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Showdown At Shooting Camp

The kick  from the Barrett .50 caliber machine gun almost knocked me off the bench.  It was sonic-boom loud, too, even with earplugs.  Each cartridge weighed a quarter pound going in and ejected as a three inch brass cylinder suitable for... well, suitable for bragging rights, mostly.  In certain circles you can get a lot of mileage out of having fired the .50.

I do not customarily move in those circles.

I was with a small group of mystery writers at a desert firing range outside Las Vegas, at a three-day Fiction and Firearms seminar sponsored by the Second Amendment Foundation and Academics for the Second Amendment, organizations with a definite and unapologetic agenda. 

Shooting Camp was intended to help us use firearm information correctly in our crime fiction.  Writers otherwise fastidious about research sometimes cut corners where guns are concerned, behavior that can ruin a book for somebody savvy enough to catch the errors.  The most common transgression is referring to the safety on a Glock semi-automatic, which doesn't have a safety.

What on earth was I doing here? 

I had drifted a long way from a childhood fascination with half hour TV westerns featuring Annie Oakley, Dale and Roy, the Lone Ranger, Cisco and Pancho, the Range Rider and Hopalong Cassidy—a period when I owned fringed cowgirl clothes, accessorized with my own mini-Stetson, holsters, and a brace of gleaming toy six-shooters.  One of my great childhood thrills was watching Gail Davis, TV's Annie Oakley, thunder into the rodeo arena at Chicago's International Amphitheater, standing on her horse and shooting up a storm.

Decades later, I approached Shooting Camp with great ambivalence.  In my whole life, I had never once fired a real gun.  Firearms have been instrumental in some of my extended family's darkest hours.  I think there are far too many guns in the world, often in the hands of people who shouldn't be allowed to operate anything more dangerous than a feather duster.

But right or wrong, these guns exist, and in my line of work it's useful to know about them.

On the range, the trainers reviewed safety protocols and double checked our eye and ear protection.  They then worked one-on-one to help us shoot, aiming at rectangular cardboard targets with smaller rectangles centered on top.  Not precisely a human outline, but disturbingly close.

I was prepared for noise and a bit of recoil, but very surprised at the spray of brass casings flying through the air whenever a semi-automatic was fired.  Each gun had a different heft, configuration and safety location.  (Except, of course, for the Glock.)  I found it almost impossible to keep my finger off the trigger, where endless hours of childhood play had trained it to rest. 

I also found that the more I shot, the more I wanted to shoot.

This was fun.

Soon the ground was pebbled with brass cartridge casings and the training tables littered with handguns and magazines and vast quantities of ammo.  I fired a .45 automatic with ivory Marine Corps grips.  I also fired 9mm Glocks, the Dirty Harry .44 magnum revolver, and a $5000, .22 caliber custom-made competition gun with a laser sight and grips painted to look like a Jackson Pollock painting. 

This was really fun.

By the time I fired the Barrett .50, I could understand the appeal of firearms, the complex relationship between people and their guns, the seductive effect of the smell of gunpowder.

And I knew why Annie Oakley was smiling.


All content © 2005-11 by Taffy Cannon.