When in Texas… aka The day Kate fired a gun

Bullseye (technically)

I always think that it is good to try new things, push your limits, do something that scares you. Today I did just that.

Today, first the first time in my life, I was knowingly in the presence of, touched, and even fired a hand gun. Well, four handguns actually. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I’m in Texas. Texans like guns. I’m here on my crazy ‘Space Nomad’ adventures, doing the coolest, most interesting and exciting stuff ever, and meeting some fascinating people along the way. One of those people is Dave Ladrach, who I first encountered when I was in Texas earlier this year. He works for the US Department of Defence and has a long history of working with NASA. When I was here last he talked excitedly of satellites and genetics experiments in space and he made my day by gifting me some photos of the shuttle, mission patches, and a bookmark that flew in space. I was overwhelmed by his kindness and tried to find something nice and British to give him in return. All I had was a chewy bar and a packet of Hula Hoops. I put them in the internal post at NASA with a note of thanks.

We met up for dinner last night and he invited me to join him and go shooting this morning. I didn’t quite know what to say. Guns scare me. It’s as simple as that. They scare me. The idea that with the simple pull of a trigger you could kill something, or someone, does not sit well with me. I don’t want anything to do with them.

At the same time, I always think that you should push yourself, try things that scare you. It’s not everyday someone from the DoD invites you to go shooting, right? I’m all about building friendships, collecting experiences, telling good stories – this was a good opportunity to do all three. Plus, I didn’t like to seem impolite, and Dave really seemed keen to share something that he loves with me.

I asked for advice on Twitter and most people said I should give it a go, why not? I wasn’t going to shoot at anything other than paper targets right?. A little while later I felt nervous about it again. Would it be hypocritical to do something I feel so strongly against? I slept badly, and re-asked the question at a time when more of my UK pals would be awake. The responses were less “go for it” than the American ones had been, but at least agreed I should go to be polite if nothing else. I took a deep breath, and went for it.

When we arrived at the range, Dave set out his guns on the table and calmly talked me through them all. He was patient with me and didn’t push me into anything. As the fire-cracker-like bangs echoed out from the neighbouring shooting ranges, I found my heart racing at the sight of guns. Real guns. Real, working hand guns, laid out on the table in front of me.

I didn’t quite know how to react. Part of me was fascinated, I’ve seen guns in films, but never in real life like this. The majority of me was horrified and scared. A small part wanted to gently poke them to see if there were real, because in my mind, they couldn’t, or shouldn’t be. Guns don’t exist in my world. I certainly didn’t want to hold them, but Dave talked me through the safety rules and told me a bit about each of the weapons. He coaxed me into picking each of them up, unloaded, and showed me how you would fire them, if you wanted to.

They were heavy. That’s the first thing I remember. Then I felt sort of disgusted with myself for touching them, worried that I’d be forever tainted by them and judged for this decision.

The next thing I realised was the power of these things – even as you flick the switch to get them ready to fire they jolt in your hands. The springs are powerful, these things are powerful. I was scared by what I was holding.

I was scared, but having come this far, I felt I might as well continue to face my fears. I’ll openly admit to yelping as Dave fired the first shot. These things are loud, even with earplugs in. I tried the revolver first. Something about it felt a bit less scary than the others. Possibly because it’s the sort of thing they use in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. It felt like a cartoon gun, although at no point did I forget that this was in fact, very very real.

Pulling the trigger was harder than I expected. You really do have to apply some force to it. With arms outstretched and hands shaking, I flinched and shot. There was  loud bang, a flash, I was jolted back a little and the whole thing took me somewhat by surprise. I hit the target paper, not that I was really aiming. I quickly wanted to put it down.

We went through the other guns. Dave told me what they all were but that information went in and straight out of my head. I was spending too much time attempting to combat my desire to just run away. I shot each of them once, the bangs getting louder along with the size of gun. Each one scared me.

Dave talked about making sure the guns felt comfortable in my hands. I didn’t like to tell him that I would never be comfortable with a gun in my hands and was quite happy with that state of play.

