Until Monday my experience with guns could be summarized as follows:
— That time I fired a handgun from my grandparents’ porch to ring in the new year.
— That time my big brother was shot in the gut while he stood in my grandparent’s yard — wrong place, wrong time.
— All those stories I covered during my years as a police reporter that involved guns — murders, domestic violence calls, accidental shootings, suicides, robberies, carjackings, standoffs …
During one standoff I took cover in a strangers’ house as bullets flew outdoors.
As concepts, before Monday I got hunting, I got personal protection and I got shooting sports like trap shooting.
But honestly, before Monday I didn’t “get” guns and why some people are so fascinated with them
”What’s so great about firing a gun? Not trying to be funny. I really am curious,” I asked on my Facebook page.
There were some mean-spirited comments that didn’t further the conversation — but mixed in, there was insight.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot of fun. There’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction in controlling something with that much power and making it do what you want it to, whether that’s knock a can off a fence or make a tight grouping on a paper target or bring down a 10-point buck. It also taps into mythic ideas about the Old West and American history — there’s a reason when we’re kids we play cowboys or soldiers. But I would trade every minute of that for American children to be safer. Without hesitation.” That came from a friend no one would ever, ever, ever label conservative.
A few friends offered to take me to the gun range so I could see for myself.
Monday, after considering backing out, I met local filmmaker Henrique Couto at Shoot Point Blank near the Dayton Mall.
With his handlebar moustache and his beard held in place by a line of three colorful hair ties, Henrique is far from what one might think of when they think “gun enthusiast.”
He’s super quirky and owns it.
When I met with him, Henrique was in a floral shirt over a pink T-shirt and gummy bear pajamas. He’d later tell me he wears pajamas all the time because he works for himself.
Henrique, who is of Portuguese descent, brought a couple of guns including one that had bullets that could take down large game. He likes his guns and finds shooting relaxing. He falls in the zone when he puts on his headphones.
Henrique also likes the sense of protection that comes with guns. He’s had reason to fear for his life in the past.
Shoot Point Blank, a relatively new Cincinnati-based gun range and store chain with multiple locations, is also not what many people would think when they think of a gun store.
Henrique raved about it, saying he liked that it was well lit and had friendly staff.
It looked to me like any other modern store, but with guns and bullets instead of dresses, shirts and pants.
The range itself was also not what I was expecting: clean and orderly, with an employee keeping watch and answering questions.
I jumped when the person in the “shooting cage” next to ours fired. An expletive that rhymes with “hit” flew out of my mouth.
That happened more than once that evening.
After much instruction and coaching, I fired Henrique’s Ruger SR9c 9mm handgun at a target on the paper in front of me.
Over the next hour or so, I also fired that gun as well as his Rock Island Armory M200 .38 Special revolver, an AK-47, and AMD 65 in 7.62mm x .39 mm, several times.
Most of the time I hit the target despite flinching and closing my eyes at the last second. Henrique said I was pretty good for my first time.
Once I shot the paper target where the head would be. Once I nearly got a bullseye.
It was scary, challenging and wholly interesting.
It was fun talking to Henrique and the staffer at Shoot Point Blank who offered tips about how I could improve.
Ultimately, though, I did not like shooting or the sense of power that came with holding a loaded gun in my hands.
I could not stop thinking about what that thing could do and what it was.
No, I didn’t like shooting. Yes, I do see why other people might.