Sunday, August 29, 2010

Didja Hear The One About The Liberal Who Walks Into A Gun Range?

"So, did ya hear the one about the liberal who walks into to the shooting range?" Sounds like the beginning of every right wing nutjob's favorite joke, doesn't it? And you can just imagine the horrible punchlines to follow, right? Which is why I went incognito to a local rifle range today!

I know, I know, you're thinking, "What's a nice liberal like you doing in a place like that???"  I was as surprised as you are. It started out innocently enough, joking that my stance on gun control has taken a 180 degree turn since Tweenie has grown into a beautiful teenager. Little Man has become a crack shot with his bb gun (which I have to admit, I really enjoy shooting)! Our dear family friend Kelby said he'd teach me just enough to fill a boy's backside with buckshot should he be anything less than gentlemanly toward my little girl.  So when Uncle Kelby promised to take me out and teach me to shoot when he returned from Afghanistan, it sounded like a far-away promise.

But here we are, a year or two later, Kelby's home safe and sound. It's "Family Day" at the range. Try out any rifle you'd like, with free ammo and a discounted admission rate. Three families we're close with are going, and I'm finding myself more and more intrigued as the event draws near, and actually pretty curious about the whole scene. Would banjos play the theme to "Deliverance" in the background? Would there be spittoons and chewing tobacco? Would they think women should be seen and not heard? Would they see my Obama bumper sticker and fire warning shots over our heads? It felt like we were going into enemy territory, or at least under deep cover...

The range was up in the hills, on a dirt road that seemed to go forever. Signs read, "15 MPH - Watch For Cattle!" And they weren't kidding. There were cows and cowpies a-plenty. The kids had a big "Awwww..." moment over the little calf and its mama, and rolled down the window to moo at the cows as they gave us the "I hate it when humans do that!" looks. So far, relatively tranquil, rather "Home on The Range"-ish. Hey, this seems like a nice little day at the farm.

Suddenly, it sounded like a tire blew out - I felt the sound vibrate through the car's floorboards and in my chest - It dawned on me that it was a gunshot. Real gunfire. Holy shit, that was loud! I mean, you figure that it's a gunshot, of course it's gonna be loud, but damn! My daughter and I exchanged looks, eyes wide and eyebrows raised...

If you've read my blog at all, you know that my children are my most prized possession. I would never put them in harm's way. At that point, why didn't I question what we were about to do? Why didn't I have The Hubby turn around and hi-tail it outta there? Why didn't I text Melissa, Kelby's wife and one of my best friends in this life, and tell 'em we were bailing? One reason: Because I trust them implicitly. I would trust them with my life and with the lives of my children. They're family. I knew that Kelby would teach us what to do and how to do it safely, and I knew in my heart of hearts that Kelby would never put us in harm's way. We were surrounded by three other families that we love and who treat our kids as if they were their own. So with that trust, we moved forward, down the rutted road and past the cow patties that lead to the source of that chest-rattling report.

We got out of the car to the sounds of gunshots and made a beeline to Missy, who'd brought earplugs and noise protection. Once everyone was protected, we sidled on up to the range, with the guys toting their guns and Joanna in her  hunter-orange baseball cap, sporting the tag Minnie Pearl style. We were greeted with some interesting looks: this was definitely an all-male domain, and here come the womenfolk! But the owner was a sweetheart grandpa with a cowboy hat, handlebar mustache and a twinkle in his eye, who seemed to be amused by both the size and the makeup of our group, so we paid our $10 a head and took it all in while the guys set up the rifles and pistols.

It was a demo day for one of the gun manufacturers, so we could shoot anything they had and use all the ammunition we wanted for free. (Another revelation: Bullets are expensive!) We took a look at the rifles on display, and marveled at how easily the triggers moved - easier than the bb gun. Safety was an absolute priority-once I saw the emphasis on that, I was more at ease. Seeing two of my favorite police officers that have worked with my school helped to put my fears at ease. ("Your mom knows someone everywhere we go!" said The Hubby...) Then before I knew it, the owner had handed me a rifle and a box of bullets and was walking me down to a shooting table. He showed me how to hold the gun, how to safely load it, and how to aim. I pulled the trigger and heard the surprising ping of a bullet hitting a metal target. Okay, this was fun - easier than the bb gun! 

Kelby and Zach had brought a regular arsenal along. With much patient coaching from the guys, the whole family tried out Berettas, Glocks, shotguns, a variety of 22 rifles, an old west looking six-shooter thing, a 338 Lapua (sounds like a damn cannon!) and something Kelby called a 30 ought 6, which nearly landed me on my butt! The boys found a 223 rifle they loved (turned out to be the family favorite), and the satisfying ting of ammo hitting metal targets mixed with the various shots ringing out continued throughout the afternoon. Kelby coached us well, and everyone had a great time, amazed by their newfound skills.

The culture of the place, for lack of a better word, was not what I expected. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness and helpfulness of almost everyone there. The shooters were happy to share helpful tips, and had a kindly way of guiding us toward improving our skills. They were wonderful with our kids, and seemed to get a kick out of seeing how much fun we girls were having shooting the bigger guns and hitting targets. They were encouraging and welcoming, and that took me aback - this was not at all the atmosphere I expected. Their willingness to share their passion for the sport to a bunch of newcomers was admirable.

But then, we didn't talk politics. The owner said to me later in the day, "Y'know, women are the future of our sport. They vote. And if they like to shoot, they won't vote for the ones who don't like guns." And with a wink, he was off to help the next newbie in our group. It wasn't the time or place, and I didn't have the heart to tell him that in my case, he was wrong. Gun laws are necessary. Criminals and gang members should not have access to guns. And there is no possible reason for someone to need an AK-47 to go hunting. (And then there's my feelings on hunting, but that's another post altogether.) I don't think folks should show up packing at protests, especially when idiots like Sharon Angle are encouraging using "the Second Amendment option" when elections don't go your way. Now, after our experiences, would I have a gun in my house? I've got a truckload of research on gun safety to do before that's ever gonna happen.

I'm surprised at what a terrific day all of our families had at the range. The owner handed out t's to the kids and water bottles to the ladies on our departure. We thanked him for all his kindness and hospitality. And we told him we'd be back. And we probably will be, because target shooting was fun. More fun than I'd ever imagined - we'd all enjoyed it. It was challenging, but do-able; safety was first and foremost and hitting the target was pretty damn satisfying. We had a great time as a family. But do I think gun laws should be more lax? Definitely not. With existing laws, there were plenty of options today from which to choose. Not everyone that buys a gun is going to be as safety-conscious as our friends and range-folks were today. Not everyone stores their guns and ammo securely. And not everyone buys a gun to shoot targets. I'll never be a card-carrying member of the NRA, but I'll admit, my ideas of gun culture have changed, and it gives me a better understanding of why people fight to protect that right so vehemently. That's got to make for a better conversation.

Thanks to our friends Missy and Kelby, Kristi and Zach, and Joanna and John for showing us all a good time in this foreign land. I may still be a bleeding heart liberal, but like we always do with you guys, the whole family had a helluva good time today!

Whaddya think, fellow Politicos? Have you ever been shooting? Do you think our gun laws are too tight? Too lax? Join the conversation here at Momma Politico!