The Day I Learned To Shoot
by Jonathan David Morris
14 April 2004
It's hard to keep and bear arms when your own arms can barely keep the gun up.
Last summer, right around July 4th, it occurred to me I ought to support the Second Amendment. Not that I ever opposed it, per se.
I just hadn't thought about it before. But I realized last summer the right
to keep and bear arms is crucial in this era of post-9/11 "vigilance." I
even wrote an article
about it, but never went further than endorsing this right. "I'm not opposed
to the idea of owning... a gun," I said, "but I don't believe I'll need to
any time soon." Why? Because "I buy my meat at the store and get along well
with most of the folks I know."
All fine and good for a guy who, prior to that, had little more than experience
with cap guns. Since then, however, I have paid closer attention to the gun-rights
cause, and I have decided, once and for all, it's about much more than eating
free meat and ending arguments. In fact, the cause isn't really about that
at all. And, of course, this comes as no surprise to those who've long supported
it, who by and large despise the idea of ending arguments with guns. But
you have to understand I come from New Jersey, where guns are resigned to
gun culture, with little or no place -- for most of us -- in everyday life.
For example, in '02, Gov. Jim McGreevey passed the nation's first "smart
gun" law, requiring firearms with built-in sensors to prevent non-owners
from firing them. "This is common sense legislation," McGreevey said. Oh,
it's common, all right. About as common as smart guns, which McGreevey knew
full well did not exist when he signed the law.
But anyway, all that aside, there is a definite gun community here in the
Garden State, and last Wednesday -- more than two months after saying, "I'm
going to get off my lazy rear end and learn how to use a gun already" --
I decided to join it. Sort of. What I did was I picked up the phone at around
4 o'clock that afternoon and dialed a shooting range midway between work
and home. When the guy on the other line answered, I asked him: "Do you offer
classes or anything like that?"
He paused for a second. "For what?"
"For guns," I said. "The only thing I've ever shot was water into a clown's mouth to pop a balloon at Six Flags."
"Well, come on down," he told me. "I'll show you how to use one. No better time than now."
He'll show me how to use one, I thought. Can he show me how to get dragged
into a dark alley and beaten, too? I was sort of expecting an actual training
session, I mean. You know, about safety and whatnot. This all sounded so
unofficial and spooky. But, then, in retrospect, I realize I live in a fantasyland,
police-state here in New Jersey. Most folks probably learn how to shoot from
their dads by age 11 -- or hell, from their moms by age 12.
So I hopped in the car, headed on over, and decided I'd give it a shot. Pun intended.
Within the hour, I pulled into an unpaved lot near a big, forest-encircled
field. No big, brick buildings here. Nothing too fancy. Just a trailer, a
gun rack, and under a dozen honest, everyday men. Brawny Paper Towel-types,
mostly. But throwbacks. I'm talking about the Brawny Man before he went metrosexual.
They were just putting their guns down to take a breath and adjust their
glasses when I walked up. An older man wearing white with blue pinstripes
approached me, saying, "You must be the fella I spoke with."
"Name's Jonathan," I said, shaking his hand.
"Nice to meet you, John."
That's Jonathan -- not John -- I thought. Johns are toilets. But it's close
enough, I told myself. Pinstripes here owns guns. He can call me whatever
he wants. Joan. Jerry. Late-For-Dinner. Didn't matter -- I didn't want to
be dinner, after all.
"Well, it's an interesting game we've got here, John," he said. He pointed
just then to three green huts -- or "houses" -- across the width of the field.
Targets would be launched from behind them, he told me -- like tennis ball
machines. I was expecting something more along the lines of a bowling alley,
honestly, with bull's eyes instead of pins on individual lanes. Turns out,
though, this place was set up for skeet shooting. That's where five guys
get in a line and rotate from station to station, taking shots at targets
in turn. It's more like five pitchers' mounds than bowling, I guess. "But,"
Pinstripes said, "it's good stress relief."
And so he handed me earplugs and a belt with some ammo in it, and we sat
down in folding chairs as five other guys got into line in front of us.
Pinstripes showed me what seemed like a yellow joystick. "Whenever one of
these guys is ready," he said, "they'll yell, 'Pull,' and I'll pull the target."
"Pull!" the first guy yelled.
Pinstripes pressed a button, a disk flew out, and -- BOOM! -- the guy blew it to bits.
Before I could tell myself, "Hey, this reminds me of Nintendo's smash hit,
Duck Hunt," the second guy shouted out, "Pull!" Pinstripes hit the button,
and once again -- BOOM! -- the disk shattered over the field.
(The joystick sealed the deal on the Duck Hunt comparison. Only thing missing was that damned laughing dog.)
"I can do this," I told myself. "I don't know how, or why, but I can do it. I think."
About a half hour later, Pinstripes walked me over to the gun rack, handed
me a Remington 3200, and showed me how to hold it without breaking my jaw
(i.e., with my cheek sort of resting on the handle). With four guys already
waiting to start the next round, Pinstripes brought me to the open station,
said some key things I couldn't hear through my earplugs, and told me, "Whenever
you're ready, just say, 'Pull.'"
Listen: I was born ready.
"Pull!" I called out.
A disk took flight.
I hit the trigger.
And I felt a skip in the space-time continuum. And the world shook beneath
my feet. The ghost of the dog from Duck Hunt showed up and started laughing.
And I swear to you it felt like someone punched me in the face.
"Just missed it," said Pinstripes. "Go again."
Go again? Are you crazy? All right, all right. Let's see here. Square up. Take a deep breath. You ready, JDM? Too late: "Pull!"
Here it comes.
There it goes -- straight past the target again.
Who the hell keeps punching my face?!
I soon took a third shot, and a fourth, and missed both. The gun was getting heavy now. My arms were too tired to hold it.
"Square your shoulders," Pinstripes said.
"I can't," I wanted to answer. And the other guys eyed me -- in a patient
way -- as if to say the same thing. And it's true: I just couldn't muster
the strength to lift the gun again.
But alas, like Rocky Balboa, I heard ringing in my ears, but I didn't "hear no bell." One more round, Adrian. One more round.
And so I held up the gun against my arms' wishes, and I did my best impression
of the proper stance. I told God I was thankful for the good times and took
my deepest breath yet. I closed my eyes -- just kidding -- pulled the trigger,
"You got it!" someone shouted.
I got it? I got it! I mean, of course I got it. I'm good at this. An old pro.
"You want to try a whole game?" Pinstripes asked me.
I looked at the guys on the line. The patience they'd shown me betrayed the
stereotypes so often assigned to gun owners. And I thought about the Second
Amendment for a moment, and how it's not meant to destroy life and liberty
but to protect them -- a point I believe now more than ever before. I handed
Pinstripes his Remington 3200, said, "I'll get out of everyone's way for
now," and sat down to watch the next game. I then headed out to my car, satisfied.
Tired, mind you, but satisfied.
It's hard to keep and bear arms when your own arms can barely keep the gun
up. This much I know now. Mission accomplished, though. The rest I'll have
to work on.
Jonathan David Morris is a political satirist based in New Jersey. His website is Read JDM.
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