Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 23, 2013

Day at the gun range helps replace firearm fantasy with hard facts


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — My Saturdays are usually spent doing laundry, grocery shopping, getting a fuzzy mouse for my snake and other tasks you find in any household. I might go for a walk, call my parents, catch up on correspondence, and watch a movie if there is nothing on television.

However, my last Saturday was definitely off the beaten path. I went to the Beckley Gun Club in Raleigh County and indulged in some shooting. The gun club invited members of the media to come up for a day and try out a variety of firearms.

I managed to get there almost on time when Saturday morning arrived; I had forgotten how long it takes to drive up to the club’s site. It’s nice and remote, so you don’t have to worry about a stray shot visiting the neighbors.

Last year I went up to the range for media day, so I was eager to go again. Our hosts — many of them NRA-certified firearms instructors — remembered me and said I had done particularly well with shotguns last year.

Of course, this year I was lousy. I must have been enjoying an especially good day back in 2012. Clay pigeons had little to fear from me last Saturday, but I still enjoyed myself and learned quite a lot. You just don’t pick up any kind of firearm and start shooting. It takes thorough instruction and practice. Imagine throwing a football, riding a horse, swimming or any other athletic activity. You don’t pick up the skills immediately.

For instance, I fired a revolver for the first time and missed repeatedly. Taking aim looks easy, but you have to do it right if you’re going to hit anything. I started making progress and the lesson came home again; you have to listen, learn and practice.

Oh, and you have to think, too. Your home isn’t protected if you buy a firearms and fail to work out exactly how you’re going to use it if necessary. For instance, you have to remember that bullets go through walls.

It brings to mind a story I covered years ago. A woman came home and found a big bullet hole through her living room wall. A neighbor who was cleaning his .357 Magnum revolver had failed to unload it. He unwittingly fired a single shot. The bullet went through his wall, traveled more than 100 feet and went into his neighbor’s home.

Naturally, the instructors told us about all the safety rules before we started. I have to admit those rules stick with me even now. My nephews A.J. and Alex are both airsoft gun enthusiasts. Those replica weapons shoot little pellets, but I have to repeatedly assure myself they’re plastic toys before I’ll use one. Those make-believe guns are toys. I told the boys there is a vast world of difference between those pellet spitters and real firearms.

I’m thinking about getting a gun for both target practice and home defense, maybe a revolver. I don’t have any fantasies about getting into a gun battle. Never count on Hollywood to show you the reality behind history or guns. Scriptwriters and directors think about what looks cool and exciting, not what really works. For example, ever notice how the heroes nor the villains never worry about eye or ear protection?

In the climatic last battle in the James Bond movie “Skyfall,” Bond blasted villains with a shotgun while they sprayed him with assault rifles. The chief villain even brought a helicopter gunship.

 I noticed Bond could hear just fine after the battle. In real life, Bond would stare at you and say “What?” after a fight like that. Ear protection is a very good idea.

Despite the work it will involve, I find myself wanting a shotgun. I’ve fired an Uzi submachine gun and other weapons, but there’s something about a shotgun I like. Some of them are works of art. A shotgun suitable for target practice or zombie hunting would be good. A model with a wooden stock would be nice. The more modern-looking ones are good, but a little too Terminator for me.

If I get a revolver and/or a shotgun, I will definitely get the instructions I need. I’ll seek out the gun club’s advice before I buy anything at all so I will end up with a truly suitable weapon.

I appreciate the opportunity the Beckley Gun Club gave to me and other members of the media. Several hours of experience and instruction gave me a lot of think about. Gun fantasy needs to be replaced with gun facts before you pick up any weapon and start pulling the trigger. You need to know the rules of safe firearms ownership and respect the responsibility they entail.

One gun club member I know, Cpl. J.C. Long with the West Virginia State Police detachment near Princeton, gave me some recommendations and even suggested a local store offering weapons at good prices. I’m grateful for his advice, and the other club members who shared their knowledge with us. I especially appreciated their patience with the mechanically disinclined.

Maybe I’ll be taking my own weapon or weapons to a media outing someday. I’ll have a firearm I know thoroughly and use safely.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.