Yesterday, I had one of those true cultural experiences. I went shooting (on a range, I hasten to add). Americans may be blase, but as a Brit, the whole thing was something new (the terrible events of Dunblane in the 90s explain why). The sight of armed "bobbies" on the streets here in the US still freaks me out. In the UK, it is still relatively rare to see armed cops away from airports and potential terrorist targets such as Westminster.
The last time I shot anything heavier duty than a catapult was whilst as a 15 year old RAF cadet at school, on our rifle range. I still shudder at the bruises on my shoulder from firing a 303 WW2 era rifle. Since then, shooting outside the police, military or movies has seemed something of dubious taste. This is especially the case for hand guns which are banned in the UK (rightfully I would argue) and impossible to obtain (as a non-criminal).
Anyway, yesterday I crossed a boundary. When in Rome and all that …
With a friend, I head down to the Jackson Arms shooting range in South San Francisco, just off 101 (ignore their directions, take the exit after "Oyster Point blvd. east" when coming down from the city). I arrived at the range with the above cultural baggage. However as hard
as I find it to admit, I really enjoyed the experience.
The range itself was scruffy and nondescript. Think suburban model railway club house. However, the staff were friendly and professional. They guided us in choosing a weapon from those on display (rifles and pistols – Smith and Weston ("John Wayne"), Glocks ("007"), semiautomatics ("24"), .22s, .38s, .45s, 9mms, you name it. All displayed in glass cabinets, just like shooters in a camera shop.
The whole thing was surreal. You hand over your driving license and some paperwork, and they give you a gun and some bullets. As simple as that. We went for a 6 shooter Smith and Weston .22 revolver. Just like in the movies and a childhood dream come true (I was a big lone ranger fan). I was slightly freaked that there was no safety. Apparently this is OK since you have to apply at least 12 pounds of pressure to the uncocked trigger to set it off. When its cocked, thats another story – just a tiny bit of pressure …
Key rules (one warning only):
- Muzzle always pointed down the range
- Only one person in the booth at a time
- Gun has to be uploaded when passing between partners
- Ear and eye protection at all times
- Shots can not be more frequent than one per 2 seconds.
- No booze. No surprises there.
- No making out (OK, I made that one up)
- You hit the ceiling or walls twice and you are out.
It was very affordable – about 10 dollars to rent a gun, 10 for the lane, 5 for 100 bullets, 1 or 2 for a target. That kept us going for a good hour.
So, what made it an interesting cultural experience?
- 90% of the clientele and all the staff were Asian. So much for the bepaunched middle-aged white guy in baseball cap survivalist stereotype that I had been expecting!
- There were also lots of girls shooting (lots of dates seemed to be going on). The only slightly scary moment was seeing a petite young lady shooting a 45 semi-automatic. This is a big gun. One that makes a lot of noise. Think Arnie in Terminator 2. After each shot, the recoil sent her reeling back. She was using a target of a guy holding a girl hostage. She hit the hostage and was admonished by her friend. Her retort, I quote, "That bitch had it coming". Hmmm, I wouldn't like to meet her down a dark alley in San Carlos.
- Plentiful vending machines. They don't want you getting hungry.
- Posters for "shooting/flame thrower" parties in Nevada.
- Possibly the most non-PC model action-man creation I have ever seen (see below)
So all in all – a baffling, educational, interesting, surprising, disturbing experience. Recommended.