I recently took a handgun class. I was there to renew my concealed carry license, but the rest of my classmates were applying for their carry license for the first time. Several of them had only shot a gun a few times. You could see it in their eyes. They were there to learn how to handle a handgun, a lethal tool. There is a lot to learn.
This is a time of unprecedented demand for firearms. Given the limited selection in most gun shops, it is harder than ever to find the gun that is right for you. Before you buy it, you want to handle it, load it, and shoot it to see how it feels. After the classroom lecture in the concealed carry class, the instructor let students handle their unloaded firearms which were arrayed on a table. This was the first chance for some students to put their hands on popular models.
If you only have the toy guns of your youth to compare them to, then real guns are surprisingly heavy. Subconsciously, you’re comparing a working piece of steel with a fantasy molded in plastic.
I saw another look of surprise when the students went out to the firing line. There, they loaded magazines and inserted them into their pistols. The gun becomes noticeably heavier in a physical sense. The loaded magazine makes the gun heavier by about a third. The gun is heavier in a spiritual sense as well. The unloaded gun is relatively safe whereas a loaded gun in your hand could is a lethal weapon. The student’s attention was focused on the instructor as he guided them through loading and unloading their firearms.
The loaded gun is heavier in a spiritual sense.
A gun is loud. Shooting is like uncorking a bottle with hundreds of atmospheres of pressure inside. The sound alone is surprising. The sharp edge of the sound strikes you even if you’re wearing ear protection, sometimes earplugs and earmuffs. Ignoring the recoil for a moment, you close your eyes involuntarily as the gun fires. Experienced shooters expect it. The movies overplay it, but the sound comes as a surprise to new shooters.
Image from “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y9apnbI6GA”
In fact, you can’t ignore the way the gun moves on its own. The contained explosion in your hands is violent. It doesn’t knock you over, but we’re not used to an object twisting in our hands as we try to hold it still. The frustration is like someone slapping you on the shoulder as you’re trying to thread a needle. The gun moves when you fire it, and the skill is in controlling that movement. The students gain insights shot by shot. Often, they have to set the gun down.
Even when you’re not shooting it, holding a gun is hard work. We are never completely still, and yet we’re trying to hold the gun perfectly steady. With the exception of a few tradesmen in the construction industry, most of us don’t spend a lot of time with our arms extended in front of us for minutes at a time. Predictably, the students get tired and have to rest. Setting the gun down comes as a relief.
The students looked at the target and something else has changed. The target is a human silhouette. Now, there are holes through the center of the target, and they put them there. A gun puts a weight on your heart because you realize what you can do. If necessary, you can kill. Shot by shot, the students learn to wrap their hands, and their head, around a firearm.
There is a lot to learn. Setting aside the Hollywood romance with guns and violence, a gun is indifferent about what you do with it. We are responsible for where we point the gun. We have that responsibility from the second we touch the gun until we empty it and put it down. Pointing a gun at the sky may seem innocent, but a negligent shot will fall to earth somewhere. It is physically and mentally tiring to focus on where the barrel is pointed every instant. That may be the most important lesson of the day.
The unloaded gun on the shooting bench is considered relatively safe. So is the loaded gun in a holster. Students move with conscientious concern when the gun is in their hands.
They unload their guns. They clear the bench of ammunition. Now they have their firearms re-inspected by the student next to them and by the instructor to make sure they are unloaded. Only then do they put their guns away in a range bag. Now that the range is safe, they can put away their eye and ear protection.
For reasons both obvious and subtle, the range bag feels different than it did this morning. A gun is significant. Using lethal force to save a life is deadly serious.
The heaviest loads are the ones we assume voluntarily. I saw the students pick up that burden and carry it with them. They learned the weight of the gun.
It was a good class.
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