The right to keep and bear arms in enshrined in the second amendment to the American Constitution. It is a right that leaves many of us outside of America confused when we look and see what appears to be the increasing use of guns by Americans against other Americans. This is clearly a very topical issue in the communities we have visited. No more so than here in Texas.
When I found out that I was going to travel to America, one of the things that I immediately wanted to do was shoot a handgun. It may sound like an odd thing but NZ has an unarmed police force and guns within the citizenry are uncommon. With the publicity associated with some tragic mass shootings and the political maneuverings of the various gun lobbies, I really wanted to try for myself shooting a hand gun. Since it wasn't an experience that I could easily have in NZ, I was delighted when my host City University Park, arranged for the Police Chief and the Arms Training Officer to take Dr Tasanee and I to the indoor firing range.
So - first - colours to the mast - before I went to the range, I was unequivocally of the view that it was madness to let the citizenry carry concealed weapons or hand guns of any sort. So I went along to the shooting range to see if I could get a sense of what it was that made the folk I had talked to so passionate about their views on gun control - both pro and anti.
Dr Tasanee and I were first briefed on the rules of the range by the woman range owner (who carries a concealed weapon) and is a former police officer. We were also warned that we may have trouble with airport security as a result of the gun residue that was likely to stick to our person for 48 hours or so. (Apologies now if we get delayed on our return to DC!) After the briefing, we got our safety equipment and went through into the range where we were both shown how to hold the gun, how to aim and what to expect by way of recoil.
Shooting a hand gun for the first time
I was really nervous about the first shot. How loud would it be? Would I drop the gun? Could I aim it? What about the recoil? So under the guidance of the instructor, I fired first. And bugger me, but I hit the target, did not drop the gun, the recoil was fine and it was not too loud - although the shell case goes flying. And, what I hadn't expected, was the adrenaline rush that accompanied the shot. I then got to shoot about forty further rounds with instruction as I went about how to improve the results. Targets 3 and 4 below are a bit scary because I was naturally quite good at shooting. Who knew.
Dr Tasanee then stepped up and had a couple of shots - she did really well and hit the target but decided that was enough - she had experienced shooting a gun.
I loved the shooting. It was nothing like the movies. It was invigorating. It was really hard. It did however give me an instant appreciation of how difficult it must be for an armed officer to shoot at a person in a time of stress. And the skill it takes to shoot in situations like that. And surprisingly, I could see immediately, why, if I was a gun owner, I would want to keep the right to carry my gun.
This right to carry has been a topic of conversation with me and staff at University Park. In Texas, state law provides that licensed owners can carry a concealed weapon. Many city staff are licensed and could therefore technically carry a concealed weapon at work.
The City however, has an administrative order that prohibits the carrying of a concealed weapon except by law enforcement officers. Staff, who under state law, can carry a concealed weapon, may only have a weapon in their private vehicles while at work. This seemed reasonable to me but in discussing this with various staff, there is a view that they wished to be able to carry their weapon at all times so they could protect themselves if there was an attack of some sort. This was a really challenging thing to consider and so foreign to the NZ context.
Earlier I said I was not in favour of an armed citizenry. And my experiences here have not changed that view. I think I understand a little more clearly the attraction of gun ownership but I philosophically do not understand the insistence on this right. This has been a challenging experience.