Suffice to say, when it comes to politics, I lean way to the left. Therefore it was much to my chagrin when, one fateful day at the laundromat, after I'd grown bored with Addams Family pinball and Ms. Pac Man and traded my flippers and joystick in for a six-shooter and a saloon brawl, I discovered my love for shooting games (of the arcade variety). I get enthused just thinking about the challenge sharpshooter games pose to my ability to stay alert and react and strategize quickly to keep on top of my game. Secretly, I want to live the life of Alias' Sidney Bristow.
So, I like to play shooting games. So what? So, my conscience chimes in, what does that say about you as a person? Do you ENJOY making sport out of the hunt? The kill? Have you no regard for other living creatures? SHOOTING PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BE FUN...not in real life and not in video games.
It scares the hell out of me that I like shooting games as much as I do.
The last time I shot a real gun, I hated it. I had just graduated from high school and was visiting my older brother and had tagged along with him to target practice. I remember holding the gun in my hand and feeling sick: I was holding in my hand a tool designed to take life. That's not my jurisdiction. I don't have the right to take another life; I don't care if it's the death penalty or self-defense1. I leave retribution up to whatever higher power or karmic cycle or natural order is in charge of things here.
One of the things we like to do at The Commonspace is check out quirky local offerings. Amanda and Brian will be pitching story ideas to us and the inevitable question always ends up being, "Yeah, what's up with that?" At our last meeting, we were talking about a shooting range over in the industrial area by The Hill that many of us frequently drive past. The painted bullseye on the side of the building and signage proclaiming "open to the public" had piqued everyone's interest. What's up with that shooting range in the middle of an industrial ghost town, anyway?
Since I've been contemplating the gun issue of late and was curious to see if now that I enjoy hunting people in video games I liked shooting guns in real life any better these days than when I was when I was 18, I decided to check it out. Besides, my NRA card-carrying big brother was coming to town for a visit and he could come with me. We could do some brother-sister bonding and I could probably talk him into bringing his gun with him on his visit so that I wouldn't have to rent one.
When I called ahead to the range to inquire about their rules and regulations regarding types of guns and ammunition, I got quite a surprise. I planned to ask a few questions, jot down the answers, and report back to my brother. But my conversation with the guy at the range went something like this:
"So, what kind of gun do you have?"
"Uh, well, I'm not sure. It's my brother's gun and "
"You're calling for your brother?!?! You hang up this phone and tell him to call himself!"
"Well, no! I'm calling for me. It's just that I asked my brother to take me shooting while he was in town... and he's providing the firearm... and I'm just trying to find out the rules so he knows what kind of gun and ammunition to bring with him."
"Ohhhh, okay. We just have so many guys who have their wives or girlfriends or sisters call for them and I always tell those gals to have those lazy men call us themselves. But if you wanna shoot, that's great! We love having women come to the range! You know they're always a better shot than the men, even if they've never shot in their lives. The ladies always shoot way better! Not trying to shoot like in the movies like Steven Segal or some gangsta."
As long as I didn't bring an Uzi or armor-piercing bullets, I'd be okay.
My brother and I went to the range on a Wednesday night. It was a lot like a bowling alley: you pay the guy up front for your lane and, instead of shoe-rental, eye and ear protection. This earns you the right to pass through door #1 into the buffer zone where you make sure your eye and ear protection is in place before passing through the next door and crossing over to the other side of the bullet-proof glass. I took my place at my lane and hung my paper target. Using the handy dandy little joystick dealie, I positioned the paper target about ten feet from my stall.
Instead of smelling like bowling leaguers' cigarettes and spilled beer, the range smelled of gun smoke and sweat. And let me tell you, I worked up one heck of a sweat using both hands to steady and aim that heavy, old-school, six-shot Smith & Wesson revolver. More than a hundred rounds of .38 special ammo later, I proved to be a pretty darn good shot, close-range, despite my fogged up safety glasses and aching arms. Shooting is a dirty, sweaty business, not for someone afraid of hair frizz or gun powder-streaked hands.
Shooting at the range is nothing like at the arcade or on TV. It's dull: rote practice with no kind of strategy or intrigue involved. In other words, it's a lot of work and not a lot of fun. It's definitely not a game.
I was four years old the first time I shot a gun. My dad, then an investigator for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, had set up some tin cans atop a couple of sawhorses in our back yard for practice. Even with the headset on, I thought the shots were awfully loud, but I liked being a part of what my dad was doing and I liked the feeling of empowerment that came with sighting the cans and shooting them off of the orange and white striped sawhorses.
At that time in my life, guns were not a source of fear. They were to be respected for their power and handled safely and responsibly by people like my dad: people in law enforcement. And when the "bad guys" came and turned our backyard into the OK Corral, I was glad that my dad and my big brother had guns and knew how to use them. There are many bad things about being at a shootout, but I imagine being unarmed would be one of the worst, especially if you are the one at whom the shots are being fired.
Of course, as I came of age here in St. Louis, I came to realize that not everyone's dad was James Bond and that not every kid was followed home by the bad guys and that not every family regularly received threats against their physical well-being. Hell, for most people, bad guys only existed in fiction. And, the older I grew and the farther into retirement my father progressed, that's how it became for me. Guns no longer played an everyday role in my life.
As a child, guns symbolized protection. My dad and brother had a respect for guns and their power; they practiced safety and restraint. As a socially aware young adult, guns came to represent for me tools for anger, revenge, and destruction. Unlike my dad and brother, my peers carelessly used guns as a means to an end with no seeming forethought to the consequences of their actions. While in high school, a classmate of mine got into a disagreement with another student at a party. He settled the argument by walking home to get his gun and then returning to the party and shooting (and killing) the guy who'd fought with him.
I was a good kid: student council president, high school valedictorian, blah blah blah. When I was a junior in high school, I got into a verbal disagreement with a police officer outside a basketball game at my school because I refused to leave my pickup point and relocate across the street to wait for my ride. Frustrated with my insolence, the officer asked me if I was aware that he carried a gun, to which I replied, "Are you threatening to shoot me?" Guns don't make me feel safe, not even when they're in the "right" hands.
Given only this sample of my personal experiences, not to mention my generation's shared cultural experience of the threatening role guns play in police brutality, domestic violence, and such tragedies as the Columbine shooting, I would be a fool not to advocate gun control.
Guns may not kill people, but they certainly make it much easier for people to kill people. Guns make it possible for murder to be anonymous and impersonal, spatially and emotionally distancing shooters from their victims. There's no need to look into the eyes of your prey when using a gun, guns don't require the predator to get blood on his/her hands the way a knife or fists would. They don't require the personal interaction or intellectual warfare that poisoning or pushing someone off a ledge would. Guns provide instant gratification they make fast-food murder possible.
It is this reality that I struggle with, even knowing that a gun in the hands of my father and brother has likely saved my life more than one time. Guns may not be the cause of violence and murder, but they do enable people to engage in violence without the difficulty of personalizing their actions. And this is why I'm wrestling Heston.
Caroline Hackmeyer is the co-founder of the as-yet-unmarred-by-warring-posse-violence Maplehood Rekkids.