They say that “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” So when we stayed with a friend in California who serves in the US Air Force, that meant firing a gun.
Our style of travel is all about doing what the locals do after all.
As an Australian I have a mixed relationship with guns. I know a lot about them and have fired a few in my time. But I love that my home country has a very, very low level of gun violence and in fact bans most people from having them, save for hunters, farmers, sporting shooters, collectors, the police and the army.
Let me say from the beginning I think that’s the right way, but lots of Americans would disagree.
American gun opinions
We met a very pro-gun American in Traverse City, Michigan who was shocked by the gun laws downunder and asked how we defended our families from criminals invading our homes. I just said my Dad keeps a hockey stick next to the front door and that was enough till the cops arrived.
What I should have said was the statistical improbability of that ever happening was comfort enough, and that fists, harsh language and a locked door are more than enough for most Aussies to defend themselves with. Plus our beagle is particularly vicious.
Oh, and the intruder is unlikely to have a gun because they’re hard to get hold of.
Shooting guns in America
But in America, the second amendment means instead of hockey sticks they can have weapons that I have only ever seen Arnie brandishing.
The world is often shocked by the astonishingly high level of gun deaths in America, a large amount of them suicide, but it seems having a gun is as American as apple pie and for many the right to bear arms is as celebrated as the flag.
So it was with some trepidation we agreed to go to a shooting range in Vacaville, California to see what it was all about. Carmen had never before pulled the trigger of a gun and she was as nervous as I have ever seen her.
I just wanted to shoot an M-16.
Inside the shooting range
When we walked into the shooting range store my jaw dropped.
It was a bloody armoury!
We could have taken over the city with the firepower hanging on the walls; though the armed citizenry would probably have repelled us eventually.
We nervously chose a pistol and a rifle from the arsenal – a .22 calibre Glock handgun and a .22 calibre M-16 pattern rifle – ‘baby guns’ we were told by the clerk. She then showed us how to load, aim and shoot each of the firearms. (They insist on calling them firearms, not weapons. Even semantics are a battleground when gun control is discussed.)
Then it was game time.
Shooting the guns
Our friend Aelisa led the way into the shooting range with her husband Liam. I know both of them from summer camp and it was great to be reunited with them.
Carmen was pretty jumpy, but then again so was I.
The booming reports from the guns being blasted on the range was deafening, even with our big Mickey Mouse ear protectors on. My heart was racing as we found our booths and starting loading the magazine with live bullets.
CHICK-CHACK! I pulled back the slide of the pistol, loaded a round into the chamber and aimed the sights at the head of the zombie Bin-Laden target I had chosen. When in Rome…
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
10 rounds went down range and when I slapped the target retrieval button my zombie Bin-Laden was full of holes. Nice job. Now it was Carmen’s turn.
Carmen’s amazing gun skills
She picked up the pistol and gripped it like it was on fire.
Aelisa told her to relax and just aim it down range and squeeze the trigger. Nice and easy. She lifted the weapon, sorry firearm, up and aimed at her target.
‘I can’t do it!’ she said, and lowered the pistol. She tried to shoot it two more times but shied away. Then she aimed a final time and pulled the trigger.
Right in the centre mass.
Her next shot bulls eyed the red circle drawn on the target’s groin area.
Gulp! I married a warrior woman!
With the shooting floodgates now very open Carmen and I burned through two boxes of 50 rounds in around half an hour. We all took turns shooting the pistol and the rifle and had a great time.
When we came out of the shooting range we were buzzing.
It’s a real stress reliever and the intricacies of shooting accurately are very challenging. I can definitely see the attraction.
But I will never have one in my house or seek to own one.
Shocking statistics about shooting guns in America
I can see both sides of the argument over guns in America – on the one hand people want to stop the deaths and on the other people’s personal rights and freedoms are – apparently – at stake.
The solution is beyond me, but as a visitor to the USA it’s fascinating to experience the many different viewpoints and experience the gun culture first hand.
What shocked me most though was that the minimum age to shoot a gun at the gun range is 10.
Ten years old! This seems crazy.
You can shoot a gun before you are legal enough to drive a car. You have to wait 11 more years to drink in the US. Seems like they have their priorities a little screwed up.
I will fight any attempt to increase gun ownership in Australia – armed with a hockey stick of course – and with laws backed up by an effective police force and a majority of the citizenry who do not feel they need guns to defend themselves above and beyond the service of the armed forces.