When my friend invited me to go to a gun range for the first time, I wondered if he'd ever watched me do anything before. Even if you just saw me from a distance, you could probably guess that my main interests, ranked from healthiest to unhealthiest, are Swedish movies and dinosaurs. That's just who I am, haterz.
But I took him up on the offer. I've been to several gun ranges since that initial trip, and while I did encounter a few Appalachian accents, it wasn't at all what I expected. They aren't the hollerin' lead orgies that movies make them out to be, nor was I bombarded by chants of, "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" upon entering them. Here's why ...
#5. They Have The Exact Same Feel As Video Game Stores
As I've written before, I recently got back into video games, and this has meant getting back into going to video game stores. And the greatest thing about video game stores is watching the clash of subcultures. People who know a ton about gaming and needlessly want to prove it butt heads with people who are still trying to wrap their minds around why they need cords to use their PS4. It's Ellis Island, if you replaced immigration with a guy shouting from the corner, "Sorry to be a bother, but ACTUALLY ..."
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses who know the location
of the underwater structures in Fallout 4."
The store attached to the gun range, from the outside, looked like I expected it to: a nondescript building with bars on the door. However, on the inside, if you replaced all of the gear and ammo with multiple rows of Xbox One cases, it could've doubled as a GameStop. People shuffling aimlessly, waiting to enter a conversation? Check. People who know an almost unlimited amount of technical knowledge and spout off facts while clerks half-listen? Check. Items that are meant for hardcore users beside items for people that think that "gun" is spelled with two vowels? Check. It was GameStop, except in GameStop half your time isn't spent shooting in a dark room at a picture of a golf course or a nipple-less human outline.
Gun culture is also a lot like video game culture when it comes to the span and types of interests. Guns are a little harder to get into (but barely) and video gaming is the second-most-popular thing on Earth (damn you, oxygen. We're coming for you next year, though). They attract similar kinds of passion. You can talk about them in regular conversations, but both game stores and gun stores have the same "refuge" feeling. You don't have to worry about going overboard in your explanations or your jokes. It's a grand exhale.
Usually during sniper practice.
Does this lead people to belly flop into dialogue that didn't concern them? Yes. Once, I brought up possibly buying one of the new Pokemon games to a GameStop cashier. As she and I talked it over, a guy who had just complained to an un-working demo for five dire minutes announced, "You know what a GREAT Pokemon game is?" Thanks, bud. You stay put, and I'll file away your contribution for a time when I wonder, "What is a great Pokemon game?" Then I'll drive back here and we can start a thing that you'd be a natural part of.
The same thing happened in a gun store when, as I was having a kind of pistol explained to me, a guy behind me began to talk directly over my shoulder. He wasn't adding anything as much as he was just talking at our conversation, hoping that he'd get enough sentences in for us to consider him a participant.
In short, game stores and gun stores are great. Know-it-all assholes are not.
#4. It Isn't All Awful Rednecks
Movies display gun stores and gun ranges as places where boners crescendo the more you talk about calibers. Men in camo jackets and ill-fitting wife beaters finger their belly buttons while they inform customers about the size of the hole that a certain weapon can put in someone. They have Southern drawls that are so massive you'd think that their entire lower jaw was made of chewing tobacco, and they look down on any sissy-boy nonsense that might erupt from a hesitation to pick up a weapon, or as we call 'em 'round here, Uncle Sam's Rib Bones. Either that, or they're used in montages that show how out of shape James Bond is.
Zoonar RF/Zoonar/Getty Images
To be fair, random women keep stepping in front of his shot.
To be honest, outside of bad house parties and Facebook groups, I rarely find these exotic gatherings of aggressive rednecks that are so commonly put into movies as a way for an NYC resident with an existential crisis to prove that they have the moral high ground. I'm not talking about the KKK or any other band of merry fuckin' idiots. I'm talking about the cowboy-hat-wearing villains that supposedly inhabit any place that would ruin the "You're an introvert!" result of your online quiz if you happened to enjoy them.
One of the reasons that I didn't find them was because the people that work at the gun range don't have the time to put up with that militant bullshit. If anyone comes in with bravado and a "The only good DemoCRAP is a dead DemoCRAP" sense of self, they get dealt with. Above all, they're running a business. Customers that are going to be awful and cause a ruckus are bad for that business. You're treated nicely if you're sensible. They don't suddenly high-five you when you show up in a Confederate flag shirt with a racist quip at the ready. They'd rather you keep your opinions and your machismo to yourself so that all they have to do is remind you to wear your goofy ear muffs.
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The rest of the outfit is, sadly, voluntary.
A majority of the people that did show up were of the same variety that you'd see, well, anywhere. If it had been my goal to prove that the only people that go to gun ranges are contentious dickheads, I would've left the building tearing my notebook apart and crying. They were well-mannered, and, for the most part, reserved. I couldn't find people that were cockily trying to throw their weight around and be combative at gun ranges. And that leads me to my next point ...
#3. You Don't Get Made Fun Of If You Don't Know A Lot About Guns
I like shooting guns. Not because they make me feel more powerful, nor do I have some Death Wish fantasy about being armed when shit goes down and having to ask, "What?" because I can't hear the women saying, "Thank you for saving me!" through all the blowjobs they'd be giving me. I like gun ranges because shooting in them is a sport for me. I can practice aiming all day and never once do I think, "And if a robber came in, that would be the crater in his head. What's that, honey? 'Mmffffmmfbbb?' Yes. I could out-wrestle a trained Marine."
I went shooting quite a few times as a kid, because why have hundreds of acres of land if you're not going to fill it with spent cartridges? But those excursions had always been with older, smarter people, who were ready to call me out if I mistook the gun for a walking stick or something. I hadn't fired a gun for two years when I stepped into my first gun range, so I needed to ask a few questions, like, "If you want to see what's inside, do you bash it open with a rock, pinata-style, or do they all crack open in the middle like they do in that John Wayne movie?" And, "If I hold it sideways, will I gain more respect?" It's hard to realize how much you don't know when you've always had your dad there to tell you, "If you accidentally point the gun at someone, you might accidentally kill them. And that would kinda defeat the point of going on a mountain vacation this Thanksgiving."
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If you do shoot, shoot to kill. Death is still preferable to hospital turkey.
Luckily, the people working there were not above telling me the most rudimentary things when it came to renting and shooting a new weapon. There was no snickering because the boy in the horror movie shirt looked at an automatic with the same expression as when he had to unhook a bra for the first time. I wasn't expected to know everything when I stepped into the store. And that, aside from learning that I wasn't the worst shot ever, was the most refreshing part about visiting multiple gun ranges. No one lorded their superiority over me. I'm sure that there are some gun ranges where people are treated terribly, but I had a worse time when I tried to join my town's local Dungeons & Dragons group and was met with a reception of annoyed grunts and Dungeon Master-induced spike traps.