Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Home at the Range

By Elizabeth Lemond

JANUARY 26, 1998:  I have a Scully complex, fueled by years of idolizing Princess Leia, Lady Jane from G.I. Joe, and the X-Files ice queen herself. But instead of satisfying my somewhat ill-conceived craving for firepower by taking an FBI entrance exam or staging a Waco-esque siege followed by a shootout with the Memphis Police, I decided to try my luck at a less perilous round of target practice. Joined by a friend, who also happens to be a second lieutenant in the munitions-loving U.S. Army, I set off for an indoor shooting range in Millington.

As was not unexpected, I felt somewhat out of place when we first set foot inside the smoky interior of the quaintly named “Top Brass” (okay, so I felt out of place the whole time). Not only was I not wearing any camouflage or leather, which distinguished me from about half of the denizens of the smoky lair, but I had breasts, which distinguished me from just about all of them. I quickly slipped into passive mode and decided I would much rather let my companion, Jay, do all the talking than feign that I knew anything about guns. While he pored over the glass case full of lethal firearms, I surveyed the lounge-like sales area. Two young children, one of whom was dressed in a wee set of fatigues, sat on a sofa watching cartoons, while on the other side of the huge pane of bulletproof glass two feet behind the television, their fathers stood next to each other sweating pure testosterone and shooting up a storm.

We decided that we should try our hands with a Glock, a 9mm Austrian handgun – a favorite of gang members and the FBI. One of the employees of the store was nice enough to let us use his own gun although there were ample firearms in the case for public rental (a much cheaper option than shelling out $600 for your own). The gun was black and fairly large for a handgun, not one of those shiny, tiny numbers you see a rich housewife whip out of her purse in a made-for-TV movie. Besides being a fairly popular brand name as far as guns go – like the BMW of guns – the Glock owes its popularity and infamy to the fact that many of its parts are plastic. It’s lighter than other guns, and in the early ’90s many airline security experts feared that it would be an easy toy for terrorists to disassemble and tote onto a plane. I prepared to brandish the real McCoy.

After we were assigned a lane in which to shoot – this venture was not unlike bowling, on several levels – another assistant behind the counter called over:

“Why don’t you show them the bite zone?” This was probably more or less when I started to freak out. Of course, I tried to mask my trepidation while it was being explained to me that if I let my hand slip too far up the grip of the gun when I fired, the kickback of the gun would probably rip half of my hand off. His exact words were: “If your hand is in the bite zone, you will bleed.” Pause. “And I’m outta Band-Aids.”

Then he showed me how to load the clip, hold the gun, pull the trigger, and take out the clip. He let me practice dry-firing the gun; I’m sure that as he was watching me, my polished nails tipped him off to my expert status.

After our buddy behind the counter was sufficiently convinced that I probably wouldn’t shoot myself in the foot, we were then given some protective gear for our eyes and ears and directed back toward the lanes. I walked behind Jay like a 7-year-old, toting the targets and our two boxes of 50 rounds each, which he affectionately referred to as “our ammo.” I wasn’t feeling empowered just yet.

As we passed through the second of two doors leading into the range area, I became a little nervous. The butterflies in my stomach were not soothed by the unpredictably intermittent and deafening blasts of guns being fired around me. It was a little like drinking eight cups of coffee and then playing a game of Operation.

It was very unnerving to be in a room full of complete strangers with deadly weapons, any of whom could have turned around and plugged me. Though I was not truly worried that anyone would go postal, it was hardly an impossible circumstance to imagine. I recall the man behind the counter teaching me to shoot the gun. I don’t recall him asking if I was a felon.

Pushing my paranoia of dying a brutal, tacky death in Millington aside, I watched Jay nail a few rounds right through the center of our paper friend and stood behind him dodging the brass shells being ejected from various guns. I found it hard not to let my eyes wander to the lovey-dovey couple next to us with matching leather jackets who cooed at each other while pumping lead into an ’80s movie poster.

When it was my turn to do some damage, I loaded about six rounds into the clip. This took me what seemed like an eternity because I was deathly afraid of either getting my finger pinched in the clip or breaking a nail. I still can’t decide which is more idiotic: breaking a nail while shooting a gun or worrying about breaking a nail while shooting a gun.

I stepped forward between the metal panels that divided the lanes from one another and took a few tips from my friend. Despite his capable instruction, I was pretty nervous, and it took me an interminable amount of time to actually fire a round. The more I thought about how much I was shaking, the more I shook. Thinking, according to Jay, is apparently a big deterrent to successful marksmanship. I filed this mental note away with my other