From Long Reads: Urban liberal Simone Gorrindo marries Red State soldier and is mostly uncomfortable with rural gun culture. Her emotions, she finds, become different when 2 a.m. noises cause her husband to rise and pick up the handgun from the nightstand.
I knew nothing about guns. Iâ€™d spent my childhood in Californiaâ€™s Bay Area and had worked as an editor in New York City before moving to Georgia. In my liberal, urban corners of the country, Iâ€™d never had the opportunity or need to even touch a gun; they had been something to oppose, to lament, the occasional shot heard from a safe distance at night. Where Iâ€™d grown up, owning a gun was about as sinful and strange as voting red. And I had come of age in the era of mass shootings, was just 13 when I watched the news about Columbine unfold on the television for weeks. Something in me had cemented then: a distaste not just for guns, but also for the people who owned them, championed them, fetishized them.
But I was a long way from home now. Guns were on the hips of men shopping for instant mashed potatoes; at every social gathering we were invited to, on top of refrigerators, in kitchen drawers, on shoe racks and in closets. I knew I should learn how to handle one. Andrew had offered to take me to the range before, but the prospect filled me with dread, a queasiness that I suspected had less to do with my upbringing and more to do with that warning hand I put up in the face of my husbandâ€™s stories. Shooting a gun, I sensed, would put me in closer touch with what my husband did for a living. It could satisfy a curiosity that might be safer to ignore. …
Ladiesâ€™ Night, read a wrinkled flyer that hung by the front door of Shooters. A few of the salesman nodded at Andrew and I as we entered and walked quickly through the aisles of guns for sale to the shooting range in the back. The thin fabric of my dress clung to my thighs. As far as I could tell, I was the only lady here today.
The guy manning the gun rental counter was younger than the men up front, and he seemed to be the real beating heart of the place, the territorial guard dog standing between the range and the rest of the world. He looked as though heâ€™d spent the best years of his adulthood behind that counter, growing out a thick beard, letting his plaid button-downs get snug around the waist. On a leather string around his neck, he wore a crucifix patterned with the American flag.
â€œYou military?â€ he asked. They always knew.
Andrew nodded, sliding his California ID across the glass counter. Beneath it were rows of handguns, gleaming like wedding bands.
â€œThe left coast, huh?â€ the man asked skeptically as he studied the ID. He looked up at us. â€œIâ€™m from Minnesota originally,â€ he said in a conciliatory tone. â€œThe communists live there too.â€
Andrew gave him a weak smile. This talk had surprised us whenâ€™d first arrived â€” could the stereotypes really be so accurate? But weâ€™d gotten used to hearing this kind of thing with some regularity: communists, Yankees, traitors. People had teasingly called us every one of these names, simply for being from somewhere else, a fact that was as impossible to hide as our race or sex.
Andrew chose the lowest caliber weapon they had on offer â€” a silver revolver â€” and got us some â€œeyes and ears,â€ protective glasses and ear protection. We signed a few waivers and bought some overpriced ammo. It was almost time to start shooting; there was just one more thing.
â€œPick a target,â€ the man said, nodding toward the area behind us.
We turned around. Neatly stacked in a wire rack were typical targets for a buck apiece. For two dollars, you could purchase a skeleton or goblin or bloody zombie bride. A bear-size man approached and grabbed a target that was above my line of sight. As he walked away, I caught a quick glimpse of it: A bearded cartoon in a Keffiyeh sneered at me, a Kalishnakov clutched in his hands.
â€œIs that â€” ?â€
â€œYep,â€ Andrew said with a finality that I knew could only mean: Letâ€™s not talk about this here.
Andrew opened a heavy door that led to a vestibule, a kind of portal between the range and the rest of the building. The moment Andrew opened the next door, the air turned humid. The cement room smelled of sweat. Empty bullet casings rolled under my steps as I followed Andrew to the shooting stands, where a row of men stood, their backs wet with perspiration. Most of them looked, from the back, like suburban dads, their bodies and T-shirts softened by age. Their guns went off in startling waves. My shoulders jumped with each blast.
