A Heavy Load

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Most people brought their own guns, but I didn't, so I was issued one of S&W's 9mm Sigma series, a holster and two clips. It is a lot of hardware. People who are unacquainted with handguns are often surprised at just how heavy they are. Carrying one for hours at a time, concealed or not, is more than just a matter of moral weightiness. It can cause cramps, Bill said.

The next two days were filled with gunfire -- about 400 rounds each. We learned to draw our guns quickly from their holsters -- two seconds was too long; beyond that you're probably dead -- and how to fire two shots, not just one, for insurance. Bill told us that most armed confrontations take place within several feet, so the majority of our shooting was done at close range, about twelve feet. We practiced drawing and shooting while standing, while pivoting, while sitting, while moving. We shot at multiple targets.

A lot of the time, we missed. Indeed, what surprised me most was how bad I was. And I wasn't alone. Shooting a handgun accurately is difficult, and the hurried motion of a quick draw caused my shots to go askew many times, even at targets only a dozen feet away.

I was also surprised at who genuinely turned out to be dangerous. It wasn't the South American or the Quiet Man, whose handling of their guns was always professional, safe and competent. In fact, after watching them for three days, I'd feel just as safe knowing they were carrying a weapon in public as I would knowing they weren't.

By comparison, the two older guys began to scare me. Several times they handled their guns carelessly; during the move-and-shoot drill, one of them sprayed bullets into the range with no apparent regard for his targets. Before the class, judging these men by their demeanor and appearance, I would have trusted them as the type of people carry-concealed laws were meant to protect. Now I hope they never get licensed.

The final day of the class was the most intense. This was when we lined up with the video simulator, a training tool commonly employed by cops. The movies were shown on a large white target so that live ammo could be used. We stood in front of the target, two at a time, and watched the situations unfold, then reacted by firing or not. On the film, actors re-created events taken from actual police reports; afterward, we compared our reactions to what had happened in real life.

The first scenario involved a person -- us, from the camera's point of view -- coming home and finding the door open. He climbed the stairs and began searching the rooms one by one. The tension mounted. Suddenly, a person jumped out from behind a door: a smiling young girl. My classmates held their fire. The real occupant, however, was not so restrained. We learned that he shot and killed his daughter.

In fact, after two full days of firing into silhouette targets, we as a group turned out to be unexpectedly reluctant to pull the trigger when it came time to point our guns at a person -- even an actor on a screen. After getting reamed by Bill for not firing quickly enough at a burglar, one of the judges, a young man from upstate New York, shrugged. "I guess we're just over-civilized," he said.

In the movie Sea of Love, Al Pacino plays a Brooklyn cop; his love interest is Ellen Barkin. During one scene, he describes to her a phenomenon he calls "cop eyes" -- the notion that police see life differently from the rest of us. I now understand what he meant. Once you become on the lookout for trouble, the world seems to be teeming with it. The knock on the door is a burglar, the guy who slowly coasts by in a car isn't looking for a number on a building; he's a potential drive-by.

Cops, whose job it is to be aware of social dissonance and threats, see it all around them while the rest of us bumble around, largely oblivious. A lot of this, I am convinced, has to do with carrying a gun. A weapon can take hold of you, both physically and mentally. While teaching our class at Smith & Wesson, our instructor revealed that he was beyond carrying a handgun for protection: When he went out into the world, he packed two of them. He brought along extra magazines as well. What if, during a particularly drawn-out confrontation, he needed more bullets?

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer

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