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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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Return to lately 2012.

"did you ever, in your wildest imagination...?"
april 1, 2012

Lately we've been thinking, let's prepare for everything.

We made out our wills with an attorney, so why not also buy some guns? Something to keep near our bed, just in case.

I went on the Internet, located some gun shops near our home. In Texas, they're not hard to find.

The store we selected was in a nearby town.

It had kind of a bunker look to it, one story and no windows.

We went through the front door, then a second front door (I guess for security reasons), not knowing what to expect. We were entering a world we had never seen before.

Inside, dozens of rifles along the walls, glass display cases in back filled with shelves of tagged handguns.

There were a few customers already in the shop, carrying satchels or cases I knew contained guns. They weren't at all unfriendly (one of them in fact even held the door open for us), but I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say I felt a little out of place. It was for me like going to a sports bar where everyone lives and breathes football.

The man behind the counter, as I learned during our conversation, was a Federal Marshall.

I told him we wanted to buy a pair of guns, but had never owned guns before, so we wanted to be able to fire some different weapons before choosing which ones to buy, and also wanted to get at least a rudimentary sense of how to load a gun, clean it, etc.

He gave us a lot of helpful basic information. For example, one decision a buyer has to make is if they want a revolver or an automatic.

A revolver is the old-fashioned type of gun you see in westerns, where you load bullets (usually six) in a cylinder. Each time you fire a bullet, the cylinder revolves to the next live bullet. Some people call them six-shooters. Once you finish shooting, you flip the cylinder open sideways, let the spent shells fall out, then reload.

An automatic loads bullets in its handle. There's no cylinder involved. The bullets simply ascend up the handle as you squeeze and resqueeze the trigger. As you fire each bullet, the spent shell ejects out of the side of the automatic (and those spent shells flipping out after each round are hot!)

I had read that revolvers are more reliable, that automatics can sometimes jam, but the Marshall said that problem had been corrected with design changes, and that in fact automatics are now considered the weapon of choice (police departments used to insist on their officers using revolvers, but now virtually all law enforcement agencies use automatics instead.)

The store has an arrangement with a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) who provides a three hour training class at the store, $150 per person. I gave him a call and set up an appointment for one of his individual classes.

Mary and I went in a week or so later for the class.

The first two hours were the three of us sitting at a table, the instructor showing us how an automatic works, using real guns (which we appreciated-we didn't want diagrams, we wanted to be able to work with the actual weapons, to feel their heft, how much effort it takes to pull the trigger, etc.)

And he gave us some good practical advice.

If you're going to shoot someone, aim at their gut.


For one thing, it's usually the biggest target on a person. For another, it does the most damage. If you aim at the head, or the chest, there's so much bone there (or bone and muscle in the case of the chest), that your bullet may not do that much damage. But if you aim at the soft gut, where there isn't any bone, and in most men not that much muscle, the bullet is far more likely to penetrate inside the body itself, doing damage to the internal organs (and let's face it, if you're going to shoot someone, you want to do damage, to stop them.) Many people who get shot in the chest survive. Most people who get shot in the gut tend to die. A third advantage to shooting into the gut is that you're shooting downwards. If your bullet passes through the person's body, it's going to end up behind them, in the floor. If you shoot at a level angle, that bullet, after passing through your assailant, can travel and possibly harm an innocent person.

I of course realize how cruel this sounds. But if someone breaks into our happy little home, I have absolutely no problem whatsoever not being kind towards that person.

He also told us most shootings take place in the bedroom. Home robbers start at the living room, to figure out their best route of escape. They then go to the master bedroom, where it's most likely valuables will be stored. If you ever have someone enter your home, the worst thing you can do is leave your bedroom to locate the burglar. Then you're wandering around in the dark, just like the burglar. Let them come to you, while you wait behind your bed, aiming at the doorway to your bedroom. That way it's far more likely you'll get off some successful shots, and if a bullet misses or passes through the robber, there's typically far more walls the bullet has to travel through, meaning less chance of harming someone innocent outside your home. Also, never shout out, I have a gun! If the burglar also has a gun, you've just given them an advantage. Far better to have the element of surprise on your side.

In Texas, it's legal to shoot someone who's broken into your home. The homeowner is normally not charged with a crime. The general consensus is that you're performing a community service.

After the two hours at the table, we went into one of the shop's firing ranges to try our hand at actually firing a gun.

I had absolutely no idea what it was like to fire a gun. Anything I knew came from movies.

One thing I was concerned about was recoil. You fire your gun, and the force of the bullet leaving the gun kicks the back of the gun against your palms. How powerful would the recoil be? The owner of the shop made an interesting point: The heavier the gun, the less recoil. So if you buy a really light gun, you're going to experience a lot of recoil, which may cause your hand to jerk up after each shot, which means it takes time to re-aim. But if you buy a heavier gun, the weight of the gun helps keep the gun steady.

Before we entered the firing range, we put on protective ear guards, which fit completely over each ear. The guards help muffle the noise.

