Bang bang, shoot shoot

Sacramento Trapshooting Club, 3701 Fulton Avenue, (916) 481-1336,

Say we’re talking gun control, and it’s my turn to add my two pacifist cents. Normally, I’d tell you the true story about the time I was playing at a friend’s house when I was 12, and her little brother got their dad’s handgun from who knows where, snuck up next to me and pointed it at my head. And how I curled into a ball and screamed, and my friend sighed at her brother and said something like, “Go put that back,” as if he’d taken a cookie from the cookie jar. And how, if we’d been in an After School Special, the gun would have gone off, and I’d have died to teach America’s youth a lesson, while her brother looked pitifully into the camera and said, “I didn’t think it was loaded!” And how I’ve avoided guns ever since.

That’s what I would have said before last weekend. Now maybe I’d say, “I went shooting once.”

How did I go from being totally afraid of firearms to firing a 12-gauge into the crisp morning air? Well, there’s nothing like a deadline to motivate a person.

When my editors told me to find an appropriate column topic for SN&R’s war issue, I searched for activities that suited my nonviolent views—self-defense classes, peace-building workshops—but couldn’t find anything timely. I expanded my search from defense to offense—handgun-safety classes, National Rifle Association meetings—without success. Finally, I sent out a desperate e-mail: “Does anyone know anyone who would take me shooting?”

Before I knew it, I had a date to meet a co-worker, his father and two shotguns at the Sacramento Trapshooting Club. Granted, shooting clay pigeons isn’t the most direct commentary on war, but it’s as far as I want to delve into the culture of firearms.

I was shocked at the informality of the scene: men strolling about with shotguns and firing across a field bordering Business 80. I’m sure the freeway was out of range, but in a post-9/11 world that requires us to remove our shoes at the airport, the sight was jarring. The club’s codes of sportsmanship seemed to belong to another era—as did the oversized pink-plastic eye shields many trapshooters wore. Picture a shotgun-toting man in a flannel shirt, a camouflage hat and a pair of Gloria Steinem’s rose-tinted lenses. Priceless.

The entire operation seemed to be run by bored teenage boys. Two of them took our tickets and pointed to trap No. 5, a concrete bunker from which clay pigeons would fly whenever we yelled “Pull!” into a mounted microphone.

My friend’s father graciously loaded the gun for me and taught me to aim. In most cases, when something I’m holding is about to make a loud noise, jerk violently and emit lethal projectiles, my instinct is to drop it. But I learned that the only way to buffer the shotgun’s kick was to put the butt of it against my shoulder and rest my cheek on it. I assumed the position, consumed by a magnified version of the anxiety one feels when a balloon is about to pop.

“Pull!” I yelled, and a little orange disc streaked across the sky. BLAM!!! Before I’d even thought about it, I had pulled the trigger. My shoulder ached, my ears vibrated, and I had no idea where the pigeon was. I felt euphoric, with adrenaline coursing through my body, but also shocked at the ease of setting off something so powerful. I couldn’t even keep my eyes open when I fired. Why would anyone let me have a gun around actual people?

I shot a few more times, but finally I was relieved to return the gun to my friend’s father—just as I was relieved to have a second, more-empowering chapter in my personal gun history. I sincerely hope it’s the last.