One Valentine's night my husband and I did what couples do on Valentine's Day and went out for dinner. The food was good and the company was excellent however we spent most of the evening laughing our legs off at couples trying not to bicker and find things to say to each other on this the high holy day of all things romantic.
We don't do the dinner thing so much now. Past Valentine's Days have included; white-water rafting, a trip around all Marilyn Monroe's favourite haunts (before she died) and a helicopter ride. All fun stuff that we shared together.
This year, we were in LA and so we decided it might be an idea to go to a gun club. Now I am in no way pro-guns. I don't understand how we can have a terrorist attack and the entire population of travellers passing through any airport have to remove their shoes. However, in the US there having been countless fatal incidents with guns and yet, your average guy (or girl) can still walk into a store and buy a gun over the counter.
I have always wondered if there was something I didn't understand. I always hear that it is a "right" in America to bear arms. It's part of the Constitution. The second amendment covers the "right to bear arms." I don't understand that. The constitution was written in 1787. I wonder how relevant that can be in 2014. Having wandered round Disneyland recently for six hours the "right to bare arms" was something I found truly offensive - but enough of the Dad gags. Back to the matter in hand. I wondered if when you hold a gun and fire it, you feel the majesty of something greater than yourself. A power, a weakness or maybe just an understanding. I have had my breath taken away by seeing a whale in the ocean and I hoped that firing a gun might be something akin to that. When people enthuse about opera, I know there is something spiritual happening to them and yet, it doesn't work on me. I know I am missing something wonderful within the opera but I just can't access it. I hoped that maybe the same would be true of guns.
We didn't book - we didn't have to. You just walk into the gun club and sign up. We went to the Los Angeles Gun Club.
When we pulled up I started to get nervous.
You fill out a form saying that you are a stable person and that you don't take drugs. You then leave a thumbprint on the form and they ask you what gun you want.
That's it. It takes longer to get a ten-pin bowling game than it does to get a gun. By this time, my palms are getting a little sweaty. The guy behind the counter was quite amused by my fear. He asked me what kind of gun I wanted, pointing out that the bigger gun might be heavier on my arms when I'm holding it up and shooting for a while.
"Ok. I'll have a small one"
"And do you want a big bang, a medium size bang or a small bang?"
"Once again, I'll take the small"
He marked it down on his sheet along with a $5. You can hire a gun for $5. Five dollars.
"What about ammunition?"
"Yes" I said. "What about that?"
"How much do you want?"
"Erm. Well one bullet for me and one for my husband"
Laughter at my stupidity. Apparently, bullets come in boxes of 50.
"Ok. We'll take 50."
He then marks down $16 on his sheet.
What then follows is a five minute demonstration in how to hold the gun, how to load it and instructions on never pointing it at other people. We are then handed a little box containing our gun, our protective eyewear and our earmuffs.
We walk towards our lane and we have to wait a couple of minutes until the last guy finishes. Each lane is divided by a thin layer of plywood, much like the line of payphones in the British Library. There are all kinds of people in there. From older guys who have been coming for years to a young guy with tattoos and a baseball cap who was clearly there on a date.
My hands are really sweaty now and I can feel my breathing getting faster. I say to my husband:
"What's to stop one of those guys just opening fire on us all?"
"Nothing I guess."
The marshal then calls us over. It's our turn. We are walking in with our headphones on and he says: "you need to put your safety glasses on". A voice in my head says - very sarcastically- "yes Wendy, because those will save you". We walk in and the noise of the guns firing is over-whelming. News just in - guns are loud. I know, I know but I didn't expect to feel the noise in my stomach.
We walk to our cubicle and my husband clips on the target and presses the button that makes it fly to the back of the range like a little brutal washing line. I watch as he loads the gun.
"Do you want to go first?"
He lifts the gun and takes a few shots. I thought this might be fun and a bit of a laugh and now I feel like I enlisted for a war when I was pissed and it's not funny any more. But I'm here and I've seen Sandra Bullock doing it on films. How hard can it be? Despite the fact I am jumping every time someone else fires a shot, I am going to do this. My husband hands me the gun and I see that my hands are shaking. I hold the gun. It is heavy and cold and feels a little bit like the soul of a shark. I point it towards the target and squeeze the trigger. The bang is really loud. God only knows what the big bang sounds like. The gun pushes itself up after it fires and I have to struggle to make sure it's pointing straight ahead. It feels powerful and deadly and evil. I hate it. It makes me feel sick to the pit of my stomach.
I fire two more shots and then excuse myself. I can't do it. I stand back at the wall but everyone else's shells are popping back and hitting my feet so I leave the room. My husband asks me if I want to try again. I fire it three more times and then can't do it.
We left the range in silence. We were both shocked and scared that you can get a gun faster than you can open a bank account. It felt unnatural to us. I don't want the right to bear arms. I want the right to live peacefully without a killing machine in my presence. That said, I get into a car every day and that too can be a killing machine. I understand the benefits of these things in controlled environments but I don't want to be in those environments.
Like the opera, a firing range is just not for me.