The shooting range is nearly empty when we arrive Thursday evening- which is a good thing, since it takes a while for Lannis, Audrey, and Saxon to all register in the system as visitors and fill out waivers and listen to the range officer go over the rules so we can go in. Also, with six of us- Dad, Elise, my three friends, and me- there’s no way we could all fit comfortably on one lane. But since the range isn’t crowded and Dad’s a regular here, we’ve gotten permission to use three adjoining lanes, at least until more people show up.
Inside the range, I help Dad set out the guns: a .22 pistol and a 9 mm Glock on the lanes for my friends and me; a .22 rifle, another 9 mm, and a .45 on the lane for Dad and Elise. Then, leaving my family to their shooting, I turn to the others and gesture for them to gather closer- though I’ll still have to speak loudly to be heard. “So, the range officer already said this, but I’ll say it again, because it’s the most important thing to know about handling a gun: never point the gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot. On the range, that means you keep it pointed downrange- towards the target- even when you’re loading. Shooting for defense, that means that you don’t pull out the gun and aim at the guy unless you’re willing to follow through. Either way, it means you make sure you know where your gun is aimed and what you might hit if you pull the trigger.”
“What if you need to give someone a warning?” Audrey asks, voice just barely loud enough to be heard. “Or a threat- to make them back off?”
“Never point a gun at something or someone you aren’t willing to shoot,” I repeat. “Seriously. Accidents happen. If your finger’s on the trigger- which it shouldn’t be unless you’re ready to shoot, remember?- and something startles you and you pull the trigger by accident? People can get hurt. So don’t take unnecessary risks.”
I step back into the shooting booth where I’ve set out the 9 mm. I have to raise my voice still more to be heard; Elise has put down the relatively quiet rifle so Dad can shoot the .45. “The other rule I’m going to remind you of is to always assume a gun is loaded until proven otherwise. In general, any gun you have should be unloaded when you’re not using it. But always double-check to make sure.” I grip the slide of the pistol and pull it back to display the empty chamber, then turn it so they can see there’s no magazine loaded. “See? Empty. And it stays that way until we’re ready to shoot.”
I show them how to hold a pistol- dominant hand high on the grip, with the curve between thumb and forefinger hugging the curve at the top; heel of the other hand filling the space beneath the dominant thumb, fingers curled tightly ’round the grip- and how to aim- because you do have to aim; you can’t just point and shoot like in the movies- and how to load and unload. I have each of them dry-fire the 9 mm a few times, to get a feel for it. And then I let them try actually shooting the .22. And all the while I try not to glow too much; try not to show my pride at being the teacher instead of the taught. Because I don’t mind that I didn’t know how to fight a month ago; that I’ve never needed to know; that I’ve been safe and fairly sheltered most of my life. But, all the same, it’s nice to be the semi-experienced one for once.
Once everyone’s had a few turns on the .22, I have them each try the 9 mm, warning them that it’ll have a bigger kick and they’ll have to be careful that they’re not dropping the muzzle in anticipation of that after a few shots. The recoil catches all of them off-guard anyway- because even knowing it will happen, the first time around, you can’t really anticipate what it’ll feel like. But they handle it well all the same. For the next half-hour after that, we rotate through- well, Saxon, Lannis, and Audrey rotate through. I’m mostly too busy watching so I can catch when they’re messing up and step in to correct it- or, more than once, ask Dad to step in and explain something better than I can.
Before long, troublesome tendencies becomes clear. Lannis tends to lock her arms and grip the pistol too tight. Audrey slaps- that is, jerks- the trigger and often doesn’t take the time to really aim. Saxon’s the best shot of the three- not that she’s a master marksman, but she stays relatively relaxed, her aim’s pretty good, and she doesn’t rush. I wonder if she’s done something like this before- Mr. Warrick’s into shooting too, I know, so maybe she’s gone with him a few times and didn’t bother mentioning it.
Near the end of the session, I step away from watching them and slip into Dad and Elise’s lane, behind their booth. Wordlessly, I tap Dad’s arm and then point to the .45- I don’t need to say more, and with three other guns firing, the shots echoing off the concrete walls, I probably wouldn’t be heard easily either. Dad nods, and when Elise has emptied her rifle magazine, he gestures for me to go ahead.
Despite my words to the others, especially Audrey, earlier about not rushing, I have to force myself to take my time with my shots. We had an hour on the range; that time is nearly up. But I manage to relax enough to hold the gun steady, to aim carefully, and to squeeze the trigger instead of slapping it. In the end, my grouping isn’t as tight as I’d like- but every shot hit the target, and since I’m shooting the .45 instead of the more familiar Glock and .22, I’m satisfied.
We pack up the guns and unused ammo and tear down our paper targets and head out to the bathrooms to scrub hands and faces free of lead residue. I grin at the others as I rub my hands dry with a wad of paper towel. “Nice job. You all did well- especially for the first time.”
“Thank you.” Lannis tosses her own wad of paper towel in the trash. “We should do this again sometime.”
“I second that, actually. That was more fun than I expected.” Saxon, the first to finish washing up, leans against the wall by the door. “I can probably get my dad to take us sometime too. Y’know, if Rebecca’s dad is busy.”
I nod. “That’d be good.”
Audrey flicks her ponytail away from her still-damp face and reaches for the door handle. “What I want to know is where Rebecca picked up all that. I mean, she doesn’t look like the Annie Oakley type.”
“I know.” I grin sheepishly. “But . . . Dad likes shooting, if you couldn’t guess. And he got me and Elise started on it with BB guns pretty early- on camping trips, mostly, until we were old enough to come to the range with him. And I really enjoy it, so he takes me a few times a month at least, and . . . yeah. I’ve had a lot of practice.” I step outside. “What now? I think someone mentioned earlier that we might hang out at the cafe for a little while, if people have time . . .?”
Lannis nods and takes the lead back to the range lobby. “That’s what I thought. Audrey and I don’t have anything else to do this evening, and I’d say we’ve earned celebratory coffee.”
“You have low standards for what earns a celebration.” Saxon shoves her hands into pockets, falling into step beside me. “But if the rest of you are going . . . well, I’m not busy either. Let’s go.”