"Don't point your gun at anything you are not willing to destroy or kill," reads the sign in the middle of the room. It's 8 a.m on Sunday morning and I am reading this, while drinking a cup of coffee, still bleary from being dragged out of bed.
No, I'm not at church or in a drunk relative's garage, I'm taking my Concealed Handgun Class at the Arms Room in League City, the indoor shooting range that I visited a few months back for their grand opening. At the helm will be Brian Mobley, the CHL instructor I spoke with back in September during the opening weekend, and Justin Franklin, another instructor.
This class will last from 8 a.m to 6 p.m., after which I will have consumed about a gallon of black coffee to stay awake, not to mention two or three of the homemade brownies that Mobley's wife made for the class.
The truth is, I don't plan on carrying a concealed handgun wherever I go. My life is too full of bars and public places that it wouldn't be practical, but it was a Christmas present from my folks, so I took the class.
Our class has about 28 people in it, ranging from the youngest being my brother to guys that looked to be in their late sixties. There are young mothers, fathers and sons, and guys my age and a little bit older who all made the treacherous early start time. Well, maybe it's not so treacherous for them. I hit the sack at 4 a.m.
I look around the room and wonder if it was a scare that brought some of these people into today's class. Did they get mugged outside a store one evening with their kids in the backseat? Did they hear about a prowler in the neighborhood? Are they frequent travelers throughout the state? Is it social hysteria, the fear of the great unknown? I admit that I fall into the former group, the reasons of which are hard to explain here. It's not because I wanna be macho or I have a Southern God-given right. There are no Skynyrd references here.
We begin the class filling out paperwork and signing things. We all get a quick primer on etiquette on the range. Keeping the finger off the trigger, pointing down range, not aiming it at anyone living.
"I will tackle you if you come out of the box with a gun in your hand," Mobley says. He's right now only holding an orange training gun, more of a mold, and it shocks everyone into straightening up.
We are qualifying with our handguns, or a rented one from the range, just an hour or so into the class. What scares me is that we have no frame of reference for the level of fundamental gun training that the person next to us in the shooting boxes has. It's hard to tell who is throwing themselves into the class without holding or shooting a firearm, let alone a mid-caliber handgun.
We see a quick PowerPoint slideshow on the dangers of unsafe gun handling. A mauled and bloody thumb too close to to a revolver's chamber. A kid making a disastrous YouTube video. Another guy nearly killing his friend, his handgun going off near his feet.
Each member of my party rents a 9mm Glock pistol for the live-fire targeting exercise on the range, but we have all shot plenty of guns in our time.
We qualify on targets at three, seven and 15 yards, in bursts of shots called out by Franklin. Some people have gun jams, or don't shoot at the correct intervals. Glocks are precision machines, and it's hard to screw up shooting with them. They aren't that loud, and they produce little kick to your hands. They still remind me of space guns, because they don't conform to my mental image of a handgun, a revolver.
We all make it out of the range alive, thankfully. My party all passes this part of the course with tight grouping on the targets that got a little wonky as the target got farther out. I wish I could say that I got better at 15 yards, but I wear glasses now.
The rest of the day will be spent on nonverbal dispute resolution, which in my mind should be taught along with math and history in every grade in schools, public and private. We learn about the three ego states: child, parent, adult. This class stresses that guns are for the last dire, deadly instance, when you can't reason your way out of a situation. They are not teaching us to shoot first and plead innocence later. You are not shooting to maim, but to kill. It's a heady thing to hear on a Sunday morning. Part of me begins building a healthy fear of the rest of the class. Not the instructors, because Mobley and Franklin are resolutely entertaining in their teaching of the course. It's the guys that snicker when we listen to the Joe Horn audiotape. The ones that giggle when Horn shoots the guys in his front yard and howls, "You're dead." If that makes you laugh, you probably don't need to be carrying a gun everywhere, or you at least need to think long and hard why you do.
We hear horror stories of CHL holders shooting first and not assessing the situation before pulling the trigger, or the ones who play cowboy and get shot by police, like in the case of Erik Scott, who was gunned down in a Las Vegas-area Costco for not surrendering his weapon. A CHL is not a right to play lawman, the way it seems some perceive.
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There is a lengthy section on penal codes, and where you can bring your weapon, and what could happen if you do use your handgun, or even just aim it at someone. You also do not have the right to wave it at an assailant to get your point across. There is that fear coming bubbling up again.
I can't believe it's almost 6 p.m, and that I have spent nearly ten hours talking guns and gun laws. We take our written test, multiple choice and true/false questions. It's not hard stuff. If you weren't fiddling on your cell phone the whole time or ignoring the PowerPoint slides, you wouldn't have a big problem.
Early on, Mobley said something during the Use of Force portion of the class that sticks with me hours after while I am driving home.
"The gun doesn't make decisions for you or define who you are as a person. It doesn't make you stronger or more powerful than anyone else in the world. Nobody has a right to shoot anyone, but we all have the right to survive," he says.