I like ice hockey, 7-Eleven Big Gulps and the choice of six lanes on the Interstate. I like almost everything about America except the guns, which is why I decided to challenge my prejudices at a pistol range in Fresno, California. Walking in, I was welcomed by ‘Don’t tread on me!’ stickers and signs in military stencil fonts. I had anticipated hearing gunshots, but the irregular, endless bangs were worse than I’d expected.
‘We’re from Britain and would like to try a gun,’ explained my friend. We signed some waivers and a friendly assistant called Tom reached back to the pistol rack behind him and replaced one of the handguns with my driving licence. It felt like we’d opened a bar tab.
A tutorial ensued and I absorbed roughly half of what Tom said, worrying instead that the pistol would fire randomly while bouncing around in his hands. ‘It’s the Europeans who actually listen’ Tom said to a colleague.
We were equipped with earplugs and safety glasses, then handed our Glock and bullets in a plastic carrier case. We stepped into the range. There were about ten lanes, each fitted with bulletproof dividers to form booths. Still, the surrounding space felt communal. To my right: a stocky gentleman with enough bullets to keep him occupied till sunset. To his right: a dolled-up soccer mom firing rounds with conviction. And to my left, Tom was jogging our memories, telling us how to correctly wield the weapon.
I didn’t feel ready, despite his assurances. I worried that the Glock could malfunction. What if there was a faulty bullet? Or the soccer mom suddenly found the paper targets boring and went berserk?