"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Quick Draw McGayle

Last Friday, I did something I had never done before. I spent the afternoon with a friend of mine who is in law enforcement, learning all about guns.

That includes shooting a few.

First of all, this was all in the name of research. In my latest Peri book, Peri is going to have to handle a gun. I haven't decided which way it will go, but I do know it will be an emergency situation and she will feel both unprepared and backed into a corner.

Second, I still feel humbled and grateful that my friend, Matt*, devoted an entire afternoon to teaching me more than I ever wanted to know about guns. If you are a writer needing research, this is just the right amount of information: more than you want. 

We began my instruction with a varied array of (unloaded) guns on his coffee table, from revolvers to semi-automatic handguns. He took me through the development of the single-action to the double-action revolver, discussed men who had been instrumental in developing the mechanics, from Colt to Luger to Browning. We talked about silencers, and their misrepresentation in movies/TV. We also discussed different kinds of ammunition, and he showed me examples of every kind.

What I noticed most about the "classroom" session was that at no time did I want to pick up any of these weapons. Part of this was that I was nervous about whether any of these things were truly safe for me to handle, even though Matt is not cavalier about his weapons (not only is he a detective, he is also a target-shooting enthusiast and belongs to a gun club) and had triple-checked each gun to make sure it was unloaded. He finally had to semi-shove one into my hand. 

Surprise Number One: Guns are heavy. Even the small ones, even the ones that are molded plastic on a metal frame, are hefty. When I picked up his oldest single-action revolver with a very long barrel, my first words were, "Oof, carpel tunnel right now."

For the purposes of the book, most of what I learned was fascinating but will never make it in. For example, did you know that the Luger is not really its name? That's the name of its creator. The gun is called a Parabellum-Pistole, "Parabellum" is from the Latin adage, "Si vis pacem, para bellum."

"If you want peace, prepare for war."

Is it just me, or does that phrase give you chills?

After I learned about guns and what to expect at the shooting range, he loaded up everything and off we went to an indoor range in Brea.

Surprise Number Two: I dreaded our arrival. At the time, I couldn't have told you why.

Matt got us signed in and assigned a station, then gave me ear plugs, plus ear protectors, plus protective eye wear, By this time, I was forcing myself to breath and not shake.

The first gun I shot was a double-action revolver, with .38 cartridges. Matt placed the target about a quarter of the possible distance, so I could hit it. My heart was trying to crawl out of my throat, but I rubbed my "Be Brave" bracelet, loaded the gun, and aimed. 

Even with all my ear protection, I tried not to jump at the explosion. It was a quick pop, followed by a little smokiness and an odor - gunpowder? Fortunately, the kickback wasn't nearly as severe as I feared. 

After five shots, I put the gun down, turned to Matt and mouthed, "my heart is beating so hard," while I motioned with my hand. It felt like fear and exhilaration and emotions that might make me cry if I dwelt on them.

"It's natural for you to feel overcome by it," he assured me. "You are aware of what you're holding and how dangerous it is. You know that all you have to do is point it toward someone and pull the trigger, and it's not like firing at a piece of paper."

Then he handed me a box of 357 rounds, moved the target back to halfway down the lane, and had me reload. Talk about an explosive pop - it felt like a bomb going off in my hands.

OOPS! Got my thumb in the wrong place!

I tried a Glock-17 and a Colt Government 1911. The Glock is double-action and the Colt is single-action. Of all the guns, I liked the Colt the best. It felt a little lighter and there was something about both the grip and the sight that made it easy for me to shoot. Matt said it was an enthusiast's gun, but I'm not sure you'd call me an "enthusiast".

We finished our shooting, and returned to his house, where I thanked him profusely and promised to take him to dinner (along with our lovely spouses, of course). Then I went home with my notes and prepared to re-write most of the first scene to match what Matt and I had discussed about law enforcement, guns, and dangerous situations.

Do I understand the attraction to shooting? Not really. With each squeeze of the trigger, I had to remind myself to breathe, keep looking at the target, and relax through the pop/kick. It's not like horseback riding, where the first time I groomed a horse, it was like meditation. 

Do I at least know what it's like? Thanks to Matt, I do. I can now write from a place of knowledge and not just a place of study. 

Not too shabby.

What about you? Have you ever done something outside your comfort zone for research? Or really, for any reason?

*I would love to share with you Matt's last name and picture, etc, but I want to be careful with his online presence because he is in law enforcement, has many guns in his gun safe at home, and I would not put any part of his life in jeopardy for any reason.

1 comment:

Tameri Etherton said...

You are brave! What a cool story. Matt sounds like an excellent teacher (I sort of wish I had Matt close to teach me), and it sounds like you had a good time, but not fun. Which, all things considered, is cool.

I've always shied from guns, but when I saw your pictures on Facebook, I realized I needed to do exactly what you did and go shoot one ~ for research. After reading this, I'm wondering how I'll feel about it. Hmmm…

I'm looking forward to reading how Peri handles the situation!

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