I shot a handgun once before with some high school buddies and haven’t touched one since. At the time I couldn’t believe how easy it was to stroll into a gun range (if memory serves we were in Everett) and rent a few handguns for an hour. No one even asked me if I had ever fired a gun before.
My last formal class room, ironically enough, was a post grad product management program at Berkeley. Looking around the class room today, I don’t see anyone I would consider likely Berkeley alumni. My lasting image of the Berkeley campus was a student protest of the construction of a new football stadium. The new stadium required a few trees be cut down and that’s a Lindberg baby headline at Berkely. One student was living in a tree, complete with a pulley system for food and waste, for 100 plus days. Youth.
Today’s class is being conducted at the West Coast Armory (WCA) in Bellevue. It’s right off Richards Road; an area I’m all to familiar with from my Starwave and Expedia days. Right through the door I was impressed. To my uneducated eye, this place looks like it has to be run by ex cops and/or military. It’s spotless, organized, and has very clear signage. The staff is beyond friendly. I’m in what appears to be the Nordstrom’s of gun ranges. I’m clearly in the right place.
Did I mention many of the staff are packing? Side holsters and everything. What’s alarming is this doesn’t feel odd to me.
Class started promptly at 7:00 pm. A look around the room and it’s essentially a Benetton ad. An older, less attractive Benetton ad. This must been the Bellevue diversity I’ve been reading about. The class is comprised twelve men and four women. A good third of my classmates are of Asian descent.
Our instructor, a firm but friendly 50-something named Chuck (actual name withheld) is ripped from the cover of stereotype magazine. He’s fit, clad in cargo pants, a turtle neck, and a polo shirt, and sports a throw-back mustache. If you’re searching for a mental image go to the 80s sitcom well and dredge up an image of Major Dad. For the double-word score he’s both an ex law enforcement and ex military. So, he’s got his chops. Chuck has a good-natured style and sets right into our goal for the day – safety. We start by reviewing the universal rules of firearms. For those new to firearms they are:
1. Assume every gun is loaded (even if you know it’s not).
2. Don’t point a gun at anything you aren’t ready to destroy.
3. Never put your finger on the trigger until you have a bead on your target.
4. Know what’s beyond your target.
Kind of hard to argue with those. What’s encouraging about the staff is that I get every impression they take these very seriously. For the remainder of the class we cover a wide array of topics including the makings of a cartridge, different calibers of bullets, the rules around concealed carry permits and more. Both of our instructors have concealed carry permits which doesn’t really surprise me. Did I mention the second instructor? Think of a young Claire Danes. Brimming with enthusiasm, Charlotte (not her real name either) clearly loved to teach, but I think she loved guns even more. While Chuck met my mental image of a handgun safety instructor to the letter, Charlotte was anything but. She lacked the grizzled visage, but made up for it with exuberance.
The notion of having a concealed carry permit has always seemed a little riducuous to me. Who runs to Metropolitan Market for more cave-aged Gruyere with a handgun? So, when the topic came up in class I was all ears. I was pleased to hear an alarming lack of zealotry. Perhaps I’ve seen that Charton Heston clip too many times. Chuck did not recommend openly carrying on the west side of the cascades as you’ll just make too many people uncomfortable. And likely get a visit from the cops when someone invariably calls. Of note, I suspect Chuck still always carries, just not openly on his hip while he orders Mocha Frappuccinos.
After a thorough review of the integrated act of firing, and some additional reminders on safety, it’s finally time to go shoot. We’re divided into groups and given protective eyewear and headphones. The eyewear are to protect you from spent shells. The headphones protect your ears obviously. We make our way to a shooting bay passing through what we call a man trap in the jewelry business. A man trap is essentially a two door process to gain access to a secure area. Go through one locked door to reach a small chamber. Once the first door is closed you engage security measures to access the second. Neither door can be opened at the same time. While the gun range doors can be opened at the same time, they ask you not to – this goal is noise abatement, not preventing a diamond heist.
We make our way past the gun bays toward some tables that are set for us down range. There are only four to a group so the two instructors can monitor our every move. My group is set to shoot first while the other group hangs back – well out of harm’s way. There are three tables with guns of different caliber (.22 vs. 38s and 9mm), and actions (single vs. double – more on this later). I opt for the full size 1911 first. The 1911 is the classic handgun you’ve seen in countless films. It’s basic design was introduced prior to WWI and continued on through Vietnam. As I readied to shoot for the first time I took a deep breath. At no point was I concerned for my personal safety although I was a hint on edge.
I picked up a magazine, loaded it, and inserted into the firearm. After taking off the safety I took my stance and took care to target the gun only down range with my finger along side the slide (and not yet on the trigger). Once given the clear our group began to fire. Despite being the largest gun I fired the amount of kick or recoil was tolerable – the gun’s sheer size can absorb a lot of the energy. I went through a full clip, my heart racing as I shot.
As I type I’m reminded of a question my father asked me at dinner after my class – he asked if I felt empowered. It’s almost the right question. When I think of that word I think of someone once disenfranchised in some fashion; perhaps only in their mind, perhaps quite appreciably. It’s not a feeling I’ve ever felt by that definition- perhaps this is the good fortune of being born a white male. What I did feel was a bit nervous. And powerful. I suspected this experience would be one that either resonated immediately, or not. And it did.
After the 1911 I fired an Austrian-made Glock which performed admirably, but felt like it had no soul. Boxy and lifeless, the Glock looked and felt machine made. Precise, balanced, and powerful? Sure. And a dreadful bore. Even in handguns the visual appeal matters – at least to me. There weren’t going to be any Glocks in my future. Now if only there were a Walther on the table…
My last gun was a .38 revolver which was fun, but just felt like a design whose time has passed. While there are speed loaders now enabling near magazine like reloading speed, there’s a look I’m after and a revolver simply isn’t it. Pistols, handguns that are magazine fed from the grip, are more to my liking. Both the 1911 and Glock are pistols, and while neither floated my boat aesthetically or ergonomically, they both won out over the revolver.
Then, before I knew it, class was over. Three hours passed in a flash. The alarming part was how much I enjoyed the evening. I knew I would be back. And I knew I’d by buying a gun. Initially I envisioned this day as an item on the list, a competency I needed to initiate. I wasn’t expected to possibly find something more.
What’s Dan going to think?