And now, as Monty Python would say, for something completely different. I admit it. I was wrong.
For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid of guns. I come by this fear honestly. My alcoholic stepfather was a "gun nut" as well as an equal-opportunity bigot who hated pretty much everybody. A lethal mix, I always thought.
He often took out his pistol and brandished it, ranting his rants. I was sure he would shoot all of us in our beds.
So I have always been a big gun control advocate. This might seem odd for a mystery fiction fan like me, but one reason I like mysteries is that they are almost always so moral-the bad guys get caught and punished by the last chapter. Usually.
But this year my BFF gave me an unusual birthday gift-a full day, women-only gun clinic in Scarborough, Maine. BFF and I aspire to writing mysteries and it seemed like a good idea to her. Plus, she's quirky, which is one of my favorite things about her.
Which is why we reported early one Saturday morning to the gun club amid much joking: "Do we get caffeine before they give us guns?"
Actually, yes. First big surprise: there were about 30 women there of all sizes, shapes, and ages, including another librarian, some nurses, an EMT, teachers, an office manager, a dog walker, and a PhD neurobiologist; only one woman admitted she was interested in self defense. Second big surprise: no actual guns in sight for the first half day. Instead we learned about safety, safety, and more safety. No "Saturday Night Special" jokes. No mother-in-law or ex-husband jokes. Also, we were issued a nifty tote bag; packet of tissues; a bumper sticker "Ladies with guns have more fun"(that I will not be putting on my car any time soon); and packages of hand wipes-so girly, right?
After lunch we were outfitted with "ears" (hearing protectors-and some of them were pink in color) and "eyes" (safety glasses) and taken to the outdoor range. Although there were guns at each place, we still weren't allowed to touch them for a while. More safety stuff, then we had to load the guns. Uh oh; I mean, I can't even load a stapler, and my ineptitude showed throughout the afternoon.
But I did get to shoot, and I came to believe what the trainers had said: that there is a very physical aspect to competition target shooting, and that taking aim has a Zen quality and requires breathing not unlike that of weightlifting. Who knew? We were told to compete against ourselves-which in my case was a good thing, because frankly, I'm a terrible shot. Although one of the trainers told me that most people couldn't hit the broadside of the big cardboard on which the smaller target was stuck, and I could most of the time, so maybe there is hope for me yet.
We fired several times, trying to remember the stance, what to do with the other hand (since we were using only one hand), to relax, to clear our minds, to take "one good shot" at a time. My excuse for my poor scores is my weak right shoulder muscle, the physical therapy one, which makes no difference in the "10 shots in 10 minutes" rounds but is a real problem in the "5 shots in 10 seconds" rounds.
My worst fear was realized: I like it. Am I a future champion? Heck, no-I'm awful. But I can see challenging myself with practice rounds, so BFF and I have been back for another session. Both times there was an expert helping each of us, and reloading when I screwed it up.
This has made me rethink gun control. I still don't think most honest citizens need an arsenal, no hunter should require an UZI, and I'm not naive enough to assume that everyone with a pistol has hours of safety training. I still think gun sales should be tightly regulated, with thorough checks to weed out the psychos and criminals. I don't believe it's really possible (see the "not naïve" statement above) to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, but I also understand why honest sportsmen (and women) should not be legislated out of their sport because others are crooks.
And I can see why target shooting is a sport, and I can see why folks own pistols (locked in a home safe, with the ammo locked in a different safe in a different room).
And I was wrong about something else. Shooters are at risk for lead poisoning; hence, the packages of hand wipes in our bags. Not girly. Now I know.