My weekend as a gun-lovin', gun-wieldin' member of the Wild West.
I took my first gun class this weekend, and boy was it an eye-opening experience for someone who knew absolutely nothing about guns. The course was titled "Introduction to Handguns for Ladies Only," and was given at Calibers, an indoor shooting range and gun shop in Albuquerque.
The class instructor, Lindsey, explained to us that because men and women have very different reactions to guns (men are generally less leery and less emotional about shooting), Calibers chose (wisely in my opinion) to offer a separate women's class. Lindsey, who was incredibly knowledgeable as well as personable, is only 22 years old. She has been shooting guns since she was a child, and has been working at Calibers for 5 years—since she was a teenager! She knew more about firearms than anyone I have ever met.
The first thing that struck me about the class was how little I really knew about the subject matter. I felt like I was taking a beginner's foreign language class with how hard it was to keep up with the strange words. Terms like "single-action", "striker-action," "de-cock," "mag clip," "mag release," "front sight" and "cartridge caliber" were completely beyond me. I soon realized I did not even have the most basic handgun knowledge, like the difference between a semi-automatic pistol and a revolver, or what an actual bullet looked like.
The first day of the 2-day course was in a classroom setting. We learned firearm safety (never point a gun at something you are not willing to destroy), basic handgun anatomy (semi-automatic vs. revolver, single action vs. double action), ammunition basics (bullet types and caliber measurements), handgun maintenance (you should clean your gun once a month whether you fire it or not!) and, of course, handy tips on selecting and purchasing a handgun (it is a gun shop, after all). We also learned about New Mexico gun laws. There don't seem to be many. There is no waiting period to buy a gun and no required registration. New Mexico is an Open Carry State, meaning it is legal to carry a loaded weapon as long as it is not concealed. "Seriously?" I thought to myself. You need a permit to carry a concealed gun, but not one that is openly visible? Does that seem strange to anyone else? New Mexico law also allows a person to have a concealed loaded firearm in his or her vehicle—including motorcycles and bicycles. Yup, this is the West, folks, where it is absolutely fine to tote around your loaded gun in a cute little bicycle basket. I did feel a little better learning that in New Mexico you must be 21 to buy a handgun, though only 18 to buy a rifle or shotgun and only EIGHT to shoot at Calibers Shooting Range. I was still learning how to shoot a water gun when I was 8!
Course participants were encouraged to bring their own hardware (the polite term for guns and ammo) to class. Since many people apparently inherit guns or get guns as gifts (who gets a gun as gift?), about half of our 12-person class brought their own. When it came time to learn how to load and unload ammo, the rest of us experimented with different types of handguns, all semi-automatics (which are nowadays much preferred over revolvers). Loading rounds in a semi-automatic handgun is much harder than loading a revolver though and I struggled to get even 5 rounds into a gun designed to hold much more. The next day we would be shooting on the range and everyone seemed to be pumped, except me, the petrified one. What if I accidentally shot someone? Maybe I should just watch and brush up on the lingo I just couldn't quite seem to master.
The next morning I awoke at the crack of dawn (extremely unlike me, especially on a weekend) and drove to Starbucks to get a latte (also extremely unlike me, since I don't drink coffee) in the hope that the caffeine would keep me alert enough to not shoot anyone (like classmates) or any thing (like my foot) that I wasn't supposed to. In preparation for shooting, our class practiced things like stance (the stance you see on old cop shows is, by the way, totally outdated, no one shoots standing sideways anymore), grip (sorry lefties, almost all guns are built for the right-handed), sight alignment (which part of the gun to look at before you fire), trigger control (this one I understood—"index finger" is pretty easy to remember), breathing (don't forget to breathe) and follow-through (don't let the recoil hit you in the head or knock you off your feet.)
Off to the range we went. Those of us who did not bring our own ammo had to buy 50 rounds for our shoot. I had so much trouble getting the ammo into the gun that I was the last one to finish shooting our initial 25 rounds. This is a skill that will take some practice for me. I shot four different types of guns: a Barretta 9mm standard-issue Army Reserve model, a Glock .40, a Glock 9mm and an HK 9mm. We were supposed to shoot the man on the paper poster in the chest, which was marked with a rectangle. If you were really good, you could then graduate to shooting the man in the brain, which was marked by a much smaller rectangle. I never graduated to the brain rectangle. In fact, I seemed to be shooting poster man everywhere except his chest. Lindsey came over, gave me a few corrections, and viola! I lethally wounded poster man on the next shot. And the next and the next. Well, now things were looking up. This was probably as close to being a bad ass as I will ever get in my life.
Unbelievably, I gained some confidence and got so into the shooting toward the end of class that I bought another round 50 rounds and stayed on the range after everyone else had left. My second paper poster man was a huge improvement on my first, although I was still not able to shoot him in the brain. Oh well, there's always next time. Oh and there will be a next time because I found out that every Thursday at Calibers is "Ladies Day" so women shoot for half price! Just like happy hour at the local bowling alley. Woo hoo! How can you say no to that?
A majority of the women in my class indicated that they were going to follow this course up with the Concealed Carry Permit class, which, if you pass, gets you an official CCP in the state of New Mexico. I have no desire to do this, or to ever own a gun. But as my boss, John, said as I shared with him my skepticism about guns before the class, "If you are ever in a situation involving a gun, wouldn't it be better to know something about guns than not to know?" Yes. I'm glad I took the class, and I'm glad I now know.