Not too long ago I took a research trip I hesitate to write about. I went to a shooting range. I'd never held a gun before let alone fired one. It was a little scary.
I did it because at some point Quille, the protagonist of my Q.C. Davis Mystery series, will probably pick up a gun. Spoiler: I don't ever imagine her owning one or shooting anyone.
But a crime writer probably should know how it feels.
Also, if/when I write a present day supernatural thriller (perhaps revisiting Tara Spencer), even in a fantasy-type world it's hard to avoid guns.
So I asked a friend who's an ex-cop and my unofficial criminal law consultant (he's been a lawyer for decades) to take me to the range.
We started with a safety lesson. That's when I almost called it off because it truly brought home to me that I was doing something that could kill someone.
I practiced setting the gun down pointed down range (the barrel toward the target). I also practiced setting it down, then turning to ask my friend a question about it. He told me about too many accidents where the novice without thinking turns to an instructor while still holding the gun, points it at the instructor without meaning to, and it goes off.
Sounds like a dumb thing to do. Yet I'm glad I practiced. I could see how easy it would be for someone like me, who has never held a gun, to forget and simply turn and ask my friend something.
But first I needed to learn how to hold the gun. I needed two hands. One to keep it steady, one to pull the trigger. It was a 38 revolver. Weirdly, it looked familiar because as a kid my brothers and I played with a cap gun that looked just like it.
I learned that sometimes people drop a gun the first time they fire it. They're not ready for the kick back.
I was concerned about that. I exercise every day. But I do yoga and minimal resistance training and walk a lot. I don't lift weights. I don't have a lot of upper body strength.
Also, I felt uneasy about others at the shooting range. What if someone who wasn't careful was there? I remembered a terrible story about a shooting range incident where a little girl killed her instructor. I found it online. Again, I almost backed out.
At The Shooting Range
We chose a late weekday morning when my friend guessed the range would mostly have current law enforcement there. The people who worked at the gun range were low key and pleasant. We were assigned to a range that was empty for the moment. Later someone with an AK 47 came in. Talk about a booming sound even through the protective earmuffs. If he'd been there when we arrived I might not have gone in.
I did okay. Better than okay.
Because I was expecting it, the kickback wasn't so bad. My shoulders rocked back a little, but I held onto to the gun just fine. Always pointed it down range. My friend had to remind me twice early on not to hold the gun with my finger near the trigger until I was ready to fire. But then I remembered. I always set it on the ledge, pointed down range, when I was done and it was his turn to shoot.
And I hit the paper target. Every time, though only in the outermost circle when I started. I got better. And I was able to aim where my friend suggested.
That surprised me. I figured I'd be terrible. Or too nervous to shoot. It turned out to be fun in a way. I liked trying to improve my aim. To get closer to the center. It reminded me why archery was one of the few activities I enjoyed in gym class. (I was pretty awful at all sports.)
But the experience didn't change my lack of interest in ever owning a gun. After shooting, I feel even more so that I'd fit the statistics.
I live near downtown Chicago and the violent crime rose in my once quiet neighborhood during the pandemic. But I still feel sure a gun would pose more danger to me than any any intruder or attacker.
For one thing, twice in my life I've been seriously depressed.
Both times were due to life circumstances, but those circumstances took a long time to overcome. I fleetingly thought of suicide but never took a step toward it. Instead, I immediately sought help. I hope I'll never be in that place again. But I never want to make taking a fatal step easy. (One reason more men than women die by suicide is men are more likely to use guns.)
Also, more than one former police officer has told me that you never know if you'll be able to use a gun or not until the moment happens. Sometimes people (including ones with far more training than I'll ever have) freeze. And if you have a gun and aren't ready to use it, the most likely thing that'll happen is your attacker will take it and become far more dangerous to you.
It's one thing to fire at a paper target. But I don't know if I could fire at a real person even if my life were in danger. I do know I don't want to hand a gun to someone who might not already have one.
On the other hand, research aside, I'm glad I know what it's like to fire a gun. I doubt I'll ever use one “for real.” But the world is an unpredictable place. If there were some sort of emergency, if there were some reason I needed to, at least I've got some idea. And I've learned some gun safety, which is probably more important.
So will I go to the shooting range again? Maybe. Maybe not. But at least I, and my characters, can be more realistic about handling a gun.
Last thought – it's common to a include a closely-related photo or graphic with a blog post (rather than or in addition to the book cover I added). A photo that catches the eye. And that will make search engines more likely to find the post. I have a photo of the target I used. But that target was shaped like a person. With all that's happening in the world, that's not a photo I want to share online.
I hope you understand. Whether or not the search engines do.