Wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve read this story or, better yet, taken a liberal to the range and brought home a Second Amendment conservative:
SHOOTING a handgun at a target is a thrill; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You load bullets into a clip, push it up into the gun, turn off the safety catch, take careful hold of the gun with two hands, aim and shoot. The thing jumps in your hand and you see the bullet knock a hole in the target and spark off the floor at the back of the range. There is an extraordinary rush and then you do it again. Another spark; perhaps this time the hole in the target is a little closer to the centre. Soon you have fired the whole clip and you’re loading the deadly weapon in your hand again.
Okay, because we’re in a good mood today, we’re going to let that “clip” thing slide for the moment. Also, loading “bullets” into it. Also, “turning off the safety catch.”
That is just to preface a more obvious point. To a liberal European reporter, from afar, American gun culture appears utterly insane. Americans are far more likely to murder someone or to kill themselves than people in almost all Western European countries, largely because guns make it easier. That almost 33,000 people are killed with firearms each year in America (including three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, earlier this week) is a colossal and largely unnecessary waste of life. That people celebrate these deadly devices and carry them around while shopping, picking up their children from school or working, seems monstrous.
Yet shooting is fun. And what Europeans—and liberal Americans—often don’t realise is that these deadly weapons are also an accessible, affordable and interesting hobby for millions of people. My experience of firing a pistol took place at a shooting range in the Maryland suburbs, about half an hour’s drive outside of Washington, DC. I had until then never visited a shooting range and I had no idea of what to expect. But the experience was actually oddly familiar. This place was not a temple to violence. Rather, it mostly closely resembled the golf driving range that my father would occasionally take me to as a child.
To the writer’s credit, he does later say that of those 33,000 gun deaths, 21,000 of them are suicides. Which leaves us with about 12,000 gun deaths per year in a country of 310 million people. As opposed to a rough average of 33,000 automotive deaths per year, almost none of which are suicides.
In the range people fired guns gleefully at targets. Some were white, male, middle-aged and so fit the stereotype. But not all. Across from where I fired my pistol, two black women, one with a small son, were taking turns (the child heavily supervised). Shooting targets was a fine family day out. At a practice target outside of the range, plenty of people were learning how to hold a weapon for the first time, without pointing it at anyone, dropping it or injuring themselves as it recoiled. Again, it resembled a driving range: people hitting targets for fun.
And the truth is that in the range, the violence that guns inflict on America felt extremely remote. A few stickers here and there made political points (“My right to own a gun is what protects your right to tell me I can’t”, said one). But mostly, the idea of guns as a means to kill somebody was absent. And so it is for most people who fire guns.
And so it is. The timorous liberal imagination, filled with fears and worries (two of the New York Times‘ favorite words in headlines, by the way), is forever imagining the worst, especially about their fellow citizens who happen to be conservative. It’s only rarely that they get a chance to actually experience how the other half lives — and more often than not, they like it. Sure, he takes a sideswipe at the NRA (an “extremely nasty organization”), but concludes with both his head and heart in the right place:
But keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill is not incompatible with widespread gun ownership. And bringing about the changes that will make America safer means convincing people who routinely use guns safely that they are not the enemy. Perhaps what gun control needs is a few advocates who are a little more visibly familiar with the sheer fun of holding a pistol and pulling the trigger.