The following editorial first published in the Journal Inquirer Saturday, July 28, 2012
Serious, deadly, and reassuring
The Sunday following the theater shooting in Aurora, Co., I bought a Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm compact. I’ve had my permit since January, but I never got around to buying a gun because, depending on what you want, they can get expensive.
When my husband told me Saturday that a man he works with offered to walk us through the target range he frequents, I was excited and wanted to go. Bull’s eyes have always been a challenge I enjoy, whether on a foam target designed for balls striped with Velcro, dart boards, or stickers affixed to cardboard panels that slide farther and farther away at the touch of a button.
My first time on a gun range was with my mother when I was 14. At the time, she only had a .38- caliber revolver and a .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol. After instructing me on gun safety, including where to point it (nowhere but down unless aiming at a target), she took me to the range where I shot close enough to the center of the target to want to do it again.
The next time I shot a gun was over 25 years later during the safety course the state of Connecticut requires for a pistol permit. It was two shots with a .22 revolver at a circle drawn on a piece of paper tacked to a hay bale in the basement of a military surplus store. I did okay, but not as well as the woman who had been there the previous month. She hit the tacks, our instructor said.
I told my husband, taking the class with me so he could get his own permit, “I want to be able to shoot the tacks.”
Seven months later, the Sunday I bought my first gun, we shot targets at the range with my husband’s friend. The range is attached to a store, which seemed crowded to us, but we’d never been there before and chalked it up to Americans loving their guns. We didn’t even consider a connection to the recent shooting or the subsequent gun-regulation hysteria playing out in the news.
We went to the counter, where we learned to say “Two ears, two eyes” for two noise-canceling headsets and two sets of safety glasses. Once inside the range, we figured out the target distance presets and shot the guns we rented, a .38 revolver and a semi-automatic pistol whose identification I remember only as having “Sig” and “9mm” in it.
I’m not a gun fanatic.
I used to want a revolver because they’re good-looking. However, the trigger is harder to pull, and that combined with the short barrel reduces accuracy for someone with small hands and unimpressive grip strength. The Sig has a very easy trigger and a longer barrel, and snapping in and dropping out the magazines is fun. (“Guns aren’t supposed to be fun,” a shoulder-sitting conscience whispers in my ear. But, aren’t they?)
After shooting for about an hour, my husband and I had four bullets left in the 9mm. He suggested we each take two shots on a fresh target at 45 feet.
He, an expert marksman with an Army background, went first, hitting the 8 ring (10 is the center) and the outside 4 ring. I shot the 8 ring and the 7 ring. (“It’s a whole different kind of shooting” on a military range, he and his friend said, colluding to minimize my victory). I took this as further evidence I should spend more time on a range.
But I don’t need to buy my own gun for a range that rents them. So why buy one?
The timing of my purchase was an unfortunate coincidence that prompts me to say “It wasn’t because of the theater shooting” any time I tell someone I bought my first gun the following weekend.
Bringing something into the house that can kill a person from a decent distance with nothing but a light pull of the trigger isn’t something I believe should be done on impulse.
Particularly not when statistics reported by the University of Utah Health Sciences Library show there were 600 accidental shooting deaths in 2010. Two-thirds of such accidents take place inside the home, and “for every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings.”
The reason I bought a very, very serious, deadly, dangerous gun (those are the words that run through my mind every time I look at it: “serious, deadly, dangerous”), and the reason I applied for my permit early this year, was twofold: target shooting (I can take it places that don’t rent guns), and, on a practical level, I’m a short female without a black-belt in martial arts who’d like a chance to defend herself.
When it comes to gun-safety, numbers and research carry a lot of weight in my decision-making. There are too many accidents for me to have taken buying a gun lightly. I knew it would take time to feel comfortable loading it anywhere but at the range.
When it comes to the likelihood that I’ll probably never need the gun, however, the numbers are meaningless.
According to the 2009 Department of Justice Statistics on Female Victims of Violence, just 31 percent of all rape/sexual assault against women in 2008 was committed by a stranger. So, my chances of having to protect myself from something like that are relatively slim.
Onto murder by a stranger (because I’m confident I don’t have to worry about a domestic situation). Over the course of almost 30 years, between 1980 and 2008, only 11.9 percent of all female murder victims were killed by a stranger, according to the Department of Justice’s “Homicide Trends in the United States.”
In fact, during the same period, males were more likely to be homicide victims in most “victim” categories, including family, infant, and elder.
None of this convinces me. I’ve been well conditioned over the years—with the help of television shows, movies, detective mystery novels, and even news reports—to accept that, as a woman, I am a violent offender’s most likely target. Based on much of what I’ve seen in the media, women are caught unaware. They’re attacked by a stranger kicking in their door, attacked on biking trails, attacked in parking lots, attacked in their own homes, and then raped, strangled, stabbed (or any combination of the three) and then dumped/dismembered/burned/or stuffed in a dumpster.
I’m not paranoid, but it’s safe to say I’ve been warned.
Had the theater shooting not taken place, my husband and I still would have gone to the range that weekend, and I still would have driven home with a new pistol, two clips, and a box of ammunition.
There have only been a handful of mass shootings in the U.S. since 1989, and they’re rarely film or literature material, and therefore aren’t a looming psychological bogeyman.
It’s not the anomalies, or even the recent assumption that the government’s going to “take our weapons” (if I can’t have one, I can’t have one), that scares me. It’s the (perceived) threat of everyday violence. And if, by some freak occurrence, another mass shooting takes place and I happen to be there, I suppose I’ll at least have the option to try to shoot back.
Related blog series: Nervous Gun Ownership