Mass shootings have been an immense issue within our country for the last decade. Every time a shooting occurs, there is great controversy regarding America’s gun policies. But have we ever stepped back to take a look at the type of weapons used in such massacres? I did, and here’s my experience.
Before this, I had a certain idea about guns. I knew they had recoil and about different types, like shotguns, assault rifles and pistols, but I had never truly seen a gun in real life, let alone held one.
With all the recent mass shootings, I was curious about what shooting a gun is actually like. Gun for Hire, a local shooting range in Woodland Park, was the perfect place to start.
Now, I wasn’t going into this process completely blind – my father is a retired detective lieutenant who worked with these weapons for about 30 years. He never wanted to take me shooting previously to shelter me from the harsh reality, but after some begging, he cleared his Saturday morning to teach me how to shoot.
On the weekends, Gun for Hire opens at 8 a.m., and even upon early arrival, the parking lot was packed. A line formed outside consisting of people of all ages with a wide range of guns. I was the only woman.
Gun for Hire is soon to be America’s largest gun range and is the only one that has received six stars. The shooting range was a lot bigger than I expected. The walls were lined with merchandise spanning from tote bags to books to hats. They had self-advertisements lined up on the wall, including an invitation to host a children’s birthday party.
Once we were in, my father and I had to sign some papers and take a photo similar to receiving your license. My uncle joined us, as he is a member of the range, and his process was much easier. As a member, he also had access to the AR-15.
We picked out our guns along with the packs of targets we wanted from themes, such as a robber, whose intestines were visible, and a zombie, as if the shooting was a game to earn points.
Prior to entering the actual room where we would do the shooting, we had to put on our eye and ear protection. The only actual items we had to purchase at Gun for Hire were the targets and the ammunition for the AR-15, the 223 round… which I started with.
The room we got to shoot in was for members only. When we walked in, there was already one man shooting, and I jumped with each bullet he released, even with my protective ear-gear. This is the reason why after 30 years of detective work, my father is losing hearing in his left ear.
While my father does own guns due to his former career, he keeps them somewhere that I don’t have access to nor even know how to get to. The first time I had actually seen these weapons up close was when he brought them out to give me a safety lesson.
He showed me how to hold the guns, how to load them and how to check them to always ensure they were unloaded. “Never point it at anybody, even an empty weapon,” he advised. Each gun is different in how it holds the bullets though, and it was terrifying to have to remember which gun kept a bullet in the chamber and which did not after inputting and extracting the magazine.
The two of his guns that I used were a Glock 27 40 caliber and a Beretta 92FS 40 caliber, both being weapons he used during his time as a cop. However, I was advised to begin with the AR-15 because it is easier to handle than the handguns.
When I learned that, I was beyond shocked. How could a weapon so large be easier to control than the small ones that can be so effortlessly concealed and held?
I love my father to death, but he is not the best teacher. When he trained those below him on how to use weapons, most of them had already known what to do, so it was difficult for him to show me every step. Thankfully, the staff at Gun for Hire were incredibly friendly and willing to lend me a hand. They taught me how to hold the weapon perfectly and stand in the correct position, but having that AR-15 in my hand had me shaking.
It took me a few minutes to even be able to pull the trigger as I was scared beyond belief about what would come out. As soon as the first bullet left the chamber, the smell of smoke filled my nostrils and it lingered from the barrel. It smoked.
After my first shot, I let out a huge breath and immediately put the gun down. I was panicked, unsure of what I had just felt. It was weird – so easily done but with tremendous impact. A hole revealed itself in the left corner of the target.
My body didn’t move when I shot, just my head. To hold the AR, you have to put the gun on your shoulder and rest your cheek on the weapon, and I felt my face lift and jolt with the shot.
We then moved on to the Glock – and thank God, because my left arm was actually aching from holding up the AR. The Glock was much heavier than I expected it to be. With this gun, I was less shaky, expecting it to be a simple shot because the gun was small.
However, the kickback sent me into so much shock that I got yelled at for turning around with the gun in my hand. My mouth hung open, the stun causing me to think absolutely no thoughts but “holy shit.”
In my father’s opinion, the Glock was the easiest for me, so we stuck with that for a while, even though he referred to me as “weak-wristed” because the gun kept stovepiping– “a brutal ‘failure to eject’ malfunction that put your handgun in a complete inoperable state” as described by Locked Back Training – due to my faint grip. It was just so heavy.
I did end up getting some battle scars – some scrapes against my left thumb where the gun recoiled after unloading each bullet. Thankfully, a team member came to my rescue and showed me how to avoid such injuries, and then complimented me on how accurate my shots were for a first-timer.
After we emptied the magazines for the Glock twice more, it was time for the Beretta. It felt similar to the Glock, just longer and with less recoil. I didn’t use it for as long as I used the Glock though, as our hour-long session was beginning to feel tedious. The robber target was shredded.
I honestly felt a little cool after the session ended. I had just shot three different guns, and apparently did it well too. Not a lot of people get to experience that, and I was happy to spend some time with my father doing something that gave me more insight into what he did during his career.
But at the same time, I could not get rid of the fear. I kept thinking about all these kids I see on the news, about my mother, a special education teacher, or about my best friend who is going into the same field. If I, as someone who does not scare easily, jump and shake at the sight and sound of a gun in a controlled area, I cannot even imagine how terrified the innocent people who have lost their lives to gun violence felt.
I do, however, feel as though the trip changed some of my views about guns. In a restricted and safe area, why shouldn’t people be able to shoot targets and have a little fun? On a more serious note, would I have even been able to do this with my father if he did not have the right weapons to be able to defend himself in the field?
I would say that I left the range more confused than I entered, but it was definitely an experience that I am glad to have had. Who knows, maybe I’ll even return at some point in the future to take down that zombie.
Featured photo by Amanda Jones