A few weeks ago I was at an outdoor arts festival when someone asked me what the logo on my shirt meant.
I explained that I was a firearms instructor, and that the logo stood for “Rummel’s Gun Group”. Before I was done I could see The Fear start.
Everybody who shoots knows what I’m talking about. You see it in their eyes, their expression. All of a sudden you’re not a person but a dangerous beast that might suddenly lash out and kill everyone around you. A Deathbeast.
There’s two reasons for this. The first is the very natural wariness that the helpless feel when confronted with someone who can end their lives in an instant. Simply owning a firearm means that you’re an instrument of destruction, at least in their minds. This is a silly attitude, completely irrational. But being irrational about firearms seems to be a badge of honor to some people.
The second reason is not their fault. In fact it’s ours.
Or some of us, at least. We all know the type. They’re the ones who dream out loud of shooting someone (and loud is the correct way to describe them). They let you know that they’re ready, even eager for trouble. It seems that the killin’ is the most important thing.
Now I don’t know how any of you feel about these guys, but they’ve always made me feel a little uncomfortable. Not because I’m afraid of them, but because I wish they could express themselves with a little more class.
We devote ourselves to this hobby of ours for different reasons. Some of us simply enjoy the art and discipline it takes to develop the skill to hit what we’re aiming at. Every time we go to the range it’s a competition, a struggle to see if we can force ourselves to have the steady nerves and calm mind needed to do better than we did the last time. It’s very personal, fiercely intense. Every one of us feels this to one degree or another, even on the bad days when we just can’t hit the target to save our lives.
Then there are the hunters. They set the targets out at 50 or 100 yards (depending if they’re using a rifle or shotgun), and they go to school. For these guys every day at the range is a voyage of discovery. Different loads, different projectiles, different weapons. What’s the best stock for them? What’s the best tool to harvest the game? Can they see themselves hiking over hill and through overgrown dale in the freezing rain with this heavy weight dangling from one aching shoulder? I’ve watched them working at it, putting holes in paper on the outdoor range, and I can say that the ancient Zen masters don’t have anything to teach these guys.
There’s the people who like to plink away. The gun is a tool, and they have a lot of fun trying to shoot out the X ring. When they get to the range it’s like they’ve gone to the amusement park. They don’t go home with a kewpie doll or a stuffed teddy bear, but that half hour is the best time of the week.
Finally there’s the grim ones, the serious ones. They’re friendly enough if you talk to them, but developing and maintaining their skill is a responsibility. They get in some range time because they think they have to, a burden that they shoulder because they think that they should.
That’s me, right there. Friendly to everyone who wants to approach me, smiling and with a word of encouragement to everyone who’s struggling with a new gun. But watch me shoot and you can see that I’m doing this as if it was the most important thing in the world. That’s because sometimes, in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep and I’m lying awake in the dark, I’m deathly afraid that it will be. And there’s plenty of people who look at this in exactly the same way.
Every so often you see an item in the newspaper about some nutbag who shoots up a bunch of innocent and unarmed people. Talk to someone like me and they’ll tell you that they wish they had been there. We wish we were in the same room with the nutter, the guy who has a weapon and is desperate to hurt people.
By any reasonable criteria this is completely insane. We’re fantasizing about putting ourselves in harm’s way, about allowing someone to shoot at us! This is hardly a sound strategy to a long and healthy life.
This isn’t because we want to kill someone and the nutbag shooter provides a chance to do it in a legal way. Instead we want to stop the violence before some innocent person dies.
This isn’t an indication of intelligence, either. Anyone who we might help would probably not appreciate it, and even if we managed to get through the ordeal unscathed we’d have to face another ordeal in the courtroom when the perp’s family sued us for everything we owned. Why in the world would we be willing, even eager, to take incredible risks and stand as a shield between innocent people and someone who’s trying so hard to end their lives?
No real reason except that we think we can make a difference. No one forces this responsibility on us, we seek it out and shoulder it all on our own. I think the Japanese call this sort of thing giri.
There is one thing about the nightmare scenario that I fear more than anything else. It’s the gnawing doubt that keeps me going back to the range every week, paying all this money for ammunition and range time. It’s very personal, something that Real Men aren’t supposed to admit, but it supplies a big chunk of my motivation.
If something does happen and people are depending on me I don’t want to let them down.
(An old essay, though still true. Reprinted by request.)