CW (content warning) Gun violence, police brutality, homicide, naming of local and international victims and perpetrators
This past week has been one of tremendous growth where self awareness is the name of the game. In honoring that self awareness and recognizing that I am responsible for my feelings and taking care of myself, my friend and I decided that as a form of self care, it was time to branch outside of the box and try a new activity, instead of being bogged down by overthinking and considering others’ feelings. Typically, when we are dealing with something, we like to chat over a glass (or five) of wine and/or give each other a break from our children. This week, we chose to go to a shooting range since it’s something neither of us had done before. We figured we would release some energy and have fun doing it. We weren’t prepared for what it actually took to engage in such an activity.
The week leading up to the day, we were mad hype, anticipating what it would be like. Our conversations were decorated with, “BLOW, BLOW!’. Our two fingers pierced the air with the infamous Jamaican “gunshot” motion saying, “BUH, BUH, BUH!”. We were ready! We were being completely giddy about it as we counted down the days. On the drive to the shooting range, I pushed the speed limit, eager to get there and get started. Once I arrived, my home girl was waiting for me already. We signed a waiver assuming the risk of what we were about to do, amongst other conditions, then we were directed to a waiting area.
As we waited for our instructor to call on us, I stood around nervously, walking around and eating a snack to calm my nerves. From where we stood, I could see the shooting range through a glass window. There were dozens of shell casings on the floor with one user firing his weapon towards his target. “I’m scared!”, I admitted to my home girl. Both of us laughed. We grew impatient pretty quickly. A few minutes later, the name of our guns were called. “Two Glock 17s?”, the instructor asked. “Yup!”, we answered in unison. We walked out of the waiting area to have a quick safety talk with the instructor. He informed us of his four basic rules:
- Using your eyes and ears at all times once you enter the range
Keep your safety gear on at all times (ear plugs, sound cancelling ear muffs, and safety glasses)
Assume that the gun is loaded at all times
Always keep the gun pointed “down range” (towards the target)
Once inside, we had two targets lined up side by side; one for each of us. We started with a paper target and we purchased a t-shirt target to take home as a souvenir. I let my home girl go first. It was hard to hear what the instructor was saying once we were inside as the noise from the other user’s gun echoed in the room. The smell of lead was in the air and it was slightly smokey. I used my home girl’s phone to record videos and take pictures of her experience. I watched as he taught her how to hold the gun, trying to make a mental note for when it was my turn. Before actually shooting, he instructed her to pull the trigger once while it was empty to get a feel for it. As she got into position with a loaded clip, I held my breath, waiting for her first shot to go off. There was a loud, “POP!”. I could see the fire blast at the front of the gun and the shell casing flew somewhere beside her. Almost immediately as she shot the gun, she lost her bearings a bit. The instructor yelled beside her that she was doing great and to keep going, correcting her stance and showing her how to aim. After her first ten shots, it was my turn.
I handed my girl the phone to get footage of me and took my place. My whole body was tense! I probably would have backed out if I could get a refund, I was that nervous. My hands shook as I approached the small table like barrier that separated us from the active range. The instructor handed me the gun and went over how to hold it. He told me to keep my finger off the trigger until I was ready to shoot, to place my right thumb over my left, with my right pointer finger pointed towards the target, and to hold tightly to the gun. He said to stand with my feet shoulder with apart, even though my instinct was to stand with my left foot slightly forward as if in a boxing stance. I obeyed his rules. Still shaking, he removed his hands from the gun and placed his left hand on my right shoulder to help steady me for my first shot. I took a deep breath. I was still scared! “You got it!”, he said. Once I was in the correct stance, he taught me how to aim using my right eye and to line the front sight up with the back. That would help me to aim straight. Because I was shaking, it took me what seemed like forever to steady my hands and get a good feel for where I wanted to hit the target. I hit a bulls eye on my first shot! After I hit a few bulls eyes, I tried to hit one of the other circles in the corners. It turns out it was actually easier to hit a bulls eye than to hit the other targets.
Pulling the trigger gave me a sense of fear and power combined. I was afraid to mess up and somehow shoot myself. I wasn’t afraid to miss the target but my brain was telling me that somehow something was going to go wrong. It didn’t. I paced myself as instructed, taking a deep breath before each shot, and fired all ten shots. My girl and I took turns, each shooting ten bullets per turn. With each turn, the adrenaline didn’t subside. My hands shook every time. I didn’t realize how tiring it would be. The gun felt heavy in my hands. He taught us how to pull down on the little button, using our thumb, to release the clip. Once we were able to slide the clip out safely, we were instructed to lay the gun down on its side with the barrel continuing to point down range. We fired forty shots into the paper before he put our t-shirt up so that we could shoot that.
