January 15, 2004
By Diana Wagman
Guns are bad. All my life, it's been that simple. At my son's preschool,
if a child pointed a banana and said "bang," he was admonished
to "use the banana in a happier way." As far as I was concerned,
the 2nd Amendment gave us the right to protect ourselves against invading
armies, not the right to buy a gun and keep it under our beds.
So what would make someone like me change my mind? I met this gun enthusiast.
As research for my new novel, I asked him many questions, all the while
voicing my disgust. My character might use a gun, but I never would. "Come
to the range," the gun guy said. "I'll teach you to shoot."
I expected a dungeon full of men missing teeth and wearing T-shirts decorated
with Confederate flags. Instead, I found a sunny, wood- paneled lobby
and guys who looked like lawyers on their lunch break.
The man behind the counter was as pleasant as a grandfather from Central
Casting. "What would it take for me to buy a gun?" I asked him.
He explained the California laws, some of the most stringent in the country.
I would have to wait 10 days — the "cooling off" period.
There would be federal and local background checks. I'd have to take a
safety class. I'd have to buy a childproof lock. I couldn't purchase an
assault weapon. I couldn't buy more than one handgun per month. Of course,
he said, if I didn't want to wait, I could drive 10 minutes and buy an
Uzi illegally out of someone's car.
When my guide arrived, he gave me a choice of handguns. I went with the
.357 magnum — I recognized the name — and a traditional target
with a red bull's-eye. I couldn't imagine shooting at one shaped like
First lesson, respect your firearm. I got a little talk about how powerful
it was. I learned how to hold it. To load it. And finally to fire it.
It was terrifying. The gun was so heavy, I couldn't keep it steady. It
took both index fingers to pull the trigger, and then there was a flash
of flame, a loud crack, a substantial kick. It was much harder than it
looked in the movies. I occasionally hit the target, but I also managed
to obliterate the metal hanger that held it.
I have to admit: I loved it. I had a fantastic time. The power of that
gun for me, a 5-foot, 3-inch woman, was immediately, shockingly seductive.
The thrill when I hit the bull's-eye (once) was as great as making a perfect
tennis shot. I felt like I was playing a careful game of darts in a small,
Later, I was surprised to discover that some of my closest friends owned
guns. People I never would have suspected confessed that their guns made
them feel protected. Still, most of my friends thought handguns should
be outlawed, completely, in every circumstance.
I no longer was so sure. I did some research — there are countless
testimonials about guns saving someone's life. I looked into shooting
as a sport. I spoke to a woman who had found a wounded deer and shot it,
ending its agony. I changed my mind: Guns aren't bad.
Which leaves gun violence. At least in California, we don't need more
laws — we just need to enforce the ones we have. What else?
The answer has to be education: teaching people to deal with anger, to
solve problems, offering them brighter futures, but also Gun 101. Maybe
if teenagers were given computer-generated pictures of their own bodies,
post-gunshot wounds, it would help them understand the enormity of firing
a weapon. Maybe if everyone spent an afternoon at the shooting range,
forced to follow the rules, they would respect the power of a gun.
I confess, I don't know exactly how to solve the problem, but at least
now I know I don't know. Firing guns as a sport is great fun. Having a
gun because it makes you feel safer seems understandable. Changing the
way people behave? If you thought gun control was a distant dream …
it could take centuries.
Meanwhile, my 15-year-old has asked me to take him shooting. And I've
Novelist and screenwriter Diana Wagman is the author
of "Bump" (Carroll & Graf, 2003) and "Skin Deep"
(University of Mississippi Press reprint, 2001).