How I Learned To Shoot: A Response to Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall writes for his tribe of non-gun-owners, like me. He gives his story and another really terrible one.

Here’s mine. Our tribe comes in all flavors, all sorts of experiences with guns.

I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs of New York. We just didn’t think about guns. We also learned a defensive situational awareness when we went into the city. We didn’t think about that in that way either, just learned to watch what was going on around us, stay away from certain kinds of places, walk briskly, and evade footsteps that persisted too regularly behind us. That was when I was around twelve years old. It’s served me well in many cities around the world.

My assumption has always been that I didn’t need a gun. I’ve mostly lived in safe neighborhoods, and my imagination doesn’t incline me toward fear of things like home invasion.

I had a male friend at one point who grew up in the country, had been in the Army, and felt strongly that I needed to own a gun. He also thought I’d like guns once I got to know them, so one day he invited me to drive out to the quarry with him for some target practice.

Sure, I said, thinking that it would be good to have fired a gun even if I never intended to take on the responsibilities and dangers of owning one. Besides, it was a nice summer day, and I hadn’t been to that quarry before and would enjoy an afternoon with him.

He seemed to be applying adequate safety to handling the guns, which I appreciated. He put the target up on a tuff wall of the quarry. Off-target bullets would be stopped by the tuff.

I was familiar with target safety from having learned archery, which intrigued me as a summer camper and carried through when I became a counselor. Place the target so that no people will be between you and the target or behind it. It’s a good idea to have an arrow stop too.

He started me off with a .22, I think. It was some time ago, and I didn’t pay attention to that kind of detail. I held my arm out in the general direction of the target and missed the paper a couple of times. He explained to me that the little nub at the end of the barrel was for aiming. Ah, just like the tip of the arrow, but much closer, much easier to aim. I hit the target.

I needed to deal with squeezing the trigger and my muscular reaction to the shot. There was no need to correct for trajectory, usually a big part of setting one’s aim in archery. Muscle control was nothing new.

My camp was not particularly wealthy. We had three or four bows, all different, all longbows, not the mechanical monsters that people who now call themselves bowshooters use. I think that by the time I was archery counselor, we had acquired a fiberglass recurve bow that always looked shabby. The recurve intrigued me, but the bow I liked best to shoot was the biggest longbow. We said that the pull was forty-five pounds. I have no idea whether that was true.

How you place your feet, the patterns of tension and relaxation in your arms, your fingers on the bowstring keeping the arrow in place, not pinching, all affect aim. The arm that holds the bow is particularly difficult: you must rotate your elbow out to avoid hitting the inside of it with the string. It is not a natural position. I could usually find the red and the gold fairly quickly.

As I learned how to squeeze the trigger, my shots marched toward the center of the target. I was pleased and quite amazed at how easy it was.

My friend said sadly, “It took me weeks when I started in the Army to hit the paper.” I tried to wipe the excited smile off my face and gave him a turn. He had a bigger gun, a .44, I think, and he took a few good (and loud!) shots. I praised him. He let me try it. It took me a few shots to hit the paper again.

By then, the summer afternoon was feeling a little ragged. We decided to head back, maybe have a hamburger on the way.

It was fun, but not enough to change my mind.


Cross-posted at Phronesisaical.

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Cheryl Rofer

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  • My Gun Stories

    I was raised in a no-gun family. Simply because no one was interested in them. It wasn’t like we avoided them. My mom was from the Texas panhandle so had likely lived around and maybe even shot a gun. My father had been in WWII so was familiar with them. Eventually I shot rifles in high school scouts. A friend and I played enough with a rubber-tipped dart gun so that when I got a chance to actually shoot a real handgun (small) I hit the target easily and on the first and only try.

    My brother-in-law made sure that my much younger brother got introduced to guns. If my brother has one he has never mentioned it or shown it, so again an instance of a rather blasé attitude.

    My daughter recently had a fun time with friends in North Dakota where she had a chance to shoot. They were concerned that she lived in Illinois a place with the worst reputation among the gun-tribe for its gun laws. As far as I know she has not rushed out to purchase a gun.

    If I have a point it’s that there may be a lot of people who are familiar with guns and that culture, and for whom it does nothing either way. We support all manner of gun control simply out of common sense and not out of any fear or other strong emotion.

    And I am sure that there are many gun culture folks out there who also approach their gun relationship without a lot of emotion. But what comes through the media is that there are also a lot of gunsters who are quite afraid. A general not a specific fear or fears is what the media portrays. And I would simply ascribe it to the way the media operates if it weren’t for the fact that I have encountered a bit personally.

    It makes sense I suppose. I mean, except for the whole actual hunting thing, why do they want their guns? To protect themselves from things they fear, no? So why do I not fear what they fear? Naivete as they believe? That’s always possible.

    I had two incidents on the Continental Divide Trail over the last few years. One was where I met an elderly couple and he had his pistol at his side. I noticed it and commented that “he was ready for anything.” Now keep in mind that the thru-hikers of long trails pretty much to a hiker do not carry guns. Mostly because there are no good reasons to do so and many good reasons not to. The thing you carry in grizzly bear country is bear-strength pepper-spray. That works where guns do not.

    The third incident did not involve a gun directly. A fairly recent Iraq veteran became concerned for my daughter and my safety after he learned that we only had a very small pocket knife. He proceeded to loan my daughter his big hunting style knife for the night. All that loan did was provoke paranoia in me about him. This was south central New Mexico. Indeed the biggest fear we faced was other humans. Rattle snakes, wolves, bears and big cats of the area were quite inclined to give us as wide a berth as possible. Indeed the the animal that scared us most was a mostly domesticated long-horn steer that we chanced across.

    I ascribe these generalized fears to unfortunate upbringing and other chance realities after birth. But those kinds of analysis are not my field.

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