“You look like you need to learn to shoot,” a helpful receptionist advised Amanda Fortini as she sat waiting to see her doctor. Evidently her discomfort and worry showed. “What the hell? What did she see? Perhaps, I thought, she was referring to the fact that I’m not physically prepossessing—delicately built, with bird-bone wrists and arms. Or maybe she’d fixated on my all-black, un-Montana wardrobe and determined I needed some toughening up. I must have been emitting pheromones of unease, I concluded, the way some people signal fear to dogs. I didn’t want to be perceived as a human orchid. I decided to learn to shoot.”
Fortini’s penned a cri de coeur for elle.com documenting the mental and emotional gymnastics she’s performed that ultimately brought her to her decision to learn to shoot and actually (gasp!) buy a gun.
The piece is titled Should I Buy a Gun?: After falling victim to a string of traumatic crimes, Amanda Fortini considers a controversial means of protection. Note to Elle’s editors: with about 11 million guns sold each year and 40% of Americans owning firearms, it’s getting a tad difficult to call owning a gun “a controversial means of protection” any more, no?
With a history of brushes with crime and violence (actual and attempted break-ins, walking in on an armed robbery) then a move to Montana where guns are rather more accepted than in her previous home bases of New York and Hollywood, Fortini takes the receptionist’s advice and signs up for Women on Target, an NRA-sponsored shooting class. With barely concealed revulsion, she describes the degrading experience:
I arrive at the range at 7 a.m. to find approximately 35 women of various ages, from twentysomething to 60-plus, sitting at the sort of long fake-wood tables on which bingo is played in church basements. (The bathrooms are labeled “Does” and “Bucks.”) Outside, at the rifle range, people are already shooting. Every time there’s a reverberating boom, a few women jump, startled. It sounds like we’re in a war zone.
Most of the women have come to this clinic so they can get a permit to carry a concealed gun for self-defense. An elderly woman tells me that she wants to stash one in her bag for shopping trips. “For the parking lot,” she says.
She ultimately manages to overcome her fear and loathing long enough to actually pull the trigger during the class’s range session.
I squint, hold my breath, and…fire.
My first thought is, I can’t believe how loud that was. I’m wearing earplugs, but you don’t just hear the firecracker noise in your ears; you feel it with your whole body.
That’s when she finds (stop me if you’ve heard this before) that she actually likes it.
My next thought is, I want to do that again! I have an immediate, exhilarated reaction. Partly it’s that what I’ve just done initially frightened me, so there’s a sense of a limit overcome. For many people I know, guns remain unreal—the accessories of fictional characters, or at least of the Other, not you and yours. Yet to fire a gun is to realize you can do it: You can operate one, understand how it works. Shooting gives me a rush that comes from a feeling of (admittedly incomplete) mastery.
And she seems to find the act of shooting almost therapeutic, allowing her to escape the chronic anxiety over her safety that brought her to shooting in the first place.
…the sensory experience of target shooting—readying your stance, controlling your breath, focusing on the target—is so absorbing that I can’t indulge my free-floating worries. I can’t have a self-conscious intellectual reaction when firing a gun. It’s almost meditative.
As I shoot, I again experience the strange, paradoxical sense of an act that’s familiar and unfamiliar at once. I’ve seen Clint do this; I’ve seen Arnold do this; I’ve seen Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton do it. Shooting a gun is like smoking a cigarette or drinking espresso in a café in Paris or having sex on a Caribbean beach: You’ve watched it so many times on-screen that you experience your own actions as an echo. It’s impossible not to feel like a cliché.
Ultimately, Fortini takes the leap and gets herself a gun. But her relationship with it remains…complicated.
A revolver now rests on my nightstand. It’s small and sleek and black, a Ruger LCR. Weighing 13.5 ounces and no bigger than a half-sandwich, it’s easily slipped into a purse. I’ve tucked it not quite out of sight, among books I hope to read but maybe never will. Several weeks after buying it, I’m still wary, superstitious. I know the chamber is empty, yet I open it every so often to check.
Wait, what? The same woman who cowered behind the counter in her kitchen at 4:00 a.m. as a drunk tried to break down her door doesn’t keep her home defense gun loaded? Well, no. No she doesn’t. Because even after completing the class, she doesn’t feel “qualified or prepared.”
Because, let’s face it, if I really could fathom pulling the trigger on an intruder or a looming attacker—on another human being—I’d keep the gun loaded. When you hear floorboards creaking as he creeps toward your bedroom, it’s unlikely you’ll have the time, not to mention the presence of mind, to fumble with ammunition. To quote the teacher of a subsequent class I took: “When you’re in trouble is not the time to start loading. It could cost you your life.”
“Every time I look at the gun, it scares me,” I tell my boyfriend, as I eye its insolent blackness, leering at me from the shelf next to my bed.
“It’s a gun,” he says. “It should.”
It’s hard to fathom why she lets the Ruger take up precious night stand space if she’s not going to load it. Maybe she’ll have time to throw it at an attacker if, God forbid, she ever really needs it.
[h/t Ira Wilsker]