The things I do for you! I spent last Saturday at a class titled Handgun Knowledge for Fiction Writers, sponsored by Oregon Writers' Colony. The general idea was that I would learn how to write authentic, exciting Scenes With Guns and not make a fool of myself the way people do on TV and in films. Pity the poor actors, stuck with stupid lines from scriptwriters who don't do their homework. So I spent an afternoon in the country with five other writers who didn't know any more than I did about shooting people. I mean, shooting guns.
Gary Crane told us and showed us a whole lot about handguns and ammunition. I learned that a cartridge is a bullet plus a shell case, that it can be "rim fire" or "center fire", and that gunpowder comes in different varieties. I learned that sticking my finger into the barrel of a gun pointed at me won't save my life and that when a handgun does blow up, the energy usually goes sideways and not into the shooter's face. I learned that a revolver is called that because--who knew?--the barrel revolves. I learned that a person getting shot doesn't fall over backwards dramatically--he or she falls down, period. Or not, depending.
We were sitting outside on a lovely day with a lovely view of meadow and woods, and I missed the part about different kinds of cartridges because a western tanager was messing around in a sumac tree behind the instructor. I don't see western tanagers very often and this was a bright male, altogether beautiful.
After the class, we shot off a bunch of handguns. I fired 13 rounds and I'm pleased to say that they all hit the target. By which I mean a large piece of paper not very far away. I was among the first to shoot, and a writer who hadn't had her turn yet asked me how it felt. "Serious," was the word I came up with. "Was it thrilling?" Well, a little. But I'm pretty sure that shooting off a machine gun would not be, for me, what the instructor promised: "the most exciting thing you'll ever do." Not that we had that option.
The class brought up all sorts of thoughts about guns and how they fit into people's lives, about protecting oneself, about personal freedoms and how one person's liberty can mean another person's death. I don't think I'll ever put in the time to really know guns. But I learned some terminology, I know what the recoil feels like, I imagined a few Scenes With Guns.
And I got to see a western tanager.