The last time I fired a handgun was a few months before I moved to Nashville, which was in January, and the last time before that was when I was a child, probably just short of the teenage years, in the clearing of an Arizona desert. No one was around but my parents, my younger brother and a tour guide who’d been hustling us through the microwave heat in an old Jeep. We took photographs of odd rock formations, fondled the desert flora and hawked the occasional rattler. And I fired a gun. It was a six-shooter, quite old, and what I remember most was the long, smooth black of the barrel and the rough contrast of the sandy grip. It was heavier than I’d expected, and the weight of it caused the gun to slip forward over the horizon of my index finger just as the tour guide let go.
I don’t recall how many rounds I squeezed off or whether I was actually trying to connect with a target. There was only the desert, the gun and the dull, tugging weight of it in my hand. I was far too young to have a political opinion about guns; in fact, my gun experience was much like any other of my experiences: a creation of the esoteric fantasies I’d conjured from books, TV and movies but confined by the nagging reality of the mundane — like the nausea in my belly during that desert trip. I had basically stopped thinking at the starting point, which was that this gun in my hand was going to do … something.
This did not make me think of death, violence or danger. Holding a gun was instant power, just like everyone says. But I didn’t necessarily feel power over anything. It was more like a broad sensation with enough strength to momentarily overcome the nausea. Although I was surely a sloppy shot, the gun made me feel graceful, at ease, fully in control. The chain reaction in my hand — thought to pull my finger toward me, resistance of the trigger, fluid motion and bang before finger stops — was mesmerizing, like the perfect basketball shot.
It was vim and vigor, all 30 seconds’ worth.
The next time I fired a gun was, as I said, in September, and in the intervening years I had formed many opinions about guns and the people who carry them in public. Looking to find some insight into those opinions — just kidding: It seemed fun — a friend and I spent an afternoon treading and retreading the specifics of his Heckler & Koch USP .45 semi-automatic pistol, visiting Walmart to find they were out of the right bullets because of paranoid “stockpiling” in the wake of Obama’s election (we thus conceded to pay full price at the range), and with childlike glee dispensing 200 or so rounds in about 15 minutes. (For the record, we didn’t select the paper target featuring a man in a turban.)
This time there were no flights of character fancy, no Bond fantasies or romantics. The weapon was big in my hand, but not overpowering. I had the strength to control it. As it fired, I felt the charge that could send a bullet through my own house and my neighbors’ — at least — kick back into the webbing of my hand, the repetition bruising the ball of my thumb. This was the end of a power spectrum I’d never found before.
I figured I should know in my muscles the speed and mechanics of a gun, so that I would never underestimate or over-intellectualize it. In a society that so prizes gun ownership, it seems necessary to maintain both a basic understanding and a healthy respect.
To wit: Imagine taking a relaxing walk at dusk and running into a man dressed in fatigues, brandishing a (what you should assume to be) loaded pistol in his hand. How would you react?
Leonard Embody, the “Radnor Lake Rambo,” is suing the state for suspending his handgun carry permit after it determined his pistol-waving exercise was just crazy enough to “pose a material likelihood of risk to the public.” That part is fairly obvious. But because Tennessee’s gun laws actually allow a man to do this until he is met with the discretion of a police officer, for instance, Embody may end up winning his suit.
A lot of people have called Embody an insane person. It can be said without question that he was looking for a fight, precisely the one he got. Perhaps he, clearly a tense man, was caught up in the political fiction about gun rights being under siege and thought immediately to the extreme. But this is a state where you can, with a permit, take a gun almost anywhere, including bars and honky-tonks, so I’m not convinced that’s a problem.
I’m also not convinced stripping his permit is legal, although it seems like the sanest possible outcome for a man who believed his rights were under threat before he took to the streets.
It is a strange and troubling condition that the loudest arguers are also often the ones exercising the most expansive, comprehensive gun rights. Sure, I’d rather not wait in line at the driver service center and have to suffer the indignity of showing another human I understand automobile basics, but I understand why such licensing is necessary. After all, you could kill somebody with that thing.