I hold the gun in my hand. It’s solid and heavy, like its name. Glock. 9 mm.
A lifetime of movies, television, and videogame guns coalesce into this one moment where I am actually holding the real thing. It’s exhilarating and terrifying.
The man beside me gives me safety instructions, but it’s hard to feel that anything is safe when I have a gun in my hand. I am very aware that if I wanted to, I could turn the gun on him, me in a sudden, unexplained murder-suicide. I could go on a wild shooting spree. It’s the same awareness of the proximity to potential danger that you get when you stand too close to the edge of the subway platform, for example, when the train pulls in. A man with a gun always has everyone in the room’s fullest attention.
If you’ve never held a gun before except in videogames or your imagination, it’s hard to grasp just how sexy it is. Cht-chack! The sound when you pull the slide back and the action when it loads a bullet into the chamber is crisp and businesslike and is special. I’ve pressed R to reload in a million First-Person Shooters, but actually doing it on a real gun is a bit of a struggle. Embarassingly, my soft hands aren’t used to touching milled metal. I sit at a computer all day, tapping keys. I am the sad stereotype of a coddled videogamer. This is like throwing a dog’s chew-toy at a cat and expecting it to catch it in its mouth.
The man whose guns these are watches me carefully as I take aim at the target about 30 feet away. It’s just a regular target, a thin poster with concentric circles emanating from a red dot.
“Are there other kinds of targets?” I ask. I close one eye and line up the sights.
“What do you mean?” the man asks. His voice is slightly muffled by the ear protectors we wear, but I can hear him clearly. “Like silhouettes?”
“Yeah. Or like, could you put a face on the target? Like someone’s photo?”
“Well, the club has a policy against that,” the man explains. “With our gun club, the idea is that you’re out to get better at shooting – not shooting people.” He examines the way I’m holding the gun and says, “Whenever you’re ready.”
I squeeze the trigger and a lot of things happen at once.
The gun jolts, suddenly, in my hand, like a tiny bomb went off in it, which is actually a fairly close assessment of what in fact happened. I’m less interested in how I did aiming-wise than the fact I was holding something that, when activated, almost dislodged itself from my grip.
A copper shell ejects from the gun in a beautiful arc to the right, and plinks down onto the floor.
A tiny hole appears in my target.
I lower the gun. My arms are shaking.
“Squeeze off a few more,” the man suggests.
“Hold on,” I say. “I need a few seconds.”
In the videogames I like to play, a lot of shooting and a lot of killing goes on, but it’s all very casual. You aim the reticle and click the trigger and the man blooms a bright red mist of blood and his body is thrown back cartoonishly and he falls to the ground. Sometimes I don’t even see the death animation because I’m already onto the next target.
I lift the gun again and fire off more rounds in succession.
The room fills with the blue smoke of exploded gunpowder and my hand begins to ache.
When I’m done, I examine how I did.
“I start out pretty good, but then my aim turns to shit,” I grin sheepishly at the man.
“See, you’re beginning to tighten up, and that’s affecting your aim,” the man explains. “You need to relax.”
I don’t know how the man expects me to relax when I have this tiny controlled bomb exploding over and over again in my hands.
I have only fired six bullets, and I am already exhausted.
Sherwin Sullivan Tjia is the author of five books: Gentle Fictions, Pedigree Girls (Insomniac Press), The World is a Heartbreaker (Coach House Books), The Hipless Boy (Conundrum Press). His latest is a choose-your-own-adventure story told from the perspective of a cat. It’s called You Are a Cat! (Conundrum Press).