I looked at the targets, I hadn’t done badly, but I’d not hit that little cross in the middle. Perfectionism got the better of me so I fired two extra bullets in an attempt to hit it. I caught the white ring around it on my final shot, apparently that counts, if you’re scoring in competition. That’s me done then. Four hand guns, six bullets, one technical bullseye. No more shooting for me.

One of the guns is apparently the same type that European police use – the “Glock”. It was all black, weighty and really required a lot of pressure on the trigger. These guns are designed to take people down, but they are also designed not to go off accidentally. I think that sort of scares me more. That you really have to make that effort to shoot someone. That someone holding that gun would really have to pull hard, knowingly pull hard on a trigger, and want to shoot. That people want to shoot scares me. That these guns have the power to kill, scares me. That a picture exists of me looking like a cold-blooded killer, scares me (though if I weren’t wearing my sunglasses you’d see the sheer terror in my eyes).

This really scares me
This really scares me

Dave seemed impressed with my aim, apparently I’m the only one he’s ever taught who’s got the bullseye like that. He reckons I’d make a good competition shooter.

I reckon I’ll stick to feeling slightly uncomfortable around guns and keep a safe distance from them if I can. I’ve got a story to tell, I can say I’ve done it, should some gun-lobbyist try using ignorance as a way of undermining me, and I’ve finally got my heart beating at a vaguely normal speed again.

What a day. I wasn’t expecting this to be part of the Space Nomad adventure. For the spacey stuff head to @SpaceKate and SpaceKate.com, or if you’re interested in hearing a bit more about my shooting experience, listen to the Audioboo I recorded this morning.

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9 thoughts on “When in Texas… aka The day Kate fired a gun

  1. You can kill someone with a kitchen knife too with intent. The intent should scare you not the machine. I am not a big fan of guns myself, but i do remind myself they are a machine. But used for sport in a harmless thing like sharpshooting competition is really no different than a bow and arrow or javelin. Compare it to a missile which can be used to launch wondrous things into space or deliver a nuclear warhead. Anyway…

  2. You are quite right of course, and that may explain why I’m a little nervous holding big kitchen knives. When I was learning to drive (not that I finished!) I was well aware that I was in a big metal box that could kill someone.

    I suppose a lot of my fear comes from unfamiliarity, but I’d prefer a world where people were unfamiliar with guns I think.

    I’m a bit mixed up about the ease at which you can shoot a deadly bullet and the difficulty I had (both physically and emotionally in some cases) of pulling the trigger. Is it easy to shoot a gun or not?

    I’m sure my thoughts will settle in the next few days…

  3. Good story! I don’t like guns either. But I was, ironically, a competitive marksman in high school. It was the most zen-like thing I’ve ever done. You have to have complete control of your mind and body in order to remain perfectly still for so long. I really enjoyed the challenge of it. But, yes, I got tired of the NRA nuts at all the competitions. I think that’s one really I stopped enjoying it, and I haven’t done it in a really long time.

    I also find it ironic that all the Google ads on your blog posting are now for guns and handgun training! Whoops!

  4. @Becca: Spot on, on all points.

    Though we may desire a safer world the hard truth is, it is what it is. My philosophy: Learn as much as possible about as much as possible, and face your fears. Sometimes you may have to un-learn things, as much of what you “know” could be harmful to your over-all well being. Keep pushing those bounderies and daring to try new things, albeit safely…

  5. Perhaps the fear of guns of is because the difference when used as a weapon is people can be killed by someone with a gun without that person getting up close to their intended victim. They could be fifty yards away, although they would then need a very good aim to hit and kill. Another reason is because people who are not the intended victim can also be killed just for being in the wrong place, people like nine year old Christina Taylor Green, her life now ended, killed in the failed assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords.

    When I was little I had a little cap gun, like a mini firecracker popping when the trigger was pulled. That didn’t actually fire anything, but like most boys I liked playing with it for the noise and feeling of power. I would like to have a go in an outdoor shooting range one day.

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