Behind the trigger

I fired a handgun for the first time today, at the local shooting range. Actually, I fired four handguns, as my husband and I want to get a feel for different sizes and types of guns before purchasing one.

I can’t say I’m excited about the idea. I support gun ownership in principle, but I have never desired to own a handgun. My husband thinks this is odd, since I am the one who had someone kick in the door to my apartment one night (back when I was single) and then proceed to rape me.

It’s true that I’ve thought many times, over the years since then, about what I would do if I again faced someone who was about to assault me, and I had a weapon available to defend myself. Or if I witnessed such an attack about to happen to someone else. Would I aim to wound? Or to kill? Or would I be too terrified to do anything?

I took a gun safety class several years ago before going trapshooting, and the instructor told us that she considered it unwise to own a handgun unless prepared to use it for what it’s made for – to kill. I had no problem aiming a shotgun at clay pigeons (I even hit at least one), but could I aim to kill another human being?

I still don’t know, but since my husband is convinced of the wisdom of purchasing a gun for home defense (in part because he worries that future laws may make it more difficult to obtain one), I went with him to look for one that we could both handle.

The .22 double action revolver was in some ways the most comfortable. It was heavier than the semi-automatic, which made it harder for me to keep the target in my sights, but it gave me less feeling of holding something so powerful I’d rather not be holding it. The report was not as loud as I had expected, which at first I attributed simply to the hearing protection. And the recoil was less than I had imagined it might be.

The .22 semi-automatic was lighter and easier to keep on target – my first shot was a bullseye! But it was definitely louder, and the recoil more noticeable to me. I read an article online that says the “felt” recoil (as opposed to the actual force of the recoil) from a semi-automatic will be less than from a revolver of the same caliber, but it didn’t seem that way to me. Plus I could see the muzzle flash when my husband was shooting, which I hadn’t noticed with the revolver.

Shooting those was part of the gun safety class we had just taken. But my husband also wanted to try a 9 mm and a 380, since those had been recommended as good choices for home defense. So we rented two 9 mm guns (there was no 380 available) and a full magazine for each.

Those were much louder, with a much bigger muzzle flash, and a lot more recoil. I’m sure they’re tame compared to some bigger caliber guns, but I have no interest in trying anything bigger. After the first few shots I just wanted to be done and hoped there weren’t many more bullets in the magazine. (I found it very hard to keep count of my shots.)

Those guns really fit the image I had of shooting a gun from movies or TV. There was no question I was holding something made for killing. I suppose it could be partly the noise that unnerved me. (I have found that loud noise drains me emotionally, regardless of the nature of the noise. I just want to get away, to find somewhere quiet.) But part of it was the obvious destructive power I had in my hands.

I suppose holding a gun gives some people a sense of power. I didn’t feel that; I felt more like I do when I used to drive down a steep hill to get to work in the winter in Michigan, and the image that kept coming to mind was that I was trying to guide a speeding bullet. Now having fired a handgun, I no longer think the speeding bullet image fits driving a car at highway speeds. But it was a somewhat similar sense of having to control something potentially lethal and just wanting it to be over.

The good news is that I hit the target fairly well. No more bullseyes after that first one, but quite a few fairly near. If I ever have to shoot someone to save my life, or the life of a loved one, I have at least a decent chance of succeeding. (Though I’m sure I wouldn’t have nearly as long to line up the sights.) But I certainly hope I never have to.


One Response to Behind the trigger

  1. Karen O says:

    There is such controversy over whether or not having a gun for protection really provides that protection, or becomes more of a danger to you & your family. I tend to be a supporter of the right to bear arms, but I also am uncomfortable with some of the stories & statistics I have read. It’s more of a complicated issue than either “side” wants to admit.

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