Thursday, June 23, 2016

It's a Saturday night special, got a barrel that's blue and cold...

There's a great line in When Harry Met Sally when Jess and Marie are moving in together and trying to combine their households, deciding what to keep and what to toss.  Jess's fugly wagon wheel coffee table doesn't make the cut, and when he protests, Marie says, "everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but they couldn't possibly all have good taste."

We all think we have good taste, that we're the good guys, that we're reasonable, that it's the other guy who's the misinformed idiot.

Sometimes we're right, sometimes we're wrong.

The problem is that we all live in our own personal echo chambers. We have access to more information at our fingertips than ever before in human history, but we also can and do choose what information to receive. Everything we consume is filtered so that our own opinions and impressions are confirmed to us. My Facebook and Twitter feeds, the blogs I read, the news sources I frequent, all reinforce my impressions that Donald Trump is an ill-informed, narcissistic danger to this country, or that abortion should be legal and safe and easily accessible, or that people should be able to love and marry who they want, or that Michigan is far superior to Ohio State in every way. Someone else with different views will obviously receive different information to reinforce their own perspectives.

It takes an effort to be open to the idea that you could know more to either bolster or disprove an opinion you might have. I'm as guilty as anyone of not doing this often enough.

The issue of guns and gun control and America's so-called obsession with guns has obviously been in the news quite a bit lately.  Anyone who knows me knows that my political sensibilities fall on the liberal end of the spectrum, and I don't believe that the second amendment's language, written in 1789 to secure the right to "keep and bear arms" for purposes of allowing a "well-regulated militia" to maintain the security of a free state, should be interpreted to allow any yahoo off the street to be able to get their hands on any weapon for any purpose.  But I also believe in personal freedom and responsibility, and in limited government infringement on how we live our lives, so I don't believe in an outright ban on guns.

Of course, it's the middle ground that is so messy and confounding.  I believe people should be able to own and use guns for hunting and sport and self-defense.  I also believe that it should be very difficult - if not impossible - for civilians to buy machine guns or similar weapons that are designed for warfare and mass killing, rather than for hunting or the reasonable defense of a home.  I believe in background checks and gun registration and waiting periods.

I also want any laws or rules to make sense, have basis in reality, and be designed to actually work. And my sense of how that can be accomplished is limited by the fact that I have virtually no experience or real knowledge about guns.

So I'm trying to learn.

A good friend of mine is big into hunting - he grew up doing it and was exposed to guns from a young age.  He knows about guns, owns many guns, and is a huge proponent of responsible gun ownership, with safety being the foremost consideration.  He is not opposed to reasonable, rational gun control measures.

He and I were spit-balling about something fun to do on the weekend and decided to go shoot guns.  I was excited because I had never really done it.  I spent an hour or so at a riflery range at summer camp when I was 12, but nothing beyond that - I'd never shot or even held a handgun, and am generally ignorant about the different types of guns, how they work, and the ways they're designed to be used.

So we drove out into the forest, up a narrow, boulder-strewn road that was so rough and close to the edge of a cliff that we needed to pull over at a little opening where the road widened so that I could calm my breathing and my heart rate and my nerves.  And then we looked around and saw that we were right by the entrance to an old silver mine, and there was a rotted out little structure that was dinged up from other people using it for target practice, so we decided to stay there.

Old mine opening.
Shoot 'em up shack
Over the course of two hours, I shot seven different kinds of guns - a bolt action rifle (my favorite), a lever action rifle, a semi-automatic .22 pistol, a .22 single action revolver (Old West type of gun), semi-automatic 9 mm pistol, a semi-automatic 45 caliber pistol, and double action 44 Magnum revolver (the Dirty Harry gun, pictured below).  Every one felt and looked different and had slightly different features and characteristics, so it was a non-stop lesson for me.  

Safety was at the forefront of everything, which was good because I was nervous and wanted to be as careful and focused as possible.  I learned to double check the chamber to make sure that it was empty, how to hold the gun, where not to point it, how to hold my finger away from the trigger until I was ready to shoot, how to use the various safety features.  I received a primer on different types of bullets, different caliber weapons, different loading and firing mechanisms, how to aim, how to use a scope, which types of guns would be used in different hunting scenarios.

All afternoon, the conversation kept coming back to gun control and the current debate.  About how every gun I handled, no matter the caliber bullet, no matter the firing mechanism, is an extremely dangerous weapon that can kill or inflict serious damage.  And that the debate as currently framed, focusing on semi-automatic, high magazine capacity assault weapons like the AR-15, which has been used in many of the recent mass shootings, ignores entire categories of guns that are equally effective in their ability to kill many people in a very short period of time, and are also smaller and more portable (begging the question of why they aren't used more in mass shootings).

We talked about background checks and some gun control ideas that I was totally unfamiliar with, like warehousing, and other efforts to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people.  We talked about the idea of requiring liability insurance for gun owners, to cover scenarios like the negligent handling or storage of guns that allows them to get into the hands of children, or be stolen and used in crimes.  It was an informative and respectful discussion.

And the afternoon was seriously fun.  Shooting targets is fun.  Trying to learn a cool new skill is fun. Doing it outside on a gorgeous day and in a gorgeous setting is fun.  And as it turns out, I'm a "crack shot," in my friend's words.

"You've gotta ask yourself one question: 'do I feel lucky?'  Well, do ya, punk?"
It was also eye-opening that we weren't the only ones out there, doing the same thing.  We drove past clearings where other people were shooting, and past trees with old targets stapled to them.  At one point, a dad with three young kids in tow stopped where we were parked.  He was wearing a holster holding a Glock.  I was taken aback at how much it didn't alarm me, in that setting and that context.

Heading back into town, I remarked that I was surprised we didn't go to a shooting range.  I didn't realize that just taking a bunch of guns into the woods to shoot was a thing.  It was my first time, and I didn't know how this stuff worked.

He said, "Nah, I don't like shooting ranges. They're full of crazy fucking gun nuts."

I laughed, realizing that neither of us ever truly left our respective echo chambers.

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