Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Making of a gun nut.

I got “into guns” later in life than most of the people I know. My parents barely let me have a water gun, much less an actual firearm. Being legally blind didn’t figure into the equation; It was just they didn’t believe in that sort of thing. My grandfather had been a competitive shooter, hunter, and reloader, but by the time I displayed any interest he had long since sold all of his shooting irons. So when I decided to buy my first gun I was pretty much on my own.

At first, my interest was fueled by a desire to conquer the vague fear that my ignorance generated whenever my in-laws had guns around. They are hunters-all, and frequently were loading and cleaning around the holidays. The presence of firearms didn’t bother me as much as the fact that I had absolutely no idea of how to safely handle one. Thus the potential destruction I might have caused by even casual contact with their long guns (which were all safely stored and handled in my presence) spiraled out of proportion in my imagination. I don’t like fear, especially when I have the ability to do something about it.

So I started reading everything I could find about gun ownership, gun safety, ammunition, rifles, handguns, shotguns, scopes, self defense…etc. Somewhere, someone is laughing hysterically at that sentence. The amount of publicly accessible information on firearms is beyond comprehension. Wikipedia alone has so many interconnected links that I can still spend hours following twisty paths toward somewhat credible enlightenment. Add to that countless manufacturer websites, private reviewers, books, blogs, and online publications and it’s definitely an ongoing process.

After several months, I decided that I wanted “a gun.” That was pretty much a forgone conclusion from the outset. If I end up spending enough time on any subject, I’m going to want to get some skin in the game, be that miniatures, CCGs, RPGs, or guns. So the question became which one. As it turned out, Maryland made some of that decision for me. Buying a handgun in MD requires the buyer to pass a certification course and register with the state police. At the time I just wanted “a gun” and didn’t really want to go through any more paperwork than I had to. Intellectually I knew that it wasn’t likely to stay just one gun, but practically I decided to go about the process as if this purchase would be my only such acquisition. Oh, if I had only known.

The rest of the process was fairly simple. There was only one public range nearby where I’d be able to use my theoretical firearm. They only allowed shotguns and rifles in pistol caliber velocities. So, pistol caliber rifle or boom stick. For someone without a shred of practical shooting experience boomstick won hands down. As noted in one of my previous posts:


this was not one of my best decisions, but I didn’t know any better at the time. The internets said pump shotgun, so pump shotgun it was. My ego said 12 gage, so 12 gage was what I was going to get. Then it was down to the two most common models, the Remington 870 and the Mossberg 590. Again, with very little understanding of the practical implications of my choice, I picked the all-steel 870 over what I then thought was the weaker aluminum frame of the Mossberg. I found an 870 tactical model at Dick’s sporting goods (who have really great prices and fantastic customer service if you’ve never been there before.) A weak later I had my first gun locked in a carrying case…and no idea where to go from there.

I was well aware of the fact that while I owned a gun, I would never be able to responsibly use one without supervision, much less for home defense. Legally blind=no way to see where the rounds are going, hence breaking two of the four rules of firearm safety outright and the other two by implication. I was also aware of the seeming contradiction posed by a blind man owning and using a firearm. Gun ownership is a dicey subject at the best of times. My seemingly counterintuitive interest had the potential to strip me of the cloak of rationality and sensibility. To this day, I don’t hide the fact that I collect and use firearms recreationally. That said, I don’t advertise either. There’s simply too much chance for drama and misunderstanding when dealing with the uninformed.

Fortunately for me, K&B were raised in non hoplophobic households. As our best friends and people who tend to just shake their heads at my newest brand of crazy, they took C and me to Continental for my first real shooting experience, definitely my first with my new shotgun. In retrospect, I should have talked to them at the beginning of the process, but there’s a lot in my life I should have done differently that I didn’t have the forethought to consider at the time. We rented a S&W 686 and hit the shooting line. I’d like to say that Jeff Cooper and Masad Ayoob laid their hands on my shoulders in blessing, but really I spent most of the time following directions and trying not to screw up. It was a lot of fun, but in the back of my mind there was still that nagging worry that I would do something catastrophically stupid in a moment of inattention. C was raised in the afore mentioned in-laws house and so had none of my hang-ups.

If there was ever a moment when I was going to walk away from the gun world, it would have been then. Although I had a great time, the process of getting to the range, securing assistance, worrying about my own safety and all the niggling details that google and wikipedia can’t prepare you for weighed heavily on me in the following weeks. Two things brought me through the process with a modest amount of enthusiasm. First, the people who ran the range were the most accepting and supportive teachers I could have asked for. Most people choke up around “the blind.” They just don’t know what to do. Do I talk to them? Can they think for themselves? None of that shit at Continental arms. It probably helped that I knew how genuinely ignorant I was and that I sincerely wanted to better myself in that regard. Still, they made sure I had the knowledge I needed and gave me absolutely no crap about not being able to see. It’s become a running joke now that I’m a regular there. I think they enjoy looking at people who ask about my presence with a blank face and saying something like “yes, and?” That supportive joking environment removed a lot of my selfconciousness as well as giving me the necessary tools to safely enjoy the shooting experience.

Second, B was my unofficial range buddy for those first few months. She was willing to try any gun. She calmly sat by as I tempered my book learning with a dose of experience. It was just “one of those things” for her, and that too put me at ease. Since then I’ve accumulated several additional shooting companions. But back then it was just the giant blind guy and the little Jew woman every week or two. I owe both Continental arms and B a lot for those early months as I very much doubt that I’d be where I am now without their support.

Now I have several years of shooting under my belt, I own a variety of firearms, and I am a congressional member at said range. Guns are one of my two biggest hobbies. While I do enjoy the act of shooting, the process of modifying, equipping, researching, and upgrading my guns is the greater part of that enjoyment. I’m one of the least probable candidates for the title of gun nut, but even so, the shoe seems to fit.

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