“Don’t call it a clip,” he corrects me. “This,” he says, pointing to the narrow, black tube on the glass countertop that separates us, “is a magazine.”
“Can I read it?” I joke, managing to quell my inner LL (Cool J, not Lohan), but not my inner dad and his subsequent jokes, if only for a precious moment. It’s bad pun #301 of the week, but who’s counting?
“And this,” he continues, ignoring me, “is a Glock pistol that I’m going to teach you how to load, aim, and shoot.” We’re not pussy-footing around anymore. It’s Mother’s Day, after all.
There are guns everywhere: on the walls, in the cases, in the hands of other patrons and employees, displayed like actual magazines, their glossy covers and attention-grabbing blurbs pointed and aimed with intent to kill self-confidence.
“Got it,” I say. “Guns, not puns.” Pathetic. Again he snubs me, giving the same this is serious business look that my grandma would let fly whenever I did something vaguely inappropriate, which was often, or tawdry, which was less so.
I make a quick mental note to never, ever crack a bad joke to a man dressed in all black who handles a gun better than I do my own child. Like, ever, again. From this point forward when he asks, “Does this make sense to you?” after each of his less-than demonstrative demonstrations, I merely affirm: “Yes,” or nod in firm, but taciturn agreement. I refrain from adding “Sir,” because I think I’m older than he is, and I don’t want him to shoot me. I also don’t want him to return the favor by calling me “ma’am.” (I’m not THAT OLD. Yet.)
“Have you ever shot anything before?” he asks. Myself in the foot, is my first thought.
“Clay pigeons,” is my second, a vocal one. “Probably need a refresher course.”
He handles the gun the way they do in the movies—proficient, militaristic, releasing the magazine and reloading it without looking or pausing. His confidence is catching. His grip is steady and composed, graceful even; the Baryshnikov of Kalashnikovs.
He hands me a gun. Simply stating, “You show me.”
I’ve only just submitted my thumbprint to be run through a national database for felony offenders. There is a moment where my much-too-active, always-in-trouble imagination entertains the impossible: that I share a fingerprint with a less law-abiding citizen than I and am about to receive some fairly shocking news. But the whorl patterns of my most nubby digit pass muster and moments later a semi-automatic weapon—the most profitable of all Glock Ges m.b.H guns, the Glock—is in my possession.
Whatever my opinion on gun laws as they stand may be, it is undeniably galvanizing to grip a firearm, to have it momentarily act as an extension of my otherwise non-threatening limb. Its name, its weightlessness, its color, every part of this weapon triggers fear and demands attention without so much a peep. It is powerful in its silence. Not much else has the ability to do this.
Where he is quick and proficient, I am slow and ham-fisted, a greenhorn without a pasture or a leg of experience to stand on.
He remarks on the way I handle the weapon—“you want to tuck your right thumb beneath your left,” “never put your finger over the barrel,” (WTF is wrong with me??), “keep the webbing of your hand away from the slide,”—all pertinent observations that, outside of this moment seem like common sense, but totally evade my current sensibility.
He makes me show him that I can follow direction. “Do it again,” he demands. I fuck up more than once, including confusing my left with my right hand (BRILLIANT!), but his refusal to treat me like a child, or an idiot, imbues me with a surprising confidence. (And not just because I feel pretty because I just got a sweet haircut—though that’s true, too.)
Two rough chicks at the counter next to me are being taught how to hold and shoot an AK.
This brings my training to an end. It feels vaguely like the time I went scuba diving in the British Virgin Islands (what up Iggy, #fancy!). My certification course took about 10-minutes of splashing like a mermaid in the hotel pool. I had barely learned to equalize before off I went into the deep blue abyss. (Any holy shit, there were sharks. NEVER again.)
I’m passed headphones, plastic glasses, a gun, 50 bullets, and a magazine. “Pick a number,” he says, pointing to the rows of paper targets that line the ceiling’s edge: zombies, circles, and human silhouettes in varying colors and head size.
“Anything with a baby on it?” I joke. Perhaps the MOST HORRIFIC thing I’ve ever said. This makes him raise an eyebrow—just one—and utter a deeply disturbed, “Whoa.” Now that I feel like the worst person alive, I coincidentally feel ready to shoot a gun.
I choose an all-orange silhouette, number 14.
“Put all your equipment on before you enter the range,” he demands. (Side note: I really like this guy, and if I ever find myself as Team Captain of Operation Apocalypse Now, he’s going to be my first draft pick, right after Michael Sam.)
I’m stationed in booth number 10. There are warnings everywhere: “WARNING, DO NOT AIM AT THE TARGET CARRIER. BULLET FRAGMENTS WILL COME BACK AND HIT YOU AND THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU WITH ENOUGH FORCE TO CAUSE INJURY OR BLINDNESS.” Right, cool.
“WARNING, DO NOT STEP OUT OF YOUR LANE WITH YOUR GUN LIKE A DUMMY. YOU MAY KNOW IT’S NOT LOADED BUT YOUR NEIGHBOR WILL NOT. DON’T BE A DEAD DUMMY.”
