Sunday Morning Shooting

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Luke looks and acts a little like Hunter S. Thompson. By this, I mean he's wearing an Indiana Jones hat, "Fear and Loathing" sunglasses and is waving a shotgun in my face.

It is just after New Year's, and I am killing time visiting friends in beautiful Southern California, where it has been raining for three days straight.

We are on the outskirts of Lancaster, the stretch of wind-wrecked desert just after the Grapevine. Everyone I know from Lancaster is trying to kill themselves slowly - they drink, drive and smoke like it's 1999 and the world wasn't worth it anyway.

This explains why the cure prescribed for our collective hangover is a round of light shooting. Nothing clears the head like the sound of buckshot whistling off into the distance ... or so I am told.

We have assembled several miles off-road in a patch of desert that the recent snowfall has left untouched. In the spring, the hills will be covered in orange poppies, but for now they are a barren and dusty brown. Without any targets to practice on, the mountains themselves become our enemy - I imagine that the one on the left could be a craggier version of Vladimir Putin.

I am handed a pair of heavy duty noise-protecting headphones. I can only imagine they were developed for the scientists in Los Alamos for their sheer size and heft. Their intimidating nature, however, is marred by the fact that they are Rudolph red. I feel like Elmer Fudd.

Another gunshot cracks, and my ears ring with the vibrations. Take that Putin.

Claire wants a shot now. She is also wearing a hat, but hers is a furry number, which, combined with her bright red coat gives her the menacing look of a royalist Sarah Palin. This is made more threatening by her habit of gesturing wildly with the gun. Bryan ducks behind the cars as Claire decapitates a bush.

Wendi hides behind Janna who is hiding behind Sofie who is regarding the gun with a horrible fascination that makes me nervous. Hers is an addictive personality.

Luke - in what is fast becoming a trend - waves the gun at me. "You," he says briskly. Yep, that's me. Here I am, standing in the middle of the desert in front of my three cowering friends. Luke follows this neutral pronoun with a second, slightly more terrifying word, "Shoot."

Well, I am on holiday, and this is the New Year, and oh, what the heck - who am I kidding - I really want to shoot a gun. No, a shotgun. So, I take it from him. It is long and black, though not the slick shiny black of Hollywood. This black has a dull utility to it that is somehow more menacing.

I am then given a short lecture entitled, "Gun Safety for Dummies." Though, in my opinion, no self-declared dummy should ever be handed a gun. It is simple: Keep the safety on, when the safety is released a small red dot will appear. Red like blood, get it? Get it?

Next step, cock it - keep your finger on the trigger. Pull, release and don't forget to brace the gun against your shoulder, a non-fleshy part. It kicks like a mule.

I bring the gun to my shoulder, release the safety, cock the gun, and fire. The noise is a wave's crescendo in my ears.

It feels incredible. Like I could take on the world. Adrenaline is pulsing in my veins, and inexorably, my lips curve up into a stupid grin. I wish I had enemies so they could stand here and watch me shoot the shit out of this hill. They would tremble in fear. Unfortunately, I have no enemies, plus, I am a vegetarian and a pacifist and a liberal. Which makes this whole enjoying guns thing vaguely morally troubling.

I have always been for gun control. The epigram, "guns don't kill people - people kill people," is a rhetorically dangerous phrase that overlooks the fact that most of us do not have the sheer Rambo-like strength necessary to take down another human being in mortal combat.

However, this is an easier stance to make, having grown up in the suburbs. In an urban setting, a gun is inherently violent. Here, under a blue sky, it seems more like a shot to pierce through the indifference of the desert. A way of letting the mountains and the clouds and the cars speeding on Highway 14 know that we are here and we are young. I cannot help but think of Hunter S. Thompson again. Not the way he lived, fast and loose with all four cylinders roaring; I am thinking of the way he died.

Thompson would have despised his suicide taken as an argument for gun control, but it remains that guns give us the means to do without thinking what we might never have done given reflection.

Guns are not dangerous in the right hands, but who can determine which hands those are? Guns call to the worst primal instincts within us. The same laws that allowed us some harmless fun on a Sunday morning were partially responsible for a national tragedy in Arizona. The risk isn't worth it; there are better ways to get my adrenaline rush. Maybe I'll try sky-diving next.

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Shoot an e-mail over to Meghna at [email protected]



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