The way of the gun

by Brian Clarey

From out in the parking lot the gunshots barely even sound like explosions, more like muffled slams, like a sledgehammer hitting a tree. There is no sharpness to the report, no crack or boom. Three kittens frolic in a grassy area in the parking lot of the shooting range, unperturbed by the sudden bangs.

They keep butterscotch candies and Jolly Ranchers in a bowl by the front door at Calibers Indoor Range, and pepper spray under the glass. Paper targets lay in bins by the wall and the bullets are in shelves behind the counter. They don’t sell guns here at Calibers shooting range — you can’t even rent one unless you’re one of its 4,000 club members, a new policy necessitated by a nationwide shortage in ammunition, which Calibers does sell. Many theories exist as to the cause of this ammunition shortage. Some say the world’s many armed conflicts are taxing the supply, or that US gun owners are hoarding ammunition because they fear domestic terrorism, martial law or, even scarier, gun control laws. Carl Abbe, who bought Calibers five years ago, isn’t buying any of it. “They said people were hoarding, and then they said the manufacturers couldn’t get the materials, the metals and powder.” He shrugs his shoulders. He says it’s true, though, that Obama’s election marked an uptick in the gun business. Before the election, he says, they would sweep up six buckets of brass bullet casings each day from the floor of the range. Just after they were regularly sweeping up nine. Enrollment in his concealed carry permit classes are up as well, Abbe says; about 80 percent of them are first-time gun owners. This jibes with national and local statistics regarding concealed weapon permits. North Carolina is on pace to double the number of such permits issued in 2008. Guilford County has issued 1,151 concealed permits through May, compared with 1,965 in all of 2008. Forsyth County issued 1,305 permits in 2008 and has already licensed 1,088 of its citizens to carry concealed firearms this year. “I don’t think it’s political,” Abbe says. “I think it’s mostly for their own security. They think for whatever reason the police can’t protect them adequately, and they decided to protect themselves.” Greensboro in particular, he says, is “having a hard time controlling their crime.” Don’t I know it. My own neighborhood, triangulated by Yanceyville, Summit and Cone streets, has been the locus of much of the crime in the Second District. I have heard gunfire in the night, seen a shooting in the street, been carjacked in my front yard, chased burglars from my bedroom window. There are many times when I see arming myself as a reasonable proposition. The way of the gun is the way of the world — or so it seems, with armed conflicts raging on every inhabited continent on the world. Except Europe. There aren’t a lot of guns in Europe. Not so here in the United States, where our domestic armed conflicts consist mainly of our gun-toting citizens shooting one another, or being shot by law enforcement officers, or law enforcement officers being shot by armed citizens. At the shooting range, I watch an eight-minute video outlining the rules of the house: no quick-draw, no outside ammo, no kneeling, no swearing and a mess of gun safety policies. “Gun safety is a time sensitive matter.” Abbe asks me the question he asks everybody who comes to him wanting to buy a gun for self-defense: “Would you be able to shoot without hesitation a 14-year-old with a gun pointed at you? How about a 16- or 17-year old? “That’s what could potentially happen,” he continues. “If not, you need to find some other means of protecting yourself.” Attendant Manny Matos sets me up with a .38 Smith & Wesson and a full box of loads; he brings me through the doors to the shooting gallery and positions me in stall No. 7. He tapes my target — a silhouetted human torso with a big bulls-eye on the chest — and runs it 10 yards deep. I load a single shot in the chamber, line up the sights and dry-click the thing until it explodes with a jolt. It’s the first time I’ve ever fired a gun in my life. It feels a bit like a firecracker going off in your hand, except the firecracker is huge, and your hands are made of steel, and you can aim it at a target and blow a hole neatly through it. I reload and pop off six shots, the last two clustering in the bulls-eye. Manny pulls his personal piece, a .357 Magnum, more blunt and muscular than the .38. He loads a single bullet, hands it over, directs me to shoot. I pull the trigger. The report is big enough to shake my bones and the kick stresses my triceps and latissimus dorsi, blows back and I can feel the concussive force in my sinus cavity. Shooting a .357 Magnum is like all the best parts of getting punched in the face. It’s awesome. I look to Manny through my protective eyewear. He’s nodding slowly and smiling at me as he holsters his gun.

Calibers Indoor Range & Training; 6910 Downwind Road, Greensboro; 336.668.3232;