AS WE ALWAYS SAID growing up in New Jersey, you can take the boy out of the mall, but you can't take the mall out of the boy. My youth was misspent playing hours of Street Fighter in arcades, punctuated by runs to the Cookie Factory and other fine food court eateries. This has left me susceptible to a number of cultural prejudices. I'm a little uneasy around snake-handlers, I don't understand the beach culture, and I've never liked guns--unless they're attached by a cord to a video game console.
Until I was about 22, I only knew two people who owned guns, my cousin John Coffey and a college classmate, Rob Harwood. John was a cop. During my senior year, Rob gunned down another classmate of mine over a dispute within the Johns Hopkins College Republicans club. So half of the gun owners I knew were homicidal maniacs.
I've always considered the Second Amendment an uncomfortable part of the Constitution, like the stuff about the three-fifths. I bought it, because I'm what Al Gore would call a "strict constructionist," but that didn't mean I would have written it that way.
On the other hand, I'm a sucker for fads and today guns are hot. A college chapter of the Second Amendment Sisters sprouted up at Mount Holyoke, Harvard Law School got a gun club, and ROTCers in the Ivy League are now out and proud.
So I couldn't pass up the invitation from the National Shooting Sports Foundation to attend their media "seminar" last Friday.
Held at the Fairfax Rod & Gun Club (official gun club of another strict constructionist, Antonin Scalia), the NSSF promised "the only event that dares to put loaded guns in journalists' hands!" one in which reporters would be tutored by a firearms all-star team. Ten minutes in, I was hooked.
My first instructor was a former Secret Service agent named Walt Rauch, who taught me gun safety and handling. Walt--who's a gem of a guy--is something of a hard case. He left the Secret Service to be an investigator with the Philadelphia Fugitive Squad (he made over 2,000 arrests). Today Walt is a writer and he gave me a copy of his latest book, Real-World Survival! What Has Worked For Me. It's a great read with all sorts of tips, like how to answer the door while holding a pistol at the ready concealed under a newspaper.
After Walt gave me my basic training, I went to work with a Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol on the range. I wasn't much of a shot until Todd Jarrett got a hold of me. Todd is a four-time world champion in practical pistol shooting. In the gun world, "practical" shooting means none of that namby-pamby antiseptic target practice stuff--it's shooting from the draw and on the move.
I don't know much about guns, but I know this: Todd Jarrett is fast. He did an exercise for us called "El Presidente," where he starts with his back to three targets, then turns, draws, puts two shots into each target (dead center), changes magazines, and puts two more shots into each. In 4.26 seconds.
Todd taught me how to steady my grip by squeezing my left hand and how to get my weight shifted forward just enough in my stance. He helped me smooth out my trigger pull and focus on the sight picture. He made me a competent shooter in a half hour. But the whole time I couldn't stop thinking that as quiet and pleasant as he was, 150 years ago Todd would have been a professional killer like Johnny Ringo. It made me like him all the more.
My final celebrity instructor was Linda Joy, the women's world champion skeet shooter who managed to be, all at once, charming, cerebral, and a total babe. (I can say this now because I'm out of range.) Getting skeet lessons from Linda was a little like having Chris Evert hand me a racket and say, "C'mon, let me show you how to hit a forehand, kid."
All of which has left me feeling quite mixed up about the gun world. For one thing, I was struck by how much of the gun culture seems social in nature--the range I visited is a country club, not a militia. And not to put too fine a point on it, if there were any red necks, they were covered by white collars. The several dozen gun owners I met were soccer moms and dads whose most pronounced characteristic was their congeniality.
Sure, they're a little zealous on matters of "liberty." And they seemed eager to gain new converts. But they looked like America and I couldn't help thinking that in the post-September 11 world, our country is a better, safer place because of them.
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.