By Wendy Hodge
I shot a gun for the first time today. That makes me something of an anomaly, I suppose… a Southern girl, born and raised right here in the heart of the South, who has never fired a weapon. Don’t get me wrong – I have been AROUND guns over the years. Occasionally. I remember a gun locked in a drawer, kept there for protection by my dad. And a rifle, propped in a closet, used by my deer-hunting brother. But I can count on one hand the times I actually saw the guns with my own eyes. And I never touched them. I was not a girl child who was encouraged to pursue tracking wild animals through the woods.
I grew up to marry a Yankee with an aversion to guns. We had no weapons in our house when we raised our children. And then, as a single parent, I wondered occasionally if maybe I should get familiar with a little piece of steel that would fit nicely in my purse… or under my pillow…
These were fleeting thoughts, usually brought on by an insomnia-fueled binge-watching night of Dateline NBC while alone in my apartment. I never acted on that impulse.
Without fail, every single time I mention to a male the fact that I’ve never held a gun, without exception, their eyes light up and they volunteer to teach me how to shoot. Every single time.
There’s a research paper just waiting to be written on THAT dynamic.
I have yet to take any of them up on the offer. Until today. This man I’m spending the day with is my best friend, and he offered to take me shooting. Without hesitation, I said yes. Best friends have that power.
So here I stand, on an outdoor shooting range, my best friend and an instructor standing behind me. There is a 9 millimeter something or other in my hand. I’ve been shown how to safely load it and unload it; where to properly position my finger until I’m ready to touch the trigger; how to grip the gun with both hands to steady my aim; how to line up the barrel accurately; and how to inhale, exhale, and position my feet. I’ve been shown how to position the target 10 yards in the distance; how to protect my ears from the noise; how to shout “Cease Fire!” before ever stepping out of my safe area; and how to lower and raise the weapon and then push forward toward the target. I’ve been taught quite a lot in just a few minutes.
Here’s what I wasn’t taught: The instant you pull that trigger, you feel the power of the shot all the way to your feet. The bullets make a pinging sound as they eject and fall to the ground that sounds like wind chimes. The smoke that rises for a moment from the barrel of the gun is intoxicating. And, most important of all, shooting a gun is like riding a roller coaster: the adrenaline rush leaves your hands shaking and ready to ride again.
I was not prepared for the reaction I had, nor for how well I actually hit the target. Turns out, I’m a good shot. Imagine that. By the time the last bullet hit the bullseye, I was envisioning a shiny black 9mm something or other with Wonder Woman graphics on one side and my initials monogrammed on the other. And red, white, and blue bullets.
But as we began to gather our things, I watched the instructor sweeping up the shell casings on the ground at my feet. So many of them. I’d gone through a box of ammo. Then I looked at the gun in my hand. A piece of metal, capable of so much.
Just yesterday, there was a robbery and a kidnapping at a doctor’s office in the same complex where I work. It happened during daylight hours. Bold. Terrifying. I read that he used a 9mm to threaten the receptionist and force her into a car. There was a close-up on the security footage of the kidnapper holding his gun.
Same gun. Different hands.
And that’s really the key, isn’t it? What our hands pick up becomes an extension of the man or woman we are. We all bring our inner selves to whatever we do. I don’t begin to know why one man uses a gun to provide food for his family or have fun shooting at paper targets and another uses it for unspeakable violence.
I do know this: I’ve wished my whole life to live in a world where everyone chooses to act out of kindness….a world where kids, animals and old people are treated like the precious creatures they are….a world where peace is both the most valuable commodity and the norm for every single one of us.
But we don’t live in that world. We live in a world full of anger and pain, loss and war. So many hands. So many guns.
And here’s the question I asked myself yesterday as I read about the crime that happened just a football field’s length from the desk where I sit for 40 hours a week: What if that receptionist had been my daughter? What if it had been me? My wishes for a peaceful world and dreams of a land without a need for prisons would not have helped me. But a 9 mm something or other would have.
So I will hold onto my wishes and dreams, because without them the world will never be what we all want it to be. But I will buy a gun. Because I want to be around to help make those dreams come true.
Wendy Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika. She previously had a column titled A Word or Ten, which was featured in the Tennessee Star Journal and is currently awaiting release of her first novel with Harper Collins Publishing Company.