When I was a teenager my parents bought me a pellet gun. I loved shooting it in the backyard, but failed to appreciate the risk that comes with using a firearm, even a pellet pistol. I haven't owned a gun for the past 30 years, and I don't plan to ever own one, which makes my experience on a firing range such an interesting study.
Last week I traveled to an Illinois rock quarry to shoot some of the so-called Assault Weapons that were banned in 1994. My instructor was John Ross who provided the guns, ammunition and safety tips without expecting anything in return.
Our story was prompted by President Obama's promise to ban assault weapons again. The impact of the previous ban is debatable. Here's a link to the most detailed study available on the issue. assault weapons study.pdf
I fired six guns, three handguns and three rifles. All of the weapons were sem-automatic, which means they shoot one bullet at a time, but reload automatically, which allows you to shoot much faster.
Many people confuse semi-automatic guns with automatic weapons. A machine gun is an automatic weapon because if you squeeze the trigger it will automatically fire every bullet until you let go. You must squeeze the trigger of a semi-automatic gun every time you want to shoot.
The technology involved in sem-automatic weapons is more than a century old. I fired one handgun that was manufactured in 1896. It was just as powerful as the more menacing looking Glock that is widely used by police officers and the military.
I also fired several rifles, including one that looked and felt like an AK-47. All of the guns had a kick when I fired them, but nothing significant. Some of them required me to squeeze a little harder on the trigger. They weren't particularly heavy and I was comfortable shooting them within a few minutes.
John gave me some background on each weapon, showed me how to hold them and offered advice on how to hit the targets, which were pieces of wood only about 25 feet away.
It's safe to say I'll never be an expert marksman, but I was surprised how quickly I felt at ease holding a loaded gun.
I approached my day at the range as a chance to do a story that might help explain why there are such strong feelings about these kind of weapons.
I didn't realize it would be that much fun.