The range itself was a room with a narrow aisle across the back, divided into stalls. Each stall was separated from the others by bulletproof side walls that came out about a yard. No drinks or food are allowed inside the firing range, because the gunpowder released into the air with each firing can settle on the drink or food, and gunpowder is, to some degree, a carcinogen.

The instructor put a bullet in the chamber of the automatic we were testing, and went into the stall to fire first, to give us some idea of what a gun firing is like.

Once he pulled the trigger, I was stunned by the extreme loudness of the shot. That's what I'll remember most about that day, in fact-- how loud a noise a gun makes when it fires. Even with the ear guards on, the explosion of the gun leaving the muzzle is so loud it's somewhat painful. (The instructor told us about a cousin of his who was driving some people through a deserted area, and one of the passengers decided to fire a shot out the side window, just for fun. The loudness of the shot, magnified because it occurred within the enclosed space of the car, and made even worse because no one in the car, of course, was wearing ear guards, was so intense his cousin and the other occupants of the car were partially deaf for several hours afterwards.) That ear-slamming loudness isn't at all like in a movie. When you see a gun fight in a movie, where the characters are shooting back and forth at each other, without ear guards, it's just not the way a real gun fight would play out. The participants would have difficulty hearing after the first few shots had been fired. It's an interesting fact I'll probably use in one of my stories.

Along with the loudness of the gun shot, I was surprised that a big, fat flame burst about a foot beyond the gun's muzzle.

Mary and I, in our ear guards, exchanged glances. Did we really want to do this? It looked dangerous.

I went first.

The target (a life-size shape of a man) sailed out about ten feet from where I stood with the gun.

With the ear guards on, and my eyeglasses, there was a sense of being shut into your own head, cut-off from the outside world, like snorkeling underwater.

I took aim, putting my right index finger around the trigger. Taking my time, I curled my finger around the curved trigger, pulling it back. I had no idea what to expect.

That enormous noise again. I felt the gun jerk back against my palms (you always shoot with both hands on the gun), but it wasn't that bad of a kickback at all. In fact, much less than I expected. I got off a few more rounds, then it was Mary's turn.

She turned out to be a natural shot. Each of her bullets went right where they should on the target.

After we took turns firing about fifty rounds, our hands lightly greased with blowback gunpowder, we went back inside the shop proper, taking off our ear guards.

We had been testing the Springfield SD, a black automatic used by the police and the military. The gun holds sixteen rounds (seventeen if you put one in the chamber.) We bought two of them. I got one with a four inch barrel. Mary bought a three inch barrel.

Each gun cost $529.00.

In order to purchase a gun, you have to go through an FBI check. This sounds like it would take a lot of time, but in fact it's pretty quick. You fill out a form giving your full name, current address, race, gender, and driver's license number. You then have to answer a list of questions, checking Yes or No. It's a lot like the list you complete when you start with a new doctor: Have you ever had a heart attack? Are you diabetic? Do you ever experience dizziness? Except these questions are, Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever been declared mentally incompetent? Have you ever been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces? There's a little over a dozen questions in all. You also have to let the gun shop owner see, and inspect, your driver's license.

The gun shop owner then calls the FBI hotline to get approval for your gun purchase. Approval takes about ten minutes. After I believe ninety days the FBI is required to expunge any record of your purchase from its files. This is done under the principle that it's none of the government's business as to who owns guns.

In addition to the guns, we bought bullets. (Bullets are heavy, by the way.)

For future target practice at the range, we purchased Winchester 9mm luger 115 grain bullets, full metal jacket. One hundred cost $32.99. For bullets we'll load in our guns for home defense we bought Hornady Zombie Max bullets, because they cause more damage (the bullet tips have notched sides.) $23.99 for 25 rounds. (The Hornady Zombie bullets carry the slogan, Just in Case. The packaging and the tips of the bullets are an undead green.)

Once Mary and I got home, we dropped the empty clip out of each gun, spent some time familiarizing ourselves with how to hold the gun, to develop a muscle memory. It's extremely important to make sure you're holding an automatic properly when firing, both thumbs on one side of the weapon rather than one thumb at the rear, which is a more natural way to hold the gun, because you can cause severe injury to your thumb while firing if your thumb is at the rear of the automatic.

The next day, around high noon, we sat at our black breakfast nook table, feeding rounds into the clips so we'd have loaded weapons. The Springfield SD comes with an extra clip, which is nice. (Loading bullets into a clip is a bit awkward, by the way, and will give your thumbs a real workout.) I said to Mary at one point, "Did you ever, in your wildest imagination, think we'd be sitting around a table one day, loading guns?"

Once we had the clips loaded with bullets, we pushed a clip up into each gun's handle. At that point, the gun is ready to fire. Which is scary. It's like holding a stick of dynamite in your hand.

I believe most clichés contain truth. That's why they're repeated to the point where they become clichés. One cliché I've often heard (you probably have too), is that "It's better to have a gun and not need it, then need a gun and not have it."

And honestly, it's hard to argue with that truth.

Here's another truth. No matter how you feel about guns, it's a lot of fun--more than you would ever expect--shooting a gun.

Not as much fun as writing, but damn close.