. I do love to shoot though, and I have a coffee can full of pennies labled: Sig P232.

And you're right on about how much fun it is. It's really almost dirty, the rush you get from shooting. The physical feeling of it, combined with the fact that it's so wonderfully unladylike. I highly recomend it.

- Christa

ab said...

Thanks for the post, Libby! The eternal problem - guns! Especially for old little ladies who hate them...but have to write mysteries.

I avoid longer descriptions since I don't give a damn, and yet old militaries admire my accuracy on stuff like guns and explosives (they REALLY scrutinize every word!) I did shoot once, in the cellar of the police building, with a Russian Kalasjnikov. And once with a standard police pistol. Velocity of bullets and calibres - bah!

Libby Hellmann said...

Nice to "see" you Tasha. I'll save a place on the range for you.

Eliza, what a remarkable comment. I understand exactly what you mean about protection. If anyone came near my kids (and my youngest is 18) I'd be aiming at them in a flash (hmm). Btw, what type of HK do you recommend?

I forgot to mention I shot an M-16 too. Really, really liked it. Much too much.

Thanks also to AB.. and Christa, you and I ought to hook up on the gun range. A little wager perhaps?

Pete said...

>>How do you feel about shooting, especially our female readers?

Libby, the line above is rather unsettling if you don't read it just right. For the record, I am strongly opposed to shooting The Outfit's female readers--and the male readers too, for that matter.

Mary said...

I'm with you Libby. Shooting is a real rush. I think someone at the ThrillerFest shoot said it was better than sex ;-)

But I also don't want one in my house for many of the same reasons you list.

I keep meaning to get in more sessions at the shooting range, but there are only so many hours in a day. But I'm really looking forward to the next opportunity.

Barbara D'Amato said...

My kids gave me a .38 Smith & Wesson for Mothers' Day. Best gift since the time they gave ne a yad tractor.

Barbara D'Amato said...

I meant yard tractor.

Christa Faust said...

>>Christa, you and I ought to hook up on the gun range. A little wager perhaps?<<

You bet. Next time I'm in Chicago. Or if you're ever in LA. Or maybe we can meet in Vegas at that place where they let you shoot full auto.

MysterLynch said...

It was in Raiders of the Lost Arc. In Temple of Doom, he went for his gun, only to find it was not there.

Yep, I am a movie geek.

Libby Hellmann said...

Thank you for the correction, misterlynch... I should have known better...

So Barb, when are we going to the gun range?

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

The cool thing about shooting is you can do it with out ever killing something or someone. I love target shooting, skeet shooting, and trap shooting.