Pushing 60 and taking aim

It had to be seen to be believed.

Take one late-50s politically correct chick, complete with moussed hair, high heels, skinny jeans and a designer jacket on and plop her in the middle of a gun safety class. Set this at a local sporting goods store somewhere in the nether-land between the California Valley and San Francisco and you would have a picture of my recent experience.

I am there at the behest of my semi-conservative husband who plans to buy a firearm for domestic personal protection. I grudgingly consent, since I would rather have knowledge of the weapon than face the prospect of having it in my home and pleading complete ignorance of it.

The class runs for approximately two hours — one hour to teach its attendees about the proper use, disposition and storage of a firearm as well as describe the most common varieties of pistols; the other hour to shoot them within the facility’s concrete-clad firing range using the knowledge just introduced.

I look around me. A middle aged couple that looks like a pair of accountants sits across the opposite table. Several young, expressionless single folk are there as well, asking no questions whatsoever. This worries me. Another couple at our table is animated, but the female uses an expletive when accidentally hurting her hand as the unloaded sample handgun nips the fleshy part of her hand as she cocks it.

The female instructor is a 65-ish pistol packin’ mama, a retired military nurse, approximately 5 feet small and well versed on her subject. She proudly shows us her pride and joy — a purple (it comes in colors..) semi-automatic .22 with a laser site.   As she describes how to ‘drop’ an intruder, my stomach turns and the expression on my face reflects the conflict within.  By the time she describes the most effective locations in which to place a bullet, my heart rate has increased to new levels.

I ask a few questions, such as what statistics had been gathered regarding the number of accidental shootings or wrongful deaths occurring in homes where people lawfully keep firearms. I’m sure I saw someone roll his eyes. Although I get a fuzzy answer, somehow I feel better having asked. And when the subject of “the government establishing more gun control laws designed to impede on our civil liberties” comes up, I am obviously outnumbered as the only Democrat in the room.

I stay silent on it, since all those around me will soon have guns in their hands.

By the end of the classroom portion, the instructor is humoring me. She can tell that I feel like the proverbial fish out of water and assures me that knowledge is power and that the more I get to know the weapons and how to properly use them and treat them, the less intimidated I will be by them. I nod hopefully.

Just before we head to the store’s basement firing range a huge ZZTop clone of a man walks in to punch his time card. “This is Fred,” says the diminutive instructor. He is the ‘range master.’  “Gee, I like your tie, Fred,” she says as she spies it dangling over a sizable midsection. He smlles, grunts and leaves the room.

Soon we are divided into two groups — one group has never before touched a gun; the other has, at one point in their lives, laid waste to a paper target or otherwise. I am one of the three ‘special’ people who would be singled out as a gun virgin, which suits me just fine.

“You know I’m gonna write about this,” I tell my husband skeptically as we enter the elevator that will take us to the firing dungeon. He laughs.  As the doors open, I look to my left. A toothless man sits atop a bar stool and flashes me a big grin.  A time warp has just placed me in a wilderness scene from Deliverance.  I swear I can hear dueling banjos.

My tiny Annie Oakley sequesters me and the other two rookies into a small, narrow firing chamber, motioning for me to take the middle stall.  By now I have stuffed gummy bears into my ears, fitted plastic-and-rubber ear muffs over my David Yurman earrings and am straining to see through some very hazy safety glasses.  She hands me my first weapon — a single action .22 that looks no different from the kind used in the old west. It is heavy and awkward in my hand as I lace my pink-and-white manicured talons through its smooth metal musculature. “Load it!,” she orders, and I quickly dump an entire cache of bullets in the tray in front of me. They were tiny and rolled in every direction, making me feel like an idiot for not knowing which end was up as I de-boxed them.

As she points out how to rotate and place bullets in each chamber, the impending reality of shooting a gun for the first time is suddenly looming large.  “Got it loaded?  Great.  Aim for the bull’s eye and start shooting!” she says.  I lean back, as if I am trying to distance myself from the weapon. I cradle my gun-toting hand with my other hand and take aim.  I hit the paper!  By shot # 6 I even got close to the middle. I am encouraged to lean in instead of backward and my next round is even more accurate.

The little lady knows what to do next. She hands me her purple gun. It’s lightweight, sleek and sexy. I look through its laser site and spot the green dot as I aim it at the bull’s eye.  I hit three shots directly in the middle. A huge smile comes over my face. She knows she’s got me.  I have suddenly become Annette Bening in American Beauty, taking thrill at the pop of each shot. I send for my target paper to inspect it more closely before sending it back to decimate it further.

By the time our hour is up,  have learned how to load the gun’s magazine and hit the center of my target dozens of times — even more than the young man in the next stall. I am high as a kite.

“Can we come back and practice? That was FUN!” I ask my other half.

I can’t believe I am hearing myself says this.

“You betcha,” he answers.


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