“Have you taken our safety course?” The girl behind the counter was as cheerful as you’d expect from someone who works in a windowless double-wide that somehow combines the worst aspects of a hospital waiting room and a prison visiting area. In other words, not at all, My initial thought: “the safest thing I could do right now is leave.” But you know how it is. You go a few days without shooting and you begin to feel trigger unhappy. So you Google and go. This time ’round I ended-up the Trail Glades Range, whose logo depicts a gator aiming a shotgun. As if alligators aren’t bad enough . . .
I followed the world’s biggest gun range safety coordinator to another, even less cheerful trailer. He read me a list of gun range rules from three sheets of well-worn paper, including a stricture against shooting at helicopters. The only time he looked up—well, tilted his reflective sunglasses onto a level plane– he asked if I had any concealed weapons on my person. Unfortunately, no. In the sense that I would have to make do with the guns rented out by Miss I’ve Seen It All And Now I Don’t Care, of course.
I had a choice of seven shotguns or a brace of .22 rifles, one of which had a scope. Given the fact that the range only allowed shotgun slugs, and it looked as if the weapons on the rack had been treated with less love than a New York City subway urinal, I chose the scoped rifle. I have no idea who made the bolt-action .22, but I bet someone used the stock to hammer in the few nails that held the gun range’s wooden structures together. The action was as smooth as six-day old stubble. The cardboard surrounding the ammo was soggy. Despite the plastic bag enclosing them, the ear plugs looked pre-owned.
And so I trudged through the rain carrying a worn-out rifle over my shoulder, heading for lane 17. I fitted the plugs, but found myself flinching anyway. A portly gentleman in lane 18 was practicing for an upcoming elephant hunt, letting loose with a Remington 700 fed by a box of mag loads. The rifle looked brand spanking new. You could see the spindly, custom-fitted bi-pod jump off the table with each shot. A fraction of a second later, my Johnson & Johnsons did the same thing off the concrete floor.
The more svelte shooter in lane 16 was firing an AR-15 with a flash suppressor. It was your basic black gun, owned by your basic black gun enthusiast: a friendly, cool-looking and deadly serious shooter. His mixed race posse shouted encouragement—a combination of compliments and disses—whilst loading ammo into the spare clips. A spotter spotted with a monocular without offering much in the way of direction, other than “missed.” Indeed. Puffs of dirt kicked up into the rain from the berm 100 yards out, beyond the target.
When the range was made safe, I planted my target 25 yards out. Not to put too fine a point on it, I was fucking freezing. That was as far as I wanted to go. OK, it’s also true that walking on an unfamiliar pubic gun range makes me sightly nervous. Thank God I wasn’t in a helicopter.
I tried to load the .22, but the random reports on either side made inserting the little bitty bullet into the teeny tiny hole as bad as trying to work the clasp of my six-year-old daughter’s chain necklace. I told the range officer I couldn’t do it; the noise was too much. He offered to get a spare pair of cans from his truck. Yes, please.
Better. I felt decidedly wimpy firing the .22 rifle. You know; when it fired. At first, I followed protocol, pointing the barrel downrange and signaling the range officer to come over. “Did you pull the trigger?” Uh-huh. He flicked open a mean looking Spyderco and dug the cartridge out of the barrel. Eventually, I resorted to similar levels of violence.
When I examined my target, I found I’d grouped my shots perfectly—about foot to the right and above the bulls eye. For some reason, I kinda lost interest. I finished the first box of 100 rounds and did a little sight-seeing. “Why did you choose the Remington?” “I wanted the most recoil I could find.” “How’s your shooting today?” “A lot better than my leg.” I didn’t ask him if he was referring to the leg that was or wasn’t there.
As I returned the rifle, I had this odd thought: maybe the average American isn’t intelligent enough to own guns. I chastened myself for being an over-educated elitist. How tough is it to shoot a gun anyway? Load, aim, fire. As far as safety is concerned, the range officers did their jobs. No booze, no stupid stuff. Otherwise, Darwin.
And then I thought of the guy with the AR-15, the $1000+ weapon that gun control advocates consider beyond the pale (i.e. an assault rifle). He was careful, considerate and professional. He was the exactly the kind of man I’d like as a neighbor in New Orleans if the social fabric began to tear apart. (As if.)
Gun control advocates should spend some time at their local gun range. Ranges always teach you something about accuracy, one way or another.