A guy down in lane number 3 is waving his rifle around. Instead of shooting him, I head back into my stall.
I soon find that loading a magazine without a clip is supremely difficult. By the sixth bullet my hands are cramping, and though I’m trying to remember the dude at the counter’s sage advice to push the loaded bullet down with my left hand and load the new bullet in with my right, I’m just shoving these things in any which way they’ll go, which seems smart.
By the time I get the seventh bullet shoved in there, I think what the hell, I don’t need ten bullets to put a hole in the orange man’s head. As it turns out, I need about same number as your mom needs to be to get a senior discount at the local movie theater. Meaning: 60 plus.
As my papered acquaintance flies down the shaky zip line to his demise (or rather his napping place, where my bullets miss him time and again, even though HE’S NOT EVEN MOVING), the girls in the booth next to me fire off the first round from their AK.
The sound gets me before the nerves do. It’s louder and bigger than the kaiju’s shriek—that iconic, earth-shattering Godzilla roar. It bounces and resounds. Cortisol leaks from my eyes.
There’s nothing like the volley of bullets and rogue shell casings flying into your peripheral that makes you understand your mortality. Not even the freeway can do that.
Every single bullet that escapes their gun hits straight to the center, right to the heart, and every echoing boom, the successive cacophonous bangs make my heart jump and my hands shake. It’s an unsettling, stomach-in-knots noise that quickly reminds you, lest you’ve forgotten, that you’re are in the very close proximity to death—one day of skipped meds and the crazy next to you could just fire off a round into your stomach. It doesn’t happen, but it could.
Standing there, Glock in hand, looking the opposite of however James Bond does (dashing and not terrified?), I feel like I’ve swallowed my ten-year-old self on the first day of 5th grade, Excited but nervous to see the boy I loved the year before for the first time since getting my first (totally unnecessary) bra. (Would he notice that I’m a woman now?? No, no he wouldn’t.)
“You’ll get used it,” someone offers over my shoulder, my jolts and fits apparently that visible, but I think there’s no glass of whiskey or ginger ale that will calm the tempest in my stomach.
How the fuck am I supposed to shoot a gun now?
But I bite the anxiety bullet, take my stance, insert my seven-projectile-strong magazine into its hole, and as I pull my hands up to fire one off, the first bullet hits clean in the target’s right shoulder before I even know what’s happened. The next six bullets hit a variety of places, none of which I am too proud of (I’LL NEVER BE TEAM CAPTAIN of OPERATION APOCALYPSE), many being the rubber tire buffers hanging overhead to catch stray bullets.
The short and long of it?
If my bullets were cats they’d be all over your neighborhood, getting in your trash and pissing on your lawn. Still. Though I don’t manage to get a bullet to his brow, or get one, not ONE, shot to the heart, I conclude that I have most certainly hit a main artery and could survive a minor mutiny. (Presuming I never have to load my own magazine.)
Oddly enough, or not oddly at all, standing in this weird, dark little alley of a gun club affords the opposite experience to standing in front of a newsstand at the airport or in front of magazines at the market, wondering which glossy might leave you feeling the least insecure or brain-blown: “How to get Bathing Suit Ready” (I don’t know, put on a fucking bathing suit), “Selfie-Made,” “Is Swiss Chard the New Kale?” “The One Braid You’ll Want to Wear All Summer,” “Style Guide to Polka Dots,” “Can You Create a Cat Eye with a Spoon?” “Celebrities Doing Things,” “Celebrities Wearing Things.”
Loading a magazine and reading a magazine are such disparate experiences. Everything about this is different, which may seem like an all-too-obvious fact, except magazines pretend to be what the gun range actually is: empowering.
Even the rules of the shooting range are set up to protect the users: To rent a firearm you must be a gun owner or in a party of two or more, treat every firearm as if it were loaded!!!, persons under 18 must be accompanied by an adult at all times, no pregnant women are allowed inside the range.
And so on.
Image if magazines had similar rules: To read, you must use the buddy system as to not succumb to self-doubt!!!, treat every beauty article as if it is a lie, persons under 18 must read with an adult, no pregnant women need to read this.
And so forth.
It’s no bullshit versus all bullshit.
Where guns are powerful in their silence, fashion magazines are rude and loud; they treat their customer like an idiot who needs to be schooled in the fine art of getting dressed or washing their f’ing face. You know you’re being pitched, sold, your vanity and your insecurities exploited, and that it’s impossible to keep up with the vogues’– financially, emotionally, practically—impossible, and yet 1 out of every 10 American women read Glamour and Vogue reports 5 BILLION press impressions each month.
Loading a magazine, holding, and shooting a gun is humbling and liberating. Reading a fashion magazine for the first time, or the five-hundredth, is often one rich in humiliation, an exercise in self-doubt.
When I’m done, I admire my not-so-handiwork. And even though I’ve technically failed, I walk out the gun club with my head held high, not wondering if I should stick some Botox in it.