I’m the only girl at shooting class.
Actually, I’m the only person over 14.
I think most people assume I’m a parent arriving to pick up my kid from the 7:40pm class, when I walk into the musty old classroom in Pemberton’s old community centre at 8:10pm, where 6 targets have been set up against the far wall. Until I stepped up to the line with the other five students for the last class of the night.
Two of the boys have been taking air-pistol classes since they were eleven. I’ve never held a gun in my life. Never actually even seen a gun.
Allen McEwan, our master-at-arms for the night, gives an introductory explanation, and I’m grabbing onto these words: trigger guard, muzzle, scope, sight, trying to catch them like fireflies with my bare hands.
For the first five times I stand at the firing line and activate the pneumatic lever to fill the pistol with air and load the tiny pellet, I’m shaking so much I worry the pellets are going to skitter right out of my hand and onto the floor. I keep holding the pistol down with the wrong hand. Trevor, the other supervisor, corrects me.
I’m not here to learn to kill. I’m here to learn to relax.
And that makes my husband nervous.
But this is the strange discovery I make, after my first shooting class. It is relaxing. Not a magaritas-by-the-pool relaxing. But the kind of peace of mind that comes from focussing with such discipline and mindfulness, that all the distractions and static and clutter fall away.
I load the pellet and sight the target the same way, every time, trying to remember the sequence, trying to remember not to lift the muzzle from the folding table until we get the all-clear to raise our pistols to the target. It becomes ritual. There’s a reverence in the room, me and a bunch of teenage boys, lined up between two men who are holding us to a promise of respect and discipline.
The target is a piece of paper held to a steel board by four magnets. The pellets strike the metal with a ping and fall away. Every time I hear them hit the floor, I think I’ve missed, but I hit the target every time. Even the bulls-eye.
What I experience in this classroom, ‘crashing’ the Pemberton Wildlife Association’s Junior Air Pistol Program, is so far removed from the mainstream hysteria about Constitutional rights and Sarah Palin and attempted assassinations, that I wonder if the word missing from the debate around gun culture is ‘reverence.’ And as surprised as I am, a vegetarian, aspiring yogi, sometimes Buddhist, to find reverence through the sights of an air-pistol, I am grateful that the parents of twenty local 8-15 year olds understand that learning to own our power, as humans, wakefully and consciously, is a basic life skill.