This is a Taurus .380:
And this is a Glock 22 .40 caliber:
I shot both those guns yesterday. (Don’t worry…I only hit a paper target. And maybe some corn.)
Why did I do this? Because I’m working on a YA murder mystery and there’s a scene in the book where the protagonist, a 17-year-old girl who has never held a gun before, has to pick up a gun and shoot the bad guy before he shoots her. I’ve never fired a gun before; she’s never fired a gun before. I was pretty sure I could write that scene. I know what it feels like to not want to shoot a gun.
I did have questions about guns, though. My kind, gentle, almost 22-year-old son knows a surprising amount about guns for someone who, to my knowledge, has also never fired one. He answered more of my questions than I expected him to; then said, “you should probably go shoot a real gun yourself sometime.”
My first thought: I’M NOT GOING TO SHOOT A REAL GUN!!!! Aside from a gun safety course, which was a little more than I wanted to do, I didn’t even know where one would go to shoot a real gun.
But once the shock wore off, I realized he was absolutely right. If I’m going to write this book, I need to know what it feels like to shoot a gun. Sigh….
How did this opportunity come about? I was in Curves, of all places…making polite conversation with a woman who works there. In addition to working at Curves, it turns out she’s also a deputy sheriff. (You never know who you might end up exercising next to.) One thing led to another…and she offered to take me out shooting.
So I drove out to her place yesterday, which as you can see, is pretty far from town.
And because I read and write murder mysteries, the thought did cross my mind…how well do this deputy sheriff and I REALLY know each other? I mean, it was going to be just the two of us and some guns, out in the middle of nowhere. How did I even know she really was a deputy sheriff? Maybe she was a serial killer who pounced on the opportunity to get me away from the safety of Curves so she could MURDER me in cold blood???
But I guess the trust goes both ways because how did she know I wasn’t a serial killer? Sure, I SAID I needed (yeah, I may have actually used the word “need”…that’s kind of scary in and of itself) to see what it felt like to shoot a gun. How did she know I didn’t actually “need” to see what it felt like to actually kill someone? She doesn’t know me…I could possibly be that crazy.
Of course, she had the resources of the sheriff’s department at her disposal. It’s entirely possible she ran my name through the police database. Maybe she even did a background check on me. In which case she knows I’ve never had a parking ticket; I’ve never had a speeding ticket; but I was arrested in Washington, D.C. 23 years ago. Yes, I was. (That’s a story for another blog post.)
Seriously, there’s no doubt that if she really felt I was a threat, she could have me on the ground in about three seconds flat if she really wanted to. Me, if I found her to be a threat, well…about the best I could do is RUN into that cornfield.
So…what was it like to fire a gun for the first time? It was interesting. I learned a lot about those two guns and figured out which one was right for my story. We went over some safety procedures first. She gave me safety glasses and ear protection, which at first I didn’t think I wanted to wear. She wasn’t wearing them. And the character in my book won’t be wearing them. But in the end I decided it was best to simply follow directions.
She shot both weapons first so I could get a sense of how loud it was going to be before I did it myself. She started with the .380. It was LOUD. Louder than I expected it to be. I was surprised to see the casings flying everywhere. Some landed over by the target; others landed behind her. I was also surprised to see smoke rising from the chamber.
I didn’t notice a huge difference in sound between the .380 and the Glock.
Then it was my turn. I also started with the .380. It seemed to make sense to start with the lighter, easier one of the two.
Loading the magazine was harder than I expected it to be, but I was able to do it. I held the magazine in the palm of my hand, pushed the insert down with my thumb and then pushed the bullet into place. You load one on top of the other, pushing each one down on top of the previous one. It took some force to do this, but not more than I had.
She showed me how to hold a gun. Actually, she did that before I ever loaded the magazine. You need your hand (i.e. the webbed skin between the thumb and forefinger) completely below the “tang.” Otherwise when you shoot, you’re going to get your skin pinched. You hold tight and firm. You don’t cup your other hand under the handle part of the gun—she called that the “teacup” method of holding a gun. That doesn’t give you enough support/control. Instead you bring your (in my case) left hand in tight next to your right hand, wedging the left thumb right under the right thumb. I asked about how to hold my arms; she said it didn’t really matter. She had me stand with my legs apart and knees bent.
There are two little notches toward my end of the gun and one little notch at the end of the barrel. You want to line up the single notch between the two notches. You don’t put your finger to the trigger until you’re going to shoot. In fact, she reminded me of that several times, even though my finger wasn’t on the trigger. (Can’t say I blamed her!) But when you are ready, you put your finger to the trigger and press. She said don’t anticipate, just pull back and let the gun go off. So I did.
First impression: WOW, that’s loud!
Second thought: I just shot a real gun!
Third thought: It felt smoother and was physically much easier to do than I thought it would be. But I certainly felt the power behind it. I think my hands were shaking more after I’d shot half the bullets than before I ever shot the first one.
I was surprisingly accurate with the .380. I aimed for the large box on the paper (which represented a person’s torso), and I think I got it almost every time.
Once the magazine was empty, we switched to the Glock. It was much more difficult for me to load the Glock. In fact, she had some sort of tool to help with that. I can’t quite remember whether it opened the hole where I put the bullets or if it pushed the previous bullet down or if it somehow did both. She told me to release gently and put the bullet in, but I couldn’t do it. She ended up loading it for me. (Hey, my character isn’t going to have to load the gun anyway…at least, not in this book!)
This one definitely felt different from the .380. It was heavier. Maybe not quite as heavy as I’d expected, but heavy enough that I found myself lowering the barrel for a couple of seconds between rounds. Again, L-O-U-D!!! That was my reaction.
I certainly knew going in that the bigger the gun, the more the recoil. That’s just obvious. But I really FELT the difference between the two. I could see where my shots were going with the .380. I knew I’d shot well. With the Glock, I had no clue where the bullets were going. None whatsoever. And I was standing the same distance from the target as I’d been with the .380. I asked her where I’d hit and she didn’t know because she’d been watching me. (Again, can you blame her?) But once she trusted that I wasn’t going to kill either of us, she did look forward…and I learned that my shots were not only way low (like not even hitting the body at all), some of them completely missed the target. I wasn’t shocked to hear this because I didn’t feel like I had much control over that gun. I tried to line up that little notch, but I just couldn’t hold it in place. Sometimes I was aware that I was moving the gun while I was trying to aim, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. And I wasn’t moving it out of fear or nervousness, I simply couldn’t control it.
Like I said, definitely an education. I was able to talk through a key scene in my book with her and discovered I needed to rethink how a couple of the events unfold. I can think of a couple of books I’ve read recently that would have benefited from the author taking a little time with a police officer.
Was it “fun?“ That’s hard to say. I did feel a little proud of myself for being able to shoot that .380 accurately. And I understand the “sport” in shooting a little better now (as long as an animal isn’t involved, but that’s just me…). I’ve always enjoyed archery (when I’m aiming at a target and not an animal.) I sort of enjoyed this in the same way. But I could sort of see myself owning a bow and set of arrows. I can’t see myself owning a gun.
Overall, I’m glad I did it. And I’m grateful to this deputy sheriff for taking me out and giving me this opportunity. You can read about guns (which I have, but what I read didn’t make a lot of sense until I actually was able to hold a couple of these weapons in my hand and really talk to someone about them. It was just words and numbers before), and you can watch videos on youtube. But it’s not a substitute for experience. That scene in my book will be much richer now.