Leftovers from shots fired. Image by Flickr user Chris Waits.

I woke up two Mondays ago with shoulders so sore I could hardly stretch them and bruises running down my right upper arm and chest, ranging in color from deep purple to that sickly green, like the sky warning of a tornado.

No, I didn’t get into a fight.

I went shooting.

It happened in a controlled environment at a small shooting range in North Texas. I went with my boyfriend and four friends who had gun experience and brought their own shotguns and handguns for us to use.

Before heading to the range, we stopped at a sports supply store to pick up ammunition and clay targets for trap shooting. Once at the range, we weren’t even allowed out of the main building until we had all seen an informational video.

Shooting at the range. Image courtesy of Melinda Clemmer.

Now, let me tell you, as a girl who grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I was more than a little bit nervous about my first shooting experience. And that was, really, because of my perception of firearms.

Guns as Tools for Harm

To me, firearms are dangerous. They’re not to be played with, and they’re not an option for any kind of fun.

Because of my upbringing outside of Philadelphia, which has a serious gun problem, and near a smaller city with an equally bad reputation, I understood guns to be carried by people with bad intentions. They were used in robberies, muggings, and murders.

I never experienced any of these situations, but I saw them on TV and heard about them on the radio. Mass shootings in schools and malls across the country. When guns were present, people got hurt.

Guns as Popular Accessories

When they weren’t being used in real-life, horrifying situations, I saw guns in glamorized contexts.

Take this video, for instance. It’s a promotion for Beyonce and Jay Z’s upcoming tour, and I counted 45 scenes featuring guns in 3 minutes and 45 seconds of video.

Guns are held by gangsters, half-naked women, and a police woman, all celebrities.

They lay strewn on a mysterious bed and come in all shades and shapes.

They’re held masterfully, and they shoot true.

Almost everyone in popular media who uses a gun is apparently well-trained, and the consequences of the shots that are fired last only as long as a short scene, and then they’re forgotten.

These two, somewhat contradictory, perceptions of guns and gunmen (and women) might help you to see why I wouldn’t necessarily want to have anything to do with firearms. You might also understand why I questioned anybody who did.

How could someone be in love with something that caused so much fear and violence? And even if it is the shooter and not the firearm that causes the problem, why add such a volatile instrument to precarious situations and environments?

A New Side to Firearms

But at the shooting range, I had fun. As I balanced the shotgun in my arms, I cradled its wood against my cheek, and stared down the sight line, trying to keep my eye on the bead at the end of the barrel and, at the same time, the clay target that soared into the air after I cried, “Pull!” to the person manning the thrower. I didn’t do too badly, managing to watch a few targets satisfyingly explode in mid-air.

But, more importantly, I relaxed my judgment of firearms, their uses, and the people who love them.

Loading the clay targets. Image courtesy of Melinda Clemmer.

One of the friends who went to the shooting range is a highly skilled trapshooter and is working on skeet shooting competitively.

Three out of four of those friends frequently hunt.

One was introduced to guns by her boyfriend and now takes pride in owning both a shotgun and her brand new handgun.

Their respect of their firearms, how to safely load and handle them, the care with which they taught me how to do the same, broke down my walls. Without having to say how much they loved guns or why, their appreciation of them spoke loud and clear.

One friend reminded me to keep my wrists strong while shooting a handgun. Another smiled as I missed the majority of clay targets and encouraged me whenever I hit one, adjusting my grip on the long, heavy shotgun.

Learning to load a shotgun. Image courtesy of Melinda Clemmer.

During that afternoon at the shooting range, with loud pops exploding all around me, I broadened my mind.

I chose to see the sport and the target shooting for what it was and not a representation of all the things (including bad) that can be done with guns.

And isn’t that what traveling is about?

I came to know and respect several people who know and respect guns.

Horrible and unnecessary crimes involving guns are very much a reality in cities like Philadelphia, and the roots of such crimes need to be investigated. There are certainly people who would use a firearm as a threat rather than a tool.

Like anything that humans equally love and hate, the issue of guns is complicated. And while I would still likely argue for increased gun control and may never feel the need to own my own firearm, I better understand why someone might.