â€œThese arenâ€™t working!â€ I yelled at Andrew, pointing to my ear muffs.
â€œItâ€™s the sensation,â€ Andrew yelled back. â€œYouâ€™ll get used to it.â€ It was a sensation more than a sound, an unsettling tremor moving through me.
â€œShooting is athletic,â€ he yelled, setting down the gun in front of him. â€œHow you hold your body matters.â€ He demonstrated: left foot forward, arms taut but slightly bent, the way a batter might ready himself at home plate, except forward-facing. I mimicked him, and he gave me a thumbs-up.
â€œAll right, tell me three of the basic rules of gun safety,â€ he said. He had drilled these into me on the ride over.
â€œTreat every weapon as if it is loaded.â€ I began dutifully. â€œNever point the weapon at anything you donâ€™t intend to destroy. That seems like an important one,â€ I said, stalling.
â€œAnd â€¦ keep your finger straight and off the trigger until youâ€™re ready to fire.â€
â€œGood. Now line your eye up with the sight, and make sure that red dot you see is just below where youâ€™re aiming.â€ He paused. â€œRelease the safety,â€ he said, doing it for me. â€œTake a breath, and then pull.â€
â€œWhat if it goes spinning out of my hands?â€ I yelled.
Andrew laughed. I took a breath, and, just as I closed my eyes, I heard Andrew tell me to keep them open. I pulled the trigger.
Nothing. I opened my eyes and pulled again. And again.
â€œWhat am I doing wrong?â€ He took the revolver from me and shot off a few rounds.
â€œYouâ€™re afraid,â€ he said gently, handing it back to me. â€œDonâ€™t be.â€
I paused, regained my stance, and tried again. Nothing.
â€œPull a little harder,â€ Andrew said.
I pulled again. My finger was starting to cramp.
â€œI canâ€™t,â€ I said, and let the gun slip gently out of my hands onto the counter. The barrel pointed toward us.
Andrew scooped it up. â€œNever point a gun, loaded or unloaded, toward anyone.â€
â€œSorry.â€ I felt myself blush. Maybe the fact that I was unable to shoot meant we could abandon our mission, go home, and do something I was good at, like reading books.
Andrew left then and returned with a Glock .45. It was heavier and somehow more serious looking; by comparison, the silver revolver seemed like a prop out of an old Western. He showed me how to load the first couple bullets.
Just pull the trigger, I told myself. I squinted, located the floating white dot and then, after a momentâ€™s hesitation, went for it.
The force of the shot went through me instantly, the gun kicking back against my hands, through my arms, into my shoulders, and then out of my body.
Some people describe their first time shooting as exhilarating, a rush, the top of a roller coaster before you plummet. I understood the appeal of a rush, the kind of moment that requires surrender. But this was different. This was asking me to trust â€” not the gun or the men running the range or Andrew, but myself.
â€œKeep shooting,â€ Andrew said.
I adjusted my feet, tightened my arms, and pulled the trigger again. The same bone-rattling power surged through me.
â€œWouldnâ€™t you rather at least have some familiarity with guns?â€ Andrew had asked when Iâ€™d turned down the range in the past. But why? I wasnâ€™t interested in hunting. Iâ€™d spent my life strategizing how to avoid violence, not engage in it. If I needed to defend myself, the only weapons I could imagine wielding were mace or a good old house key wedged between my fingers. Guns had never felt like a realistic or viable option, perhaps because they had never been real to me. They had always been, for me, more idea than object, a symbol of an irrationality in the human heart. The notion of them as tools of utility or purpose â€” or fun â€” was outside of my understanding. But moving to the South and joining the world of the Army had forced me to acknowledge that guns were not only real; they were common, as unremarkable on a manâ€™s hip as the cell phone in his hand.
I unleashed a few more shots, put down the .45, and looked at the target: I hadnâ€™t gotten a single bullet on even its far borders. And somehow, I was exhausted.
â€œIâ€™m going to take a breather,â€ I yelled over the noise.
