Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fun With Guns

by Jennifer Harlow

"Write what you know" is practical advice for writers. Writing can be a bit like method acting, you pull emotions and experiences from within yourself and put them on the page. This is hard for us mystery/horror writers. Most of us, I hope, have never known someone who was murdered or killed someone ourselves.(I especially hope it's true about that last one.) We want to get close to that edge but not go all the way. This is where research comes in. There are certain things that every writer of mystery or crime novels should know. A little about forensics, the law, police investigations, how to kill someone and what the body does when you do, and what it feels like to shoot a gun. The first four can be accomplished through research, but the last really should be done in real life.

Really, because it's really f%$#@^g fun.

Though I grew up with three brothers and a revolving door of brothers friends living with us, I always ended up being the one to do guy things with my dad. I was the one who tossed the ball around with him in the backyard. I was the one who went fishing with him. And I was the one who he invited to go shooting with him. I had a little experience with shooting as when I was a child of five I fired my first rifle. I just remember a huge bang, pain in my shoulder, and my father, who was behind me, comforting me afterwards. It would be thirteen years before I'd pick up a gun again.

I grew up around guns. Though we lived in the suburbs my dad loved collecting them. Pistols, rifles, even an AK before they became illegal. They were always under lock and key but on occasion he'd pull one out to clean it. They scared me. They could kill people. But as I got older and started to read mystery novels I became more and more fascinated with them. Could I hit the target? What did it feel like to hold a death machine in my hand? When my dad bought my brother a BB gun he quickly got bored with it, but I'd spend hours in the backyard hitting cans on the fence. At eighteen I felt I was ready to graduate to the real thing.

I was nervous when I walked into the shooting range. I was afraid I'd shatter my ear drum. I was afraid it'd hurt my arms. Mostly I was afraid I'd make an ass of myself. And I did. Because no matter how many guns my dad had, he had never shot a one of them since that time I was a kid. But I didn't know that at the time. (More on that later.) I shot a Glock 9mm at first. It was heavy in my hands, heavier than I thought it would be. And when it came time to pull the trigger I was in for a shock. The force was hard, like someone shoving me back. Even with the mufflers the sound made me wince. But...I could feel the power in my hands. And I hit the target seven out of ten times! I left that range feeling like hot shit. Dad and I went twice more, and I went once with my brother, but it was an expensive hobby and I got really busy. I didn't pick up a gun for seven years. Then I moved to California.

My family was worried about me living alone across the country, though I had two roommates, so they insisted I get a gun. A month before I moved Dad and I walked into a gun store, and about two hours later I walked out with a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver (Virginia has very lax gun regulations, not sure that's a good thing.) I put it away and mostly forgot about it until things got nuts in CA. It was a tough time, and working out and screaming into my pillow three times a day just wasn't cutting it anymore. Though I was nervous to walk into a shooting range alone I did it anyway. There I was, firing away, when an elderly man saddled up beside me. At first I thought he was a freak, but then he told me I was doing everything wrong. My stance, my breathing, how I pulled the trigger was totally wrong. (Thanks, Dad.) Here is the wisdom he imparted:

1. Feet shoulder length apart and flat.

2. Use tea cup grip-one hand on base of handle and other around it

3. Lock your elbows

4. Don't put your finger on the trigger until the last moment

5. Keep both your eyes open

6. As you're about to fire take a deep breath, letting it out as you squeeze, not pull the trigger

7. Rinse and repeat

By doing this, I hit the target 10 out of 10 times. So thank you anonymous gun enthusiast. I now know how to kill someone more effectively.

Guns should be considered a tool. Like a chainsaw you need to read the instructions and practice before you use it. It's a good skill to have. And it does make you feel like a badass. I just pray none of us ever really need to know how to use this particular tool.


Deborah Sharp said...

Fabulous post ... love the pix, too. One of my favorite possessions is a shotgun my dad had as a child. He died when I was pretty young, so I didn't get the chance to do much shooting with him. You were lucky!

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Excellent advice. Soon I'll be taking my first self defense class and will learn to shoot. Your post is making me look forward to it even more

Kathleen Ernst said...

Love that first photo! I agree that nothing beats hands-on experience. However, I don't fall into the shooting is fun camp. I took a shooting course once and was consistently the worst shot in the group. I'm not sure what that means for my future as a mystery writer!

Beth Groundwater said...

My introduction to guns was in a local Sisters in Crime firearms class taught by a sheriff's office deputy. Classroom in the morning, firing range in the afternoon, and he collected weapons from gun collector friends that matched what we were using in our books. A great day!

Jennifer Harlow said...

I am by no means Annie Oakley, but do get a thrill when I actually hit the target. I get it in the center more and more now. Think it's time to move onto a crossbow.

Robert K. Lewis said...

Loved this! I went to shoot some handguns with a friend of mine, back about two months ago. I wanted to know how it really felt, since I write about people with guns all the time. It was a blast! Fun!