By Michael Newberger | firstname.lastname@example.org
Standing in line by the door was the ideal American family. The mom and dad were holding hands, the son was about 11 and talking to his little sister, and she was the kind of redhead girl commercials use to show how “wholesome” a product is. It was nice to see such a portrait of family togetherness in this day and age.
Did I mention the cute little girl was holding a snub-nose revolver?
No this wasn’t a scene from some kind of horror movie where the little kid kills everyone. This was at Shooter’s Gun Range in Tampa, which I visited with my cousins (one of whom is employed by the range.)
Personally I tend to be a little more of a Democrat than Republican, so at first I was afraid that when I entered the premises I’d be ousted as an Obama-loving socialist (and therefore a gun hater). The story my cousin told me about the mentally unstable man who took the range over and had a standoff with the police or the drunk lady who shot herself the same month didn’t exactly help either.
That morning my cousin picked me up from my house with his collection (arsenal?) in tow: a semi-automatic M4 assault rifle, a World War II-era British Enfield bolt action, and my grandfather’s old target pistol. Just to make things more American we ate breakfast at McDonald’s because McGriddles taste like freedom.
The range is about the size of your average furniture store and is pretty unassuming. That is until we walked in and were met by a replica of those Chinese Terracotta soldiers and the largest selection of guns I’ve ever seen, all ranging from classical to tactical. Contrary to previous held views, everyone was incredibly friendly. I wasn’t ostracized for wearing thick frame glasses and everyone was incredibly safety-conscious. So much for my stereotype that it would be nothing but Unabomber types who wanted to blow up Post Offices.
The biggest shock — which made me feel both great and a little disconcerted — was that I’m a pretty damn good shot. I’ve shot guns a little bit in Boy Scouts growing up, but not tactical assault rifles made to take out terrorists. The reason that it kind of weird-ed me out was the fact that the M4 looked, down to the sights and magazine reloads, like it does in “Call Of Duty,” which I play like a religious fanatic. So maybe parents shouldn’t let the youngins play that game. By the end of our range time I felt accomplished and a little physically shaken from all the firing. Also I got lead poisoning, which is exactly as fun as it sounds.
We make a pretty big deal about firearms in this country. When I started writing this, the tragedy in Arizona happened, sparking gun rights arguments like a match thrown into a copious amount of gasoline. And boy, oh boy, is America divided. But I think the divisions don’t exactly work because they’re just broad stereotypes. Democrats like myself tend to think of gun enthusiasts as “nuts” who believe the end-times are nigh, which I was completely guilty of. And Republican gun-fans, like my cousin, tend to think of Democrats like a bunch of Orwellian wimps who want to completely ban our personal rights, starting with firearms.
Why do we do this? If you think about who gets the most attention in the argument, we only see those whose stances are almost comical in their extremes.
On the right we see good ol’ boy commentators who think that packing heat at church and the local supermarket actually makes things safer and that rocket propelled grenades should be easily available for purchase at your local Walmart. On the other extreme we see egghead liberals who think that guns and anything dangerous in general should be banned in the hopes of making one perfect society, which to me sounds kind of boring.
In between there’s a large group of perfectly sane people who just happen to disagree. Instead of shouting and stereotyping those we disagree with, I think we should look at their side of the question. The gun owners I talked to at the range thought of it as a hobby and something to protect their homes and family while treating the weapons in the safest way possible. People for gun control that I know think that they’re safer with fewer guns in society. Who’s wrong in this equation? No one.
People tend to disagree. That’s one of the things that makes our country so great. If you disagree strongly with a stance and the believers of it, I say go and see it from their perspective. You may walk away from the experience with a new found respect for the people you disagree with. Or you may still think they’re crazy. But to write off a stance, and the people who believe it, isn’t just lazy. It’s bad for democracy.
2011 Gargoyle Anthology Award Winner: Silver Award for Commentary