I recently had the opportunity to shoot a gun, actually several guns. I wasn't hunting, all I shot were some empty paint cans, but the experience was memorable and worthy of writing. I am glad that at 29, this was my first experience with fire arms, I am not sure that I had the seriousness, respect or confidence necessary prior to this that is needed to use a gun with care. The weight of the gun was what struck me, both in the physical object and in the damage that it could do if accidentally triggered in the wrong direction. My instructor was a good one though, a Vietnam Vet who was on the rifle club and who made sure the gun barrels were pointing at the ground at all times and that everyone was standing out of range. It must take some time around guns to be comfortable with them, to be aware of where they are pointing and remember the power in them. I have always been fascinated by the ease of pulling a trigger. The ease of taking a life with the movement of one finger. And yet, there is something very difficult about shooting at the same time. I was a little nervous at first and doubted my ability to hit my target, it being very close to my host's bulldozer. I was unsure of my shot, having never shot anything more than a water gun (whose accuracy is less important), but I took my time, listened to the instructions and did hit the paint can. The pop of the first shot was loud even with ear plugs. The pop of the magnum was louder. In all I shot a .22 pistol, a .22 rifle, a magnum pistol, a 20 gauge shotgun, and an M14. The latter of which was definitely the most intimidating and impressive, having fire shoot out of the barrel along with the bullet.

I enjoyed shooting the guns. It was a powerful feeling. I wondered though, would I want to shoot guns at living things? Would I want to have one in my home? The answer to both of these questions is, no. There is beauty in the object of the gun, in the way that they are manufactured, in the technology of the way they work. I imagine there are some incredible ostensibly decorated guns that act more as art than weapons. I might someday like to own a gun, to learn to feel ownership over that kind of power, to go to the shooting range and practice the skill of shooting, to go skeet shooting. I wonder though, would that ownership of this skill make me desire to then take it out into the world? To me guns still do not seem very sporting. Killing anything that cannot arm itself just seems like a cowardly thing to do. And of course I have issue with using them against people, guns seem to me to have the potential to escalate all conflict to an unnecessary point of danger extremely quickly. Conflicts are necessary, but should not end in death. Guns make it too easy to reach that outcome. So what will be my relationship with guns?

Guns exist. There is something important in learning to respect the power that they have. I know that living in the city, in Baltimore specifically with such a high rate of gun deaths, I have felt their weight even before I had experienced one in my hand. Like all other mechanical devices, guns at heart are tools. They are objects that extend what we as humans can do and in that extension they have the potential for creation and destruction. We need to remember this, to respect it. To pay heed, not just to the arms that end up in museums as art, but also to those in our daily lives. I remember a boy in middle school who said in religion class one day that he knew where to get a gun. I think back on this now, I wonder whether he was just trying to impress or whether it was true. Assuming it was true, I wonder what he did or would have done with that gun in his hands. Did he understand the power and weight that he held? Had someone taught him how to be aware of himself and the extension of himself in that gun? If not I can only imagine that by accident or emotion something was destroyed. I still do find the destruction of a gunshot scary. The remains of the paint cans after four of us had used them as targets were something to look at. The entry point a smooth hole (except for the shotgun, which left small pellet marks), the exit wound however a torn open, gaping wound. I imagined the bullet running through flesh and I shuddered even just thinking about it. Is that what guns are made for? Really? At heart can I believe that guns can be appropriated and used as a lesson in discipline and responsible use of power? I have to. I see in military men, who have used guns to inflict death (and who survive this trauma) act in a disciplined and respectful way that I have not seen in other training. If we could use this kind of training, without pairing it with the destruction of life we could teach people to be aware of themselves and their guns and to use them to promote creative power instead of killing power.

I imagine that I will shoot a gun again, but only in circumstances where safety, respect, and discipline are at the forefront of the experience. And I thank all who have and will teach me to use guns with care. Thank you!