(Cross-posted at Daily Kos)

First let me make clear, I’m no gun nut.  I believe in gun control, having contributed to the Brady organization on several occasions over the course of the last 20 years.  I’m a big believer that guns in the home are one sure-fired way to decrease personal safety, more from their potential for accidental injuries as a result of misuse and abuse, particularly by children, than for any other reason.

Nevertheless, earlier this year I purchased  the first firearm I’ve ever owned:  a semi-automatic carbine rifle.  

More after the fold . . .

My reasons for doing so are complex, and they probably deserve a separate diary but the short story was that I have become more and more uncomfortable with the notion that the only people I know who own guns are political conservatives, and sometimes extremely, radically conservatives at that.  Their often active and vocal antagonism directed toward “liberals” and “Demo-Rats” has created in me a deep unease and even anxiety about  the potential threat that they may pose to myself and my family, as “non-conservatives” if our country continue down its current polarizing path.  

In any event, I purchased my carbine, and signed up for a membership at the local gun club in order to have a place to practice my shooting (something I hadn’t done since a neighbor taught my brother and I target shooting with a .22 rifle when we were kids over 30 years ago).  The membership fees weren’t cheap, but they weren’t prohibitive, either.  However, the director who took my application informed me I’d have to be certified  before I’d be permitted to shoot on their ranges.  The first certification class I could attend was held this weekend.

The club is reasonably close to where I live, in a middle class suburb of a medium sized metropolitan area.  It’s location is in a valley nestled in among hills that rise about 200 feet from where the clubhouse and various ranges are situated.  The area is heavily wooded and well screened from the nearest major road. All in all, its a rather bucolic setting, and quite lovely now that Spring has finally made an appearance up here.

My classmates, new club members like me, (except for one old member who had let his membership lapse and had to be re-certified) were all males, as was our instructor.  About half had served in the armed forces at one time, with a slight majority of those having served during the Vietnam era.  Two were grandfathers.  Only one looked to be in his twenties.  Most of us were middle-aged in appearance, mid-thirties to mid-fifties by my guess.  Several looked like professionals of some sort, doctors or lawyers perhaps.  Others looked like they could easily work in construction of some kind with their tattoos and well muscled upper bodies.  All of us, however, were white.  No African-Americans, no Hispanics, and no Asians.

Our instructor was one of the club’s directors, and an active participant (by his own account) in many of the competitions and events the club sponsors.  He was casually dressed, with a medium build, and the small pot belly that is the bane of the typical middle-aged American.  His dark hair and neatly trimmed full beard, were laced with grey.  He was soft-spoken but very serious as he spoke to us regarding the rules of the club and the safety procedures we would be required to practice.  

Clearly an enthusiast, he told us he’d been involved in gun sports for over 40 years.  He frequently interrupted his talk with references to the events he participated in (such as competitions on the “action range” where participants actually draw down on various moveable targets), and he frequently encouraged us to get involved in the different types of events the club sponsored.  He also made frequent appeals for us to recruit friends and neighbors to join the club.

Although most of what he discussed related to gun safety, and range procedures to ensure safety (to which I paid close attention), political commentary crept into his remarks, and these comments invariably expressed conservative viewpoints .  He wasn’t boisterous, or particularly angry in his expression of these points(indeed he tossed them off in a casual, matter of fact manner), but it was clear from his comments that he assumed that most, if not all of us shared his opinions.  His most frequent introductory statement was, “I’m probably not being politically correct enough . . . ” followed by some complaint about restrictions on use of the range imposed by law or fear of some unspecified public reaction by “liberals”.  For example, he explained that firing at homemade targets comprised of images of real people was prohibited at the club, except at the indoor pistol range, because they didn’t want to elicit any negative reaction from local “liberals” in the community

He also told us that the club prohibited shooting at black silhouette targets (like these), because of concern that it would be construed by some as encouraging the shooting of African Americans.  Instead, only silhouettes in other colors (blue, etc.)  are allowed.  I’d never heard of any campaign to prevent the use of black silhouette targets, but apparently some of my fellow classmates had.  A couple of them piped up, expressing their own disgust at this rule, and one man even made a derogatory reference to Hillary Clinton as a likely supporter.  

Lastly, on the subject of shooting at pictures or photographs of real people, our instructor informed us that regardless of the rule permitting this on the indoor practice range, federal law made it a crime to shoot at targets showing the likeness of the President.  This was news to me.  Not that I was planning on taking Bush’s picture and plastering it on a piece of cardboard to shoot at (I plan to shoot exclusively at conventional bull’s-eye targets such as these); I just had never heard of such a law before.  

What happened next surprised me though.  After making it clear to us that we could not use pictures of the President as a target, our instructor continued:  “Not that anyone would ever want to take a potshot at the current President, although I could understand wanting to shoot at the previous one.”  This was said in the same offhand manner he’d previously employed, with only a slight smile on his lips.  I was shocked to see others around the room nodding in agreement, or grinning broadly.  Obviously, the suggestion of killing Clinton (or at least blasting away at his image) was considered an acceptable subject for humor among them.  Again, it was the unspoken assumption that we all shared that opinion.  We were all gun owners after all, right?

Now I should be clear about one thing.  The instructor did not strike me as a particularly bad guy.  Not in the least.  He had a calm, even friendly demeanor, and was very patient with each of us when it came time to demonstrate we could operate our firearms in a safe manner, and in accordance with the rules of the range.  A lot of these guys were quite nervous and made mistakes (pointing their gun in the wrong direction, for example, or having trouble unloading their gun completely before going to check targets), but he was very patient, and didn’t berate anyone, nor make fun of them for their errors, but gently pointed out their infractions and reminded all of us of the rules we needed to follow.

He was particularly nice to me upon discovering I was a new shooter, offering many helpful hints about my rifle.  We even had a nice little chat about skeet shooting, which was something my wife and I had done on vacation in the past.  I had gone in with a great deal of anxiety about being a neophyte, but he more than made me welcome.

Nevertheless, his comments exhibited a certain kind of bunker mentality, or so I perceived, a feeling that he considered the gun club to be the object of persecution and attack.  And maybe it has been, though I never recall hearing about any coordinated campaign against it in our local paper or nightly news shows.  His political comments also made me wonder how many club members are Democrats or “progressive” and how many were Republican or conservative in their beliefs. In any event, I resolved to keep my political leanings secret for the time being until I get a better feel for the membership.

And yes, I passed my certification.  

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