I forgot to mention one of my most memorable experiences on my recent trip across the country: shooting guns.
I’d never shot a handgun and had only shot a low-caliber rifle in North Korea. I learned a lot, as I’ll describe below.
From my train arriving in Houston, I caught a bus to an environmental research place. Before continuing with the story, I have to mention that most people I told I took a bus in Houston responded, “I’ve lived here ten years and never took the bus,” or the like. Same when you tell Los Angeles people that you took the subway.
Three things lined the highway from Houston to the research place: car dealers, fast food chains, and hotel chains. Plus one gun range. When I saw it, I knew I had to try it. Whatever my thoughts on gun rights, I was in Texas. I ate avocados in California and planned to eat po’ boys in New Orleans. Texas and guns go together. They’re legal and normal.
I told the friend hosting me I wanted to go in a playful way. He’s from Europe but lived in Houston long enough to have gone to shooting ranges a few times. I didn’t notice until later his less playful response, but he said he would take me to a range.
A couple days later we went. Walking in the establishment, two things struck me. First, the patrons were regular people—housewives, professors, college students, and so on. Well, I’m not sure their professions, but in any other establishment I would have noticed nothing unusual about any.
Second, I got hit with the gravity of the place. I had never been in a room with dozen, maybe a hundred, guns. Now I found myself in a room with dozens of assault rifles, AR-15s, I guess, and many more handguns. It hit me how deadly these devices were, yet how easily and casually you could, in principle, handle them. Everyone was taking them seriously. The employees were teaching first-timers like me about gun safety. The first-timers took safety seriously.
Still, I felt tremendous gravity and respect for the situation. Whatever my levity I joked with about doing something fun and Texan disappeared the moment I walked in. I nearly decided to consider visiting the place enough and leave.
I’m glad I stayed. My friend’s experience took the edge off. We rented a 9mm and bought 50 rounds. We had to choose a target, most of which included life-size images of people. We chose what looked like a standard-issue silhouette, which I felt funny about.
As long as guns exist in the world, I wouldn’t oppose any adult at least experiencing them in his or her hands. I don’t know if everyone should fire one, but to know what you’re dealing with. I can see the appeal of holding them, shooting them as a sport and method of self-defense, even collecting them, but didn’t like it. This first experience was all the experience I need.
My aim wasn’t that bad, at least comparable to my friend’s. A few other groups were shooting in the range, more women than men, as I remember, though all the employees were men.
When I commented to my friend how un-fun yet rewarding the experience felt, he said I had sounded too flippant at first, so was glad to see I learned from the experience.
After the 9mm, we rented a 45 caliber and bought another 50 rounds. Mostly we took our time aiming, but I also shot a few rounds fast, which gave a different emotional feel.
I mentioned to a few Houston residents my experience. They seemed happy that I did it and happier how seriously I took the experience. One woman who had competed in shooting in her youth gave me a big high five. Another guy at a restaurant point out that several people at that restaurant were probably carrying guns, though he couldn’t tell which just by looking.
Buses in Texas
This was my first time in a community where more people shot deadly weapons than took public transportation, as far as I knew.
I spoke to a few drivers while there. The topic of Beto always came up. There were a lot of “Beto for Texas” signs up. The drivers all loved him.
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