What I Learned From Shooting a Bunch of Really Big Guns

Patrick O’Connell
Staff Writer

I’ll confess here and now that the title is an exaggeration. There were only a few really big guns on that December morning. However, I learned a great deal from firing them off and the experience certainly reshaped my views.  For most of my brief time as an adult, I was outspokenly against all firearms. My view was this: a knife is a tool. It can stab and maime but it can also be used to carve a beautiful sculpture or to chop vegetables to feed people. An axe is also a tool. It can cut firewood to keep people warm. It can be used by firemen to break through a door and rescue someone in need. That being said, it can also be used to hack human bodies to pieces in order to dissolve said pieces in a vat of chemicals. A gun, however, has no use other than to extinguish life. The design and intrinsic function is to eliminate another being as quickly as possible. Black and white. No grey area. As a pacifist, I saw no reason guns should exist within a civilized world. Of course, the civilized world I meant was the suburban, middle-class world that I grew up in. 

I was explaining my thoughts on guns to my friend Darrell over a few beers. He laughed when I gave my whole “a gun is a tool for killing” spiel. He told me “No, s—. You say that like killing can’t be done responsibly.” He was joking, obviously, but the sentiment was against my entire philosophy. Of course, my philosophy was derived from what I’d been taking in from movies and TV. Guns are depicted as hyper-lethal tools that anyone can pick up and become a killer. All it takes is a desire to harm the innocent and anyone can be a mass murderer if they choose to. Growing up in the suburbs, I didn’t see a gun unless something crazy or horrible was about to happen. But out in the country, in a completely different America, guns are just part of life.

He then offered to take me down to where his brother lives, outside of Wake Forest, to meet his nephew and the rest of the family down there and to get some actual experience with some real guns. I accepted because, why not? New experiences are fun. It’s what my idol, Hunter S. Thompson, would do. So, that’s the mindset I went in with.

We met in a big field at the edge of unclaimed woods, along contested property lines. When we arrived, Darrell and I started hanging old Christmas ornaments in some low-hanging branches. They made great targets. Darrell’s brother-in-law, Cody, followed in his truck. Cody would probably fit into every single stereotype a northerner could possibly have about southerners. He wore camo overalls, brought a wide collection of guns and ammo and was also a licensed firearms instructor. In this area, where we were shooting, people were not afraid of guns. You got them as Christmas gifts for each other. With the nearest police officer being a half hour drive away, you’d be ill-prepared to not keep a gun in your house.

We started off with small .22 revolvers. They don’t show on TV just how hard it is to aim a gun. The hardest part of it is aiming with the anticipation of kickback. Pistols with a higher caliber, like a .45, they’ll fly right out of your hand if you aren’t careful. We took turns firing off the revolvers at the ornaments. When we hit, they left tiny puncture marks in the plastic. I think I got maybe a few confirmed hits. But, Cody kept nailing the targets. At one point, he thought it’d be funny to fire a revolver in each hand, “cowboy style” as he said. But even despite doing something somewhat reckless, everyone there was safe. We were required to wear eyewear and noise-canceling headphones cause guns are also surprisingly loud. I remember suggesting that the experience would be even more fun if we had some beers and everyone looked at me like I was crazy. Cody said “Nah, Pat, bud, that’s how you get killed doin’ this.”

Growing up in the suburbs, I didn’t see a gun unless something crazy or horrible was about to happen. But out in the country, in a completely different America, guns are just part of life.

Next, were shotguns. These are significantly easier to aim with, considering they hit everything in front of you. The only downside is that each shot feels like a big punch in your shoulder and if you don’t anticipate it and lean into it, you’ll end up with a bruised arm. The shotgun was easily my favorite because I got to feel like a marksman. When I hit the ornaments, they got blasted in half which was extremely satisfying.

Then Cody brought out this massive sniper rifle. I don’t know what caliber it was but when he fired it, the gunshot echoed for at least a minute. I tried to fire it once. Once. Damn thing nearly gave me a black eye from looking down the scope too close. 

After this experience, I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent in support of guns. But, I would say I learned what responsible gun ownership looks like. I think everyone who wants to have a say in the “gun control” conversation needs to at least fire a gun in some capacity. Guns are fun. Being in a safe environment with people who you can trust, who know what they’re doing, firing guns is a bit of fun everyone should take part in at some point.

I think it’s easy for “city slickin’ liberals” to demonize guns and everything involved in country life. Before this experience, I was in the same boat. But I think this speaks to all partisan issues when I say that it’s imperative to see how other people live. I spent half a day with these folks and I’d say it helped me understand the conservative perspective a lot more. To everyone anti-gun reading this, I urge you to try and understand the conservative perspective. Empathize with them even if they won’t do the same for you. You don’t have to agree with them after but it helps create a healthier discussion when you see from their point of view.



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