Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Happiness is a Warm Gun

Lennon was being ironic, of course, and not without good reason.

I've never been a gun person. Never really got the whole fascination with firearms thing like a lot of other people, especially guys. When the other boys my age were drawing guns, I was generally drawing airplanes. As an adult, I think its reasonably safe to say that I'm anti-guns. Min and I are agreed on the fact that we won't be buying toy guns for Toby, or even really anything resembling a gun. During our visit to the USA last year, one of the most confronting things for me was watching a little girl getting measured up for her first handgun, in an outdoor store in Texas. She can't have been older than ten or eleven, and the idea of inculcating somebody into 'gun culture' at so young an age is a difficult one for me to come to terms with.

So no, not into guns.

But, I'm also a writer, and currently working on a book I which my protagonist is intimately familiar with weapons of all sorts, including guns.

Which, naturally, poses some problems.

The main one being that, while I'm writing the book in such a way as not to glorify gun use, I still feel very strongly that its the responsibility of a writer to get the details correct - my character uses a handgun, on more than one occasion. I've already written one of the scenes in which this happens, and like always, I did some homework before writing it: a lot of reading up on various types of guns, calibre of ammunition, weights, recoils, type and shape of grip, number of bullets in the magazine, that sort of thing. But, when push came to shove, the scene just didn't rIng true. All the reading in the world wasn't enough to tell me what it feels like to fire a handgun, especially a weapon designed for one purpose only - to kill or injure another human being.

So, this morning, I took myself to a shooting range here in Perth, hired a Ruger 9mm automatic pistol - the same model that I'd chosen for my character, was taught the basics of handgun handling and operation, and then left alone to blast away at some targets.

And, despite my misgivings, I'm glad I did it. For a number of reasons.

Firstly, the physical sensation was nothing like I'd expected. The feel of the gun in my hand, the leap of the recoil, the concussion of the noise, the smell of the gunpowder, the smell of gun oil, the satisfying 'ka-ching' of the spent cartridge ejecting from the firing chamber, the pleasure of seeing a hole punched in your target downrange.

Yes, I'll admit it: I actually enjoyed the experience.

Firing a handgun is a tactile experience, and a powerful one. There's implicit menace and danger in that lump of metal, and when you pick it up off the bench, slot home the magazine and release the safety, there's an odd feeling of implicit power, even in the controlled environment of a shooting range.

I'm also glad I went because of what I learned, and that the whole point of doing research, when all is said and done. By the time I'd shot off my 30 rounds, and then had a good chat to both the range technician and the range manager, I realized that I'd given my character the wrong gun, for the wrong purpose, and based on wrong interpretation of what I'd read. I'm going to be reworking those scenes in my book when get home next week.

I'm also glad I went because it gave me an unexpected respect for the people who handle and use weapons as part of their day to day lives: the police, the military. I never really understood, at a visceral level, how much those sort of jobs include the power of life and death. I know for certain now that I could never point a weapon like that at someone and pull the trigger, or probably even cope with the possibility that I might have to.

So, all in all, a valuable and interesting experience.

Am I still anti gun? Yes. Perhaps even more so. Especially small, concealable, automatic weapons like the one I fired today.

Am I still anti gun-people? Not so much. I won't be rushing back to the firing range, or taking up Olympic shooting, but at least now I can understand, to a degree, some of the appeal.

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