With all of that adrenaline rushing, as I awaited my next turn, I couldn’t help but imagine how it must feel for those who use guns to kill people. Here I was, shooting at a piece of paper and a piece of fabric and I was afraid. I thought of those who were capable of shooting another human from point blank range, what it must be like to stand in front of someone and take their life. I thought of what that fear must feel like on either side of the gun. Even if they are full of adrenaline, hatred or whatever, there must still be fear present in some capacity. My grandmother had her life taken by a man who decided to pull a trigger on her. I thought of Stacey Adams, Tyler Richards, Naricho Clayton, even Tyrone Oliver. All of whom died from being shot. How did they feel? How did their killer feel?
Treat every firearm as if it is loaded
Regardless of your intent when you have a firearm in your possession, the responsibility you should feel is massive! I recognized how much power I held in my hands before I ever pulled the trigger on my first loaded shot. I could feel how precious life is and how quickly I could have taken that away from anyone in the room if I chose to. I can now completely understand the magnitude of the instruction to “treat every firearm as if it is loaded” because it really can happen that easily. How many stories have we heard in the news where a child took someone’s life from “playing” with a gun, ignorant to the consequences of pulling the trigger, even as a joke?
It was nauseating to know that there are people who intentionally abuse their power when in possession of a firearm. Police officers immediately came to mind. How many white policemen have killed unarmed black men or left them permanently injured?
- Tamir Rice (shot and killed by Timothy Loehmann)
- Michael Brown (shot and killed by Darren Wilson)
- Alton Sterling (shot and killed by Howie Lake II)
- Oscar Grant (shot and killed by Johannes Mehserle)
- Leon Ford (shot and paralyzed by David Derbish)
Those are just the names of a few higher profile victims of police brutality in America. Canada is not exempt from these tragedies. What about Andrew Loku? I don’t know a soul who can name all of the black men whose lives were cut short at the hands of a police officer wielding irresponsible and deadly use of a firearm. The toll is too many. In extreme cases, the result is death but what about the sheer terror inflicted upon black and brown bodies and the aftermath of such of having a gun raised to their heads at the hands of police officers? It is a known scare tactic. For a black man to flinch, even out of fear could result in the loss of his life. How is this justifiable?
When I learned that one of my twin babies would be a boy, I was terrified. I still hold that fear that one day an officer may look at my baby boy as a threat and decide to shoot him. It will likely be for no other reason than him being black but it will still be seen as justified in a court of law, even if there is video footage of the murder. I cannot fathom either of the children that I carried simultaneously for exactly 38 weeks to be taken from me, especially not in such a treacherous way. I know that it is a very real possibility as it has been the reality of so many black mothers for hundreds upon hundreds of years.
Bullets don’t have a name on them
Regardless of one’s position of power, the use of guns should be approached with the utmost discipline. There is no room for accidents or impulse, not when someone’s life is on the other end of that barrel. Every move must be calculated. Once that trigger is pulled, there is no going back and as I hear so often after senseless killings, “bullets don’t have a name on them”.
We’ve grown so desensitized to gun violence, specifically those of us from and living in the hood. I don’t want to continue to be impartial to the acts and impacts of gun violence. Gun violence is everywhere that we are entertained─ in movies, television shows, music, comedy skits, etc. It is in our nuclear families, broader communities, and across borders. I cannot ignore it in the ways that I have been and at the very least, I don’t want to feel so comfortable being entertained by it so that’s something I’m going to work on giving less energy to.
Life is fragile and made of choices
Now that I know what it’s like to use a firearm, it serves as yet another reminder of how fragile life really is. I’m reminded of how vulnerable the act of living is, particularly for my children whose entire existence at this stage of life is dependent on my ability to shelter, clothe, feed, and protect them. Their life is literally in my hands. I’ll be damned if I raise them to think that taking someone’s life is anywhere near heroic. Quite frankly, it is cowardly. The only way that I can justify it in my brain is if they are in a situation where it’s either their life or someone else’s then of course, I would tell them to choose themselves. Any sensible person would choose their life over that of another who is trying to kill them. But even then, I would hope that if ever possible, they could exhaust all other efforts before going to those lengths. In any event, I would give my last breath, without hesitation, to change places with them so they neither have to make that decision or take a life. It all comes down to the choices that we make. What will you choose?