by Mary Gaylord
It took me by surprise when my hippie-liberal-pacifist friend called and asked if I'd go to a shooting range with her. She'd received a coupon for a nearby facility and thought this activity might help her work through some angst she'd been feeling.
In theory, I'm a pretty open-minded person, ready for most adventures. I have to admit however, on the heels of the tragedy in Orlando, I felt very twitchy about being around guns. Nevertheless, I wanted to help my friend out and agreed to go along.
My experience with guns is limited to shooting a BB gun at empty cans stacked on the stump of a tree on family camping trips decades ago. Then there's the time in Alaska, on my honeymoon, when carrying a gun in the wilderness was just good common sense given the preponderance of bears and moose. My husband carried the gun and offered to take me to the dump to practice shooting (romantic, isn't he?).
At the dump, my husband fired the pistol once and I screamed and said no way, no how was I going to shoot that thing!
And that is the sum total of my gun shooting experiences until last night.
My friend and I walked into the shooting center and I immediately wanted to run back out. There were guns everywhere. A guy named Scott offered assistance. We explained our complete incompetence with regard to guns and he took this information in stride. Scott selected a 9mm pistol for us to take into the shooting range. He showed us the ammo and the magazine and gave us a rundown on how to operate the gun.
I froze for a moment thinking about how someone like Orlando shooter Omar Mateen might have come into a place like this. Probably Adam Lanza of Sandy Hook too, and countless other disturbed killers, I thought. I looked at the young man already practicing shooting in the range and wondered if he would someday commit mass murder.
My friend chose that moment to ask Scott if it was going to hurt when we shot the gun. Scott offered a reassuring smile and told us it would not hurt. My friend's question brought the comic relief and the good laugh that I needed at that moment.
Once in the range, Scott again went over all of the instructions and led us step-by-step through the process. The first time we heard another shot in the room, my friend and I both flinched even though we were wearing ear protection. Could we really do this? I wondered.
Five minutes later we were shooting at "Todd," our creepy paper target guy. We were taking aim and pulling the trigger. We got more and more comfortable and used up all of our ammo before turning in our gun and washing the gunpowder off our hands.
Afterwards, we felt a bit of a high. We had challenged ourselves to do something way outside of our comfort zone. I had gotten past my preconceived notions about how "people like me" would not be welcome or feel comfortable in a place like a shooting range.
The fact is the people at the gun range didn't seem so unlike me and my friend. Maybe we wouldn't agree on who the next president should be. So what? There are probably dozens of other things we would agree on.
And yes, there are good guys with guns and there are bad guys with guns and if I cling to stereotypical ideas about guns and gun owners I'll never get close enough to know the difference.
For me, this isn't really about guns at all. It's about the assumptions we make about others and about ourselves. What might happen if we moved beyond assumptions and stereotypes and looked for decency in others instead of just differences. Maybe we'd be better able to understand different versus dangerous, an important distinction indeed.
Mary Gaylord is a Program Development Partner with Living Room Conversations, an organization committed to bringing together people with differences in a friendly, structured, conversational format. She has worked as a community mediator, victim-offender reconciliation specialist, and facilitator of bully prevention programming for school-aged children. She lives in the Rocky Mountains and is passionate about spending time outdoors with family and friends.