It’s a common journalistic meme: young and pretty urban female fashionista, for one reason or another, winds up visiting the real America, picks up a gun, tries firing at a target, discovers that shooting a gun is really fun, and then puzzles over the meaning and moral ramifications of it all.
Yet, these are nearly always interesting to read, especially since the gun-owning reader knows better than Amanda Fortini does that she has begun the process of conversion from deluded ignorance to realism.
My first thought is, I canâ€™t believe how loud that was. Iâ€™m wearing earplugs, but you donâ€™t just hear the firecracker noise in your ears; you feel it with your whole body. Even if, like me, youâ€™ve never handled a gun, they figure so heavily in the entertainment we watchâ€”from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to Sarah Palinâ€™s reality show to movie trailers and video game commercialsâ€”that firing one for the first time is a weird combination of startling and banal. Guns are (pardon the pun) loaded with so much cultural baggage that you think you know what to expect. You donâ€™t. TV gunshots sound and act no more like real gunshots than construction-paper snowflakes resemble real snowflakes.
My next thought is, I want to do that again! I have an immediate, exhilarated reaction. Partly itâ€™s that what Iâ€™ve just done initially frightened me, so thereâ€™s a sense of a limit overcome. For many people I know, guns remain unrealâ€”the accessories of fictional characters, or at least of the Other, not you and yours. Yet to fire a gun is to realize you can do it: You can operate one, understand how it works. Shooting gives me a rush that comes from a feeling of (admittedly incomplete) mastery.
Plus, the sensory experience of target shootingâ€”readying your stance, controlling your breath, focusing on the targetâ€”is so absorbing that I canâ€™t indulge my free-floating worries. I canâ€™t have a self-conscious intellectual reaction when firing a gun. Itâ€™s almost meditative. At one point I glimpse a woman in her sixties dressed in a white polo, creased khakis, and pristine white sneakersâ€”attire for a day of golf at the country club; sheâ€™s brandishing a Glock. I have to stop myself from laughing with delight.
As I shoot, I again experience the strange, paradoxical sense of an act thatâ€™s familiar and unfamiliar at once. Iâ€™ve seen Clint do this; Iâ€™ve seen Arnold do this; Iâ€™ve seen Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton do it. Shooting a gun is like smoking a cigarette or drinking espresso in a cafÃ© in Paris or having sex on a Caribbean beach: Youâ€™ve watched it so many times on-screen that you experience your own actions as an echo. Itâ€™s impossible not to feel like a clichÃ©.