Once upon a time, I was a young impressionable eleven year old boy, and I went on a school trip to France.  This was 1998, and I had just finished my first year of High School, and as such, was socially awkward as they come.  I didn't really mingle with anyone on the trip at the time, though now I consider one of that trip to amongst my bestest friends.  There were a few stand out moments on the trip; a boy being knocked out in our room, fighting English school kids in the french hotel, wearing our Scotland football shirts on the ferry home the morning after the infamous Beckham red car and England's exit from World Cup 98... but all these, in my mind, pale in comparison to one of the most incredible moments of peer pressure of my entire life.

I bought a pellet gun.

It was moulded into the shape of a revolver, with a barrel that rotated, and allowed little red pellets to be placed inside.  It worked using a spring, and could send these little red balls for a few feet at a time.  When it came to getting back into the UK, this being pre-9/11 and 7/7, all we did was shove the guns into a big black bin bag and put it in the bag-hold in the bottom of the bus.  Security at Calais had no idea.

This, essentially, was the extent of my experience of guns until a few years ago when I first shot a shotgun on a clay pigeon shooting range.  Apart from bruising my right shoulder from my ear to my arsehole, it was a fun experience.  Last year, on a close-friends Stag do, I enjoyed it all over again.  It truly was an experience.

So, last week, I FINALLY go to do something people had been saying that I just had to do when I lived in Texas - shoot guns.  Go to a range, and shoot guns.  There are three problems with this activity that became clear to me upon my arrival:

- I don't own any guns.
- I am not allowed to own a gun.
- I was shit scared of it all.

It took a friend and a friend to finally say "Fuck it, let's shoot some guns and shit" for it to finally be organised.  When Matt, the resident gun fan, decided to share his passion for the sport, I decided to start to read up on the guns he was going to provide.  He provided a .22LR Pistol that was our training wheels, a Glock 19 9mm, a Glock 30 .45, and a Taurus 1911 .45ACP.  Numbers and letters that meant little to me, but Wikipedia helped me out.

There were no jumping sideways things happening though.  What did strike me, however, and to be honest, this shouldn't have surprised me at all, was how LOUD the shooting was. It was shocking how much my body reacted to the sound, almost instantly, and I wanted to leave.  It was... tribal, in it's feeling, and it felt scary just to be in the same room.  It probably didn't help that someone standing next to me shooting was firing a hand canon, rapidly, with gay abandon.  It was scary. 

But the actual shooting was a piece of cake.  After getting of the slight shock and awe of holding a gun, one that could be used to kill right there and then, it was easy.  The guns are fairly simple mechanically, and jam occasionally.  It was the fear of the noise that I had to get over - Matt, our instructor for the day, watched and commented, and pointed out rightly that I was getting scared of the recoil and the noise.  This was essentially causing me to drop my arm and flinch every time I went to pull the trigger, the consequence meaning that I was missing my target quite often.  The trick, I was told, was to slowly easy back on the trigger and actually be surprised by the firing of the pistol - this mean I would keep my aim steady and the sight in focus.  It was remarkable how well this worked; Matt even said it was ridiculous how much my aim improved in one clip.  It is worth noting that the .45 kicked back like the snap of a 50 tonne whip.

Anyway, afterwards I felt this this:
God Mark.
There is an interesting point in all of this, though, and here it comes.  You see, I don't like guns.  I don't like the idea of being able to own a gun.  I especially don't like the fact that people can just have guns on their person, concealed (in Texas) and be walking about, fine and dandy.  That genuinely scares the living hell out of me.  Also, having recently watched Bowling for Columbine*, and the statistics about gun crime, I just can't really understand why people need to carry guns - that is, for uses other than on the range.

That being said, I really really really enjoyed shooting guns, and it is something that genuinely gave me a thrill, but the fact that you can buy guns at shops, buy ammunition at various sports stores, and see guys carrying gun cases to and from cars... makes me feel uneasy.  I don't know fully what my opinion of it is just yet, because I am in conflict.  Afterwards, I noted to my fellow Scot that it makes sense, in a sporting way, to allow people to shoot guns at ranges, and I don't see why those who like to shoot couldn't have them stored there for use when they wanted to.  I am uneasy about the right to bear arms in the US, and the fear and unease is probably born from living in a country where you just don't get exposed to guns at all, bar their over use and unrealistic realities presented to us via movies and cop shows.

Matt was amazing, patient, and genuinely made me in awe of the sport of shooting, and it was so much fun that I can't wait to do it again.  What I think I have changed, in my outlook, is that whilst guns are not to be underestimated, it's not the gun that's inherently dangerous but the possible lack of education and control of them that makes me uneasy.  I never felt uneasy whilst in the place that had hundreds of rounds shot in the short time that I was there, but it is the feeling that all it would take is one outside of that environment to really make a rather horrific difference to someone's life.

*I should note that I know there's a difference between Bowling for Columbine and going to the range, but that was also one of the only exposures I'd had to gun culture in the UK, so it was another leaping off point.