VACATION DIARY, PART 3: FEEL LUCKY? WELL, DO YOU, PUNK?
Yesterday was shooting day at the Roadrunner Ranch. My brother decided to call it that only because he discovered he had those particular birds on his property and thought it was pretty cool. He was very disappointed, though, to discover that they do not make the "BEEP, BEEP" sound and chase coyotes off the edge of cliffs, where, according to the laws of cartoon physics, they do not fall into the canyon until they realize they are standing on thin air. There are coyotes around here, too, and they make an awful racket an night sometimes, which is probably one of the reasons he didn’t call the place Coyote Ranch.
Roadrunner Ranch has its own shooting range, which it took some guy with a bulldozer my brother hired about three hours to create. It is cut into a hill, has bales of hay and mounds of dirt and a thick plywood backstop — even if you miss the target, you’re not very likely to hurt anything, unless its the stray coyote already falling off the cliff. We used the standard man-outline-with-a-target-on-its-chest and only went through three of them, so we were probably shooting for about an hour. It was just long enough to make me appreciate that an editorial writer with a repertoire of stinging retorts is not at the top of the "Hey, you, pay attention to me" chain of command.
We mostly shot two handguns — the Sig Sauer 9mm semiautomatic that is my brother’s primary carry piece, and the Ruger .357 revolver (but loaded with .38s) that’s his second-favorite. We also tried a Beretta Minx, a little gun that uses .22 shorts, that he has on loan to see if his wife would like it for a pocket or purse gun. The Beretta was fun to shoot, but you wouldn’t want to try to discourage a guy cranked up on PCP with it. It would probably have more stopping power if you just sneaked up on somebody and hit him over the head with it. It would probably suffice, though, for shooting in the air to scare off any annoying Indiana Pacers you might encounter in a strip club.
The Sig and the Ruger, though, are serious guns. Either one could easily drop a crazed terrorist or Marxist-spoutin’ carjacker, even if they were just winged. I’ve seldom shot a rifle since the Army and never had much to do with handguns, so I didn’t know which I would like best. I wasn’t crazy about the semiautomatic — it didn’t rest comfortably in my hand, was too complicated to load, could easily jam. But I did very well with it, getting several shots close to the center circle with the first clip. The revolver felt much more natural, loading and ejecting were simplicity itself; I liked it a lot. But it had more of a kick, and it took me many more rounds to get close to that inner circle. My brother has another .357, a little lighter with a slightly longer barrel, that I’m going to try on Friday; it may end up being my favorite. I did fairly well for a novice and, with enough practice, could probably become pretty proficient with any of them. If anybody threatened me, I could easily take them out, as long as they were wearing that paper target and agreed to stand absolutely still for at least 10 seconds. Is that too much to ask?
So I might be buying a gun. After Vietnam, I developed — I wouldn’t say an aversion, exactly — a profound lack of interest in guns. I got over it, but that’s not the same as feeling the need to develop an interest in them. But I can see the attraction of being able to command that much force. Just shooting on the range, knowing you are unleashing so much power and can precisely direct it, is cathartic in a way few other things can be. It is, if I may be indelicate, just fun. I’m not sure about the other step — getting a permit to carry it around. I’ve obviously never been, in civilian life, in a situation where having a gun would have made a difference. But I can imagine a situation in which merely having one would make you think you’re in a position to need it, if you know what I mean. My brother, who, as far as I know, never thought much about guns until he came to Texas 15 years ago, has been carrying one around for several years and has never gotten close to feeling the need to use it. On the other hand, he says he feels naked when he goes out in public without it. I already feel that way about my cell phone; don’t know if I need another item to add to the list. So I’ll have to think about that one. If I do decide to carry, I certainly won’t be alone. According to this Indianapolis Star story from a couple of years ago, Indiana is second in the nation (to New York) for the number of carry permits per 1,000 residents. And if you look at the correction at the end of the story, we’re likely No. 1 or at least a stronger No. 2: The New York figures are for people having permits to own guns, not carry them. Texas, by the way, does not even make the top 10. There is a reason for that.
Fifteen years ago, a gunman drove his truck into Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, and started shooting. When it was all over, 24 people, including the gunman, were dead. Except for Oklahoma City and the Sept. 11 attacks, it remains the nation’s worst mass murder in a public setting, and it led, in 1995, to a concealed-handgun law authored by Susanna Gratia Hupp, who ran for office after both of her parents were killed in the shooting.
Because of the concealed-carry law, among other reasons, Texas has a reputation as being a haven for reckless cowboys who would rather shoot first and ask questions later, if at all. I’ve been talking to Texans this week, and the state certainly has a gun-aware culture. They talk about guns a lot, and generally know when and where they can and can’t carry guns. There are two different signs, for example, at least one of which an establishment must post prominently if it does NOT want guns on the premises. Most people are aware of these signs and keep an eye out for them. Which is more dangerous — that level of awareness, or the situation in Indiana in which probably 90 percent of the population doesn’t even know this is a weapons-carry state? How many people at the restaurant around you are packing? In Texas, you’d at least be aware that they might be. Furthermore, Indiana is a must-issue state, in which the burden of proof is on officials to prove that a permit is not justified, rather than on the individual to prove one is justified. (Indiana, in fact, is an open-carry state rather than a concealed-carry state; if you have a carry permit, you can wear the damn thing on your hip High Noon-style if you want to.)
And you tell me: Which state really deserves the cowboy reputation? To get a concealed-carry permit in Texas, you have to take 10 hours of instruction (and five more for renewal every five years) on everything from Texas gun laws, the role of the police, conflict resolution and anger management, and pass a test on the material, THEN you must actually pass a live-fire test supervised by a qualified instructor (often a police officer). In Indiana, about all you have to do is apply for the permit and undergo a background check showing that you are not a felon, a drunken spouse beater or a deranged lunatic. You may or may not be able to hit the broad side of a barn or have the common sense to leave your weapon holstered 99.99 percent of the time.
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