From the safety of the vestibule, I watched Andrew. He shot round after round, a swarm of little holes appearing around his target. …
I had not wanted him to join the Army. Years before, when heâ€™d first mentioned the possibility at the beginning of our relationship, Iâ€™d even told him Iâ€™d leave him if he did. Why on earth did he want to seek out violence? He remained silent about it for two years after that, but then recruitment pamphlets started appearing in our home, and I found notepads on his nightstand filled with workout regimes. He wasnâ€™t going to give up on this desire, which was so strong and enduring some might say it was a calling. If I wanted Andrew, I would have to say yes to the Army.
Nine days after we married in a New York City courthouse, he shipped off to boot camp. His sudden departure, his decision to do things I did not want to think about, felt almost like a betrayal. My husband was the kind of man who brought me flowers, who asked forgiveness when he made a mistake, whoâ€™d walked a mile in the sticky summer heat of Brooklyn with a bookcase on his back, carried it up two flights of stairs, and lined it with my treasured books to surprise me. His very presence anchored me. He was thoughtful and gentle. He was tender and loving. He was also a killer.
A month after our day at the range, Andrew brought a gun into our home.
â€œThat was scary easy,â€ Andrew said as he walked into our bedroom, where I was sitting on our bed, reading a book. He took a black handgun out of a crumpled brown bag and set it down on our faded paisley comforter. Iâ€™d known this was coming. Initially Iâ€™d pushed back, but ultimately, Iâ€™d acquiesced. Guns were a part of Andrewâ€™s daily life and world, after all. Even so, the unloaded 40-cal felt like a threat to my cozy home, my marriage. I didnâ€™t want anything to do with it.
Because Andrew had purchased the gun from a friend, he wasnâ€™t legally required to register it in his name. It was free-floating in the Georgia atmosphere now. Andrew believes in gun control. He supports background checks and thinks owning a gun should be a tested, licensed activity, like driving a car. He also likes guns. His father got him his first BB gun at age 8, and his first .22 rifle at 12. On family road trips, Andrewâ€™s father took him out to shoot it in the Nevada desert. Andrew had told me those stories in the early years of our relationship, when he was a classics student tending bar to support himself. But Iâ€™d ignored them, or blocked them out. Instead, Iâ€™d absorbed the chapters of his childhood spent on a commune, the afternoons running shoeless in the woods. I envisioned these parts like a film reel, a story about Andrew that matched the man I fell in love with.
But his father saw in Andrew what heâ€™d always wished for himself: physical strength, a native athleticism, an electric current of intensity. Andrew remembers being 8 years old, riding in the passenger seat of his fatherâ€™s Toyota, rotating Chinese meditation balls in his palm that his martial arts teacher had given him. At a stoplight, his father put a hand over Andrewâ€™s to stop the movement. â€œBe careful with those,â€ he told him. â€œYouâ€™ll become too peaceful.â€ Though everyone in our liberal families was taken aback when Andrew joined the Army, I imagine his father, who died when Andrew was 18, would have been pleased.
His very presence anchored me. He was thoughtful and gentle. He was tender and loving. He was also a killer.
Andrew handed me the gun. It felt cool in my hands. I stared at it, trying to quiet the dissonance I felt. It was the same sensation I experienced when I picked him up from deployment in a parking lot late at night and I could sense immediately, even in the dark, that he was different, that I was different. I felt it, too, during the fights weâ€™d started having since coming to Georgia, clashes over politics and world views that made me question when weâ€™d stopped seeing eye to eye, or if we ever had at all.
â€œI think Iâ€™ll stay away from it,â€ I said, and handed the gun back to him, though I wanted to say more: Why would you bring this into our home? This is a part of your world, not mine. …
Here was the greatest surprise: Sometimes the gun set me at ease. A few weeks after Andrew purchased it, someone pounded on the door at 2 a.m., and I felt a swell of warmth as Andrew roused and moved toward the nightstand.
All the words, all the self-admiring cerebration, and the writer still doesn’t quite get the obvious insight that there is a fundamental problem with, a serious disconnect from reality in, all the fashionable left-wing ideology she considers basic to her identity. It flies in the face of her obvious unconscious need, and preference, for a strong man ready and able to defend home and country.