I was a nervous wreck on Tuesday evening when I found myself at Precision Firearm and Indoor Range on Siegen Lane. I’d agreed to shoot a gun after 20 years of being vehemently anti-weapon.
And I’d been held to my word.
When I put on the noise-silencing earmuffs, I was left with only the sound of my heart beating nervously as I stared at an orange, person-shaped figure on paper, 20 feet down the range. My hands were shaking when I turned off the safety and put my finger on the trigger. I found my breath quickening and I tried to steady it — and my hands — before I pulled. The sound of a bullet being pushed out of the barrel and through the air undid all of my work to calm myself.
It’s no secret in my conservative extended family that my mother and I are liberals. And with a tattoo on my right wrist that reads “I am not a gun,” I have been the subject of many unfortunate and politically-charged jokes at family gatherings over the last year.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the quote from the children’s movie, “The Iron Giant,” it centers around the unlikely friendship between a scrawny young boy and a 20-foot robot made of military weaponry. The little boy teaches the robot that even though he was created to be a weapon, he ultimately gets to decide who he really is.
The movie ends with the Iron Giant shooting off into space to destroy an asteroid before it hits Earth, when he delivers the line that I loved enough to get permanently placed in my skin.
As a child I was klutzy. I had a habit of breaking things, and it wasn’t hard to feel like I was a destructive force. This movie taught me that even though humans have the capability to be emotionally, verbally or physically abusive, I had a say in whether or not I was destructive.
Until Tuesday evening, I’d never held a gun, never mind shot one. Being around guns made me uncomfortable, and a lot of that had to do with my unfamiliarity with them. But I always thought that if I never caused trouble, if I never had a gun to point at someone, I would never find myself in a situation where I would need to use one.
That was until I started dating someone who happened to also be a gun owner. I didn’t know this when I met him and I can’t say that it would’ve kept me from continuing to see him. He came to own a gun because of realistic feeling of being unsafe while living in Baton Rouge.
But just being in a house that had a gun was scary at first. Say what you will about murder rates versus gun ownership, but repeating statistics doesn’t calm my mind when I’m staring at something that could end my life with the pull of a trigger.
There came a point where I realized in order to triumph my fear of guns I was going to need to confront it head on. So I agreed to go to a shooting range and learn how to shoot at a target.
The feeling that I got after taking the first shot was a mix of sweaty hands and after-shock of being so close to such a loud noise. The experience wasn’t something I think I would want to repeat frequently.
I’m definitely not at a place where I want to or feel it necessary to own a gun and I don’t think recreational shooting is in my future. But I do feel a lot safer being somewhere with a gun now that I know how to use it properly.
My family is full of gun owners and veterans. I’m aware that owning a gun doesn’t make you a killer, but it scares me. I admit that my opinion on guns is emotionally charged. And I’ll admit that having a gun in your house can be beneficial.
After all, if my apartment was broken into, I would call a policeman who carries a gun to protect me.
Granted, I know that person has been trained to use it safely and responsibly. My opinion that gun ownership be regulated in the same way that vehicle registration is regulated didn’t change. I still stand by the idea that we have the right to protect ourselves, but also the responsibility to make sure we do safely.
After all, guns don’t kill people. People kill people.
Jana King is a 20-year-old communication studies junior from Ponchatoula, Louisiana. You can reach her on Twitter @jking_TDR.