by Marcus Sakey
Ever fired a gun?
You've seen it thousands of times on screen, of course. But have you ever actually held or fired one? Most people haven't, and so there's something they don't realize.
Guns feel terrific.
Just holding one. A gun embodies a tactile balance of metal and grace. Smooth and heavy, they smell faintly of oil, and fit your hand so perfectly that you wonder if your hand wasn't made for the gun, rather than the other way around.
Which is maybe part of the problem, too.
Two weeks ago, I was out in Utah, writing an article on rock climbing, which is very good work indeed. Afterwards, I drove to Los Angeles to see a friend, a former Army Ranger, gang cop, and current LAPD firearms instructor. We went to a range in the hills and spent three or four hours firing a multitude of weapons.
I had done a little shooting before, when I was about eighteen. I had a .22 rifle, and once or twice fired my dad's .38 snubnose. I remembered it fondly, the feeling of holding a weapon, the precision and ease and rhythm required, the satisfying roar and punch when you pulled the trigger.
This was different.
We shot an AR-15, structurally a very similar weapon to what our troops are using in Iraq. An AK, the most popular insurgent weapon in the world. An authentic World War One Mauser with a kick like a rhino. We shot skeet with his imposing-as-hell shotgun (my best run was 6 of 8, launched one at a time; his was 10 of 10, flung 2 and 3 at once.) But the real fun was the handguns. He had about a dozen: several Glocks, a Beretta, a 1911, and some others.
As I mentioned, my friend is an instructor. So this wasn't just a couple of yahoos blasting away. He taught me how to hold a weapon, hands braced, maximum amount of palm to the grip. The proper stance, legs apart, gun directly in front, arms extended, elbows straight, wrists steady. How to pull the trigger slow and gentle, keeping the sights as centered as possible, but not trying to catch a moment--just keeping them on target and pulling so smoothly that you are almost surprised when the thing actually fires.
All which allowed me the supreme pleasure of sending row after row of bowling pins flying.
Now is probably a good point to interject and say that despite the tone thus far, I'm really not a gun nut. I'm a member of the ACLU, and well left-of-center politically. I wouldn't say that I'm against the NRA per se, but I do question the need for readily available armor-piercing rounds. And while I respect the Constitutional right to keep and bear, I also think the country would be a far better place if we weren't awash in weapons. I don't worry about people like my friend having guns; I worry about fourteen-year-old gangbangers.
They say that guns don't kill people, that people kill people. That's true. Guns just make it a hell of a lot easier.
Having said all that, let me say this: Firing a weapon is an intense experience. You are tapping into raw power. As a kid, I used to stare out the car window and pretend my eyes were laser beams that could slice everything I saw. A gun is the physical manifestation of this fantasy. You point it, move a finger, and something far away is shattered.
As I said, intense. Which is part of the problem, too.
The title, and theme, of my debut novel comes from a Homer quote that reads, "The blade itself incites to violence." I've held swords. Real ones. They don't incite nearly the way a gun does. The fact is that guns are made for shooting, and when you pick one up, it's very hard not to aim it at something.
At the same time, in the hands of a trained individual, a gun is a tool. It might be all that protects you or your family. In 1987, Florida made it legal for adults to carry concealed weapons; since then, more than 20 states have followed suit. And while the subject is hotly contested, research by the University of Chicago suggests that states that adopt those laws reduce their murder rates by 8.5%, rape by 5%, and aggravated assault by 7%.
What's my point? I haven't made up my mind. I've been musing about it since I returned, and it's had me swinging back and forth. So I thought I'd throw it out for discussion, see what you all had to say.
If you could, would you get rid of all our guns? Or would you go the other way, and allow regular civilians to conceal and carry in order to protect themselves and their loved ones?
And have you ever fired a gun?
Ever want to?