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December 02, 2009

All I want for Christmas are my two front fully automatic submachine guns

Long ago, when I still believed in the powers of princesses and ponies, my dad took my sister and me out shooting. My father is not the NRA type. The only official weapon in our house when I was growing up was a tribal bow and arrow given to my parents by a friend from Africa, which hung high on a wall and was unreachable in the case of a home invasion. But just like he signed us up for karate and taught us how to use a slingshot in the name of fun, fitness and fearlessness, my dad decided we needed to be smart and safe around firearms. Not to mention know how to blast a hole through someone if the need arose.

I must have been about 10 and my sister around 6 when we piled into his car and headed for some remote area outside San Diego. He borrowed a BB gun. I recall the area where we stopped was wooded and completely unpopulated, and it was an overcast day -- the perfect setting for teaching two kiddies how to shoot.

The officer who nearly arrested him, however, disagreed.

My dad can be very persuasive, or maybe the officer didn't want to quasi-orphan two little girls, because the incident ended with a warning and orders to leave immediately. And that was the end of my firearms education.

Until today!!

I am staring at the targets I obliterated at the San Diego Police Revolver Club. My dashing guides: Two firearms experts and executors of the law, which we shall heretofore refer to as Investigator C and The Pro. The weapons at our disposal: Four pistols, one revolver, one shotgun and a submachine gun, which they brought from their personal collections for us to play with. My objective: to learn how to load and fire each weapon without maiming someone in the process. By that, I mean that I wanted to both be safe on the firing range -- and shoot to kill.

How did this all come about, you ask? By asking!

I met both of them a few months ago, when I was a juror in a trial where they were collaborating. I ended up befriending the prosecutor, aka The Pro, on Facebook, which eventually led him to mention that I should learn to protect myself with a gun, which eventually led me to send him this email:

I'm back from [the East Coast]. So... are you truly prepared to show me how this whole shooting thing works, or was that the wine talking? If you'd rather not, I understand. Teaching law is one thing, teaching a lit grad student how to hold a rifle is totally different.

If so, when and where? The next few weekends are packed, but things calm down in December.

La Roxy
We made the appointment for 14:00 today at the police shooting club.

The Pro got there first and we started with the safety briefing: Always treat a gun you're holding like it's loaded, never point it at anything you're not prepared to destroy, and keep your finger off the trigger until the instant you're ready to shoot. Then he showed me the weapons he brought and taught me how to load and aim.

Investigator C got there next, and we were off.

At first, I was jittery. I had just half a cappuccino in the morning -- I cut back because I could already feel myself t-t-trembling. But I told myself to relax and I remembered some advice Mr. A gave me: take your time. Pause between shots, collect yourself. There's no rush. Focus on the target, steady. Ready? Aim.... BLAST!!!

But maybe I was a little too calm, too detached. As you can see in the picture above, I didn't really get the stance right at first. I was leaning back, holding the gun like a magic wand.
Investigator C, who has a ton of field experience, talked me through some techniques used by swat teams and police officers in combat. They adopt a forward stance, they tune in to their adversary's mental state, and when the moment is right they shoot quickly and devastatingly. There's no gray zone, no maybe or almost. Just kill.

Meanwhile, The Pro was reminding me to breathe. Breathing is good.

Once I sort of got the hang of it, we moved onto bigger weapons: a semi automatic shotgun and a fully automatic submachine gun. Both were so heavy they made my arms waver after a few moments -- sad but true, given that my typical upper body workout involves lifting a cheeseburger to my mouth or carrying library books around -- but firing them was frighteningly satisfying.

Shooting, it turns out, is a lot like tango. You have to lean into your partner, embrace it. In this case, not a man, but the engine of his destruction. Why? It's mechanical, and psychological. If you're holding the gun tight but with just a bit of slackness in the knees, you have more control, your arms are steady and your body, not the gun, takes charge. Also, it makes you look like a badass. And that, my ferocious reader, matters when it's you versus someone who wants you dead.

And so it came to pass that I loaded cartridges and pumped rounds into a distant silhouette. I experimented with weapons I never knew existed. I apparently hollered once or twice. And I had a fantastic afternoon. Thanks to this training, if I ever find myself in a jeep filled with artillery and ammo in a wartorn territory as a band of guerillas approaches, I probably wouldn't survive, but at least I'll have shot a gun before I die.

No, really. What next? What did I, how you say, learn?

First: The word "Lock" written on a gun isn't a safety device, but its brand name. Who knew.

Second: Pulling a trigger is the exact opposite of asking. You're declaring, you're announcing, you're claiming. There's no "May I? Can I? Would you please?" There is no room for doubt. Your intention and the outcome are crystallized in a split second, so you have to be sure of what you want. For that very reason, this experience will help me be a better asker. In moments of high stakes or high intensity, all I need to do is remember how I felt firing those guns -- alert, focused, determined, unfuckable. That is the attitude I need to carry with me the next time I'm negotiating something serious.

Third: Asking for a shooting lesson can bring unexpected rewards, like great conversation and awesome photo opps. Thanks to The Pro and Investigator C for my lesson on the range!

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