I’m such a wuss. Last month I realized that here I was, already on Social Security, and I’d never even fired a gun. What’s more, I was scared to death of them. I’ve avoided them my entire life, and if it were up to me they would be banned from ownership by everybody but cops who have gone through diversity training and promise never to use them unless they really have to, and even then to only shoot people in the legs. I don’t even think hunters should have them, because I don’t want all those cute bunnies and deer to get hurt.
But guns have become such an important issue that I wondered whether I needed to rethink my strategy. Just look at the news. Ferguson, Mo.; Trayvon Martin; Black Lives Matter; Cops’ Lives Matter; school shootings; movie theater shootings; terrorist massacres; American Sniper; Afghanistan; Iraq; mental illness; conservative politics; liberal politics—it’s all guns, guns, guns.
Maybe I should try and see beyond my own narrow prejudices, I told myself, and take in the bigger picture.
So I did. Yes, I am now the proud bearer of a concealed weapons permit.
I wish I could say it was easy. But it required such a leap outside of my comfort zone, and the actually learning how to kill someone was so nerve-racking that I had to spend two days in bed afterward just to recover. But watch out. I am now prepared to stand
What I did was take a class at Advanced Defensive Concepts. It’s only $100 ($20 more to rent a gun) and it includes classroom instruction and a couple of hours at the shooting range. It starts early, 8 a.m. on a Saturday. The instructors are Tom and Matt, both of whom served in the Middle East, Matt in the military for eight years and Tom as a “contractor.” I was immediately aware that they were men who knew what they were talking about. Soldiering and law enforcement are their lives, and they totally look the part: tight bodies, tattooed arms and quasi-military outfits. Tom was wearing a camo baseball cap with the slogan “I’d Rather Be Waterboarding.”
We started out with a PowerPoint presentation. First we learned the places you can’t carry a gun legally in the State of Florida. Here’s the list.
- A “place of nuisance”—i.e., where illegal activity takes place, like a brothel.
- A police station, jail, etc.
- Any courthouse.
- Any polling place. (Tom added in an ironic tone, “Unless you’re a Black Panther or a Democrat.”)
- A town meeting.
- A school, college, or football game.
- A career center. (I should have asked what that means.)
- Elementary school. (In the after-school pick-up lane, it’s OK, though.)
- Places where they sell alcohol, based on what percentage of the business comes from alcohol. In other words, the Cheetah, no; Applebee’s, yes.
- An airport or federal building.
- Post offices are a gray area.
Gee, I’m thinking, that’s an awful lot of places. Is this permit really worth it? We then went on to a presentation that turned out to be a lucid and compelling description of the concealed weapons mindset. I thought I was going to a little class on how to fire and clean a gun properly. No. It quickly turned into a lesson in how to kill people. I was getting a little more than I bargained for.
The theory is that there are bad people out there—“Sarasota is just the same as Kabul”—and you have to protect yourself against them. Sometimes they will “aggress” toward you. This is usually so awful and sudden and traumatic that you feel your life is in danger. If you do, you have the right to pull out your gun and shoot them. And none of this shooting in the leg business. You have to shoot to kill. That’s the only way to guarantee your safety. You aim right for the middle of the torso, where the most damage is done.
Once a gun appears, the time for negotiation has passed. “It’s me or them, you have to think. And I’m coming out of this alive,” one of the instructors explained. The bad guy has a plan—you must, too. It’s the ultimate game of chess.
The “stand your ground” law is pretty lenient toward the guy who is being aggressed upon.
Of course you can shoot somebody who enters your house; that’s pretty much taken for granted. It’s a little trickier when they’re about to enter your house. But as long as the person has a leg up and the next step they take would be in your house—or lanai—then it’s OK.
All this is open to many “what ifs” and possible exceptions, but you can’t allow yourself to get bogged down in second guessing. “Even if you do something wrong, do something,” Tom advised. What if you get in trouble? “Don’t worry. It’s not your word against his. He’s dead. Dead men tell no tales. You may be fighting a lawsuit, but at least you’re still alive,” he replied. And be prepared to shoot them more than once. “That’s the society we live in,” Tom said. “If you are a predator I will put you down like the dog that you are.”
On that note, we took a break, grabbed a sandwich, and then headed out to the firing range. It’s in the middle of nowhere, thank God, out on a farm past the Interstate. There’s a row of targets—we each got our own—set before a berm perhaps 10 feet high that catches all the bullets as they go through the targets.
I was given my gun, the Glock semi-automatic I had rented, and a feeling of terror overtook me. I really don’t want to do this, I kept thinking. This class was a bad idea. I want to go home. But I forged ahead, forcing myself not to chicken out now.
The hardest part for me, it turned out, was getting the bullets into the whatchamacallit. The first one is easy, but by the time you get to the 16th, it’s impossible. I still have bruises on my fingertips from trying to force them in.
I found it so hard to keep up with all the information being thrown at me that I was starting to panic.
The first thing you have to learn is not to point the gun all over the place, which I was doing constantly. I also had a problem keeping my finger off the trigger, which it went to automatically every time I picked up the gun.
Then we started shooting. Nobody told me that part of the bullet came flying out of the top of the gun each time you fired and hit you in the face. Or how violent the recoil was. All I could think about was that poor little girl in Las Vegas who dropped her AK47 and killed her instructor. I could so easily picture something like that happening, and several times I almost threw my gun down, screaming, “I’m sorry, but this isn’t for me!”
Then I looked at the target. You know something? I wasn’t too bad. An amazing number of my hits went straight to the guy on the target’s left shoulder. Hmm. Maybe if I really concentrated I could move things down a little and to the right, more toward the guy’s heart.
Tom came over and corrected my grip and gave me some words of encouragement. I took a deep breath and fired again. Bull’s-eye! Three fatal shots, right to the center of the chest. And when we moved up to kill at close range, three feet or so, I did such a good job that the target was totally ripped and shredded. The only thing missing was blood.
I left the firing range drained and exhausted but strangely exhilarated. Tom and Matt shook my hand and gave me my certificate. Once I get the paperwork back from Tallahassee, I will be able to carry a concealed weapon. I’ve started checking out holsters online. Heck, I might even buy a gun. Have I learned anything about gun control and all the thorny, intractable issues facing us? Absolutely not, and I’m more confused than ever.
But at least I’m officially prepared to stand my ground.