Sunday, October 27, 2013

Shooting Guns

Diana and I went to an indoor shooting range and fired real guns for the first time. After years of using these things in computer games and seeing them in countless movies and TV shows, we decided it was finally time to go and see what it's like to fire a gun in real life.

The shooting range we went to has a setup that allows unlicensed people to come in and shoot with no training. The barrels of the guns are attached by wires and a metal post inside the shooting booth in such a way that you can have fairly free movement of the weapon but you can't rotate it around from facing downrange. This greatly increases the safety while not taking too much away from the experience, and I think it's a great compromise.

We decided to try a cross-section of different weapons to get a better feel for firing guns in general, so based on what they had available, we chose the following three weapons:
  • .22 bolt action rifle with a 10 round magazine
  • 9mm Glock 17 pistol with a 10 round magazine
  • Double barrel shotgun (not sure what gauge)
The firing range instructor brought each weapon out one at a time, showed us how to load and fire, and then left us in the booth to fire our rounds before moving on to the next one. Overall it was a great experience. They were fast and efficient, explaining just enough to us so we didn't hurt ourselves, but not wasting too much time on excess details. It was also nice to see that they were professionals and didn't at all come across like gung-ho gun nuts or bogans. Can't say the same for most of the other people we saw coming in to the range to shoot, but when any asshole can walk in off the street and throw down $100 to fire a .44 Magnum, I guess that's not too surprising!

Based on our experience, here are the few things that stood out for me that I thought were particularly interesting (in no particular order):
  •  I was impressed at how well the hearing protection blocks out sound, while still allowing you to talk to each other (if you speak very loudly). I felt like I could spend all day there and not be worried about my hearing.
  • Eye protection is absolutely essential, at least in a confined space like a shooting booth. Those empty casings really like to fly around and smack you in the head!
  • I was expecting it to be hard to aim, but was still surprised at just how hard it was. I found the pistol easier to aim than the rifle, but possibly because with the lighting in the range and wearing eye protection, even at only 10 metres I couldn't see where my shots were hitting the target with the tiny .22 ammo.
  • .22 rifle feels like a kid's toy. No noticeable recoil and very lightweight.
  • 9mm had a little more kick than I was expecting. I found it hard to control when I tried firing a few shots in quick succession, though I'm sure you improve a lot with practice.
  • Shotgun had less recoil than I expected. Still hard to aim though.
  • Loading bullets in magazines was harder than I expected. I didn't even think it would be an issue, but on the Glock in particular it was quite difficult. The magazine spring was quite stiff and I actually couldn't get the 10th round in. I'm hardly a weak person, so this was quite surprising to me. I suppose maybe there's a trick to doing it, but I certainly felt like I was putting a lot of force on the top bullet trying to force it down but I just couldn't get it low enough to get the last bullet in.
  • Guns are really poorly represented in computer games. The idea that games teach you how to shoot guns now seems even more ridiculous to me than it did before. I've spent hundreds of hours firing weapons like these in games over the years, but I can't shoot a real gun for shit, at least not without a lot more practice on the real thing. Even at 10 metres there would be a reasonable chance I would miss a person with a rifle or pistol like the ones I fired. Particularly if you add in all the shakiness from adrenaline that you would have in real life.
  • I think schools should take 15-16 year old students, particularly males, to ranges like these and get them to fire a gun for real. With all the shooting that teenagers do these days in games like Call of Duty, and the gung-ho shit-talking that it results in, I think the experience of firing a real weapon would be a reality check that might teach them something valuable, like just because they can own a hundred people online with a badass modded sniper rifle or dual wielded MP7s doesn't mean they know jack shit about fighting and violence in the real world.
All in all, it's an experience I would recommend to anyone who has never fired a gun. It's fun, it's a bit scary, and it will help calibrate your understanding of what guns can and can't do, what movies and computer games can and can't teach, and what place these tools should have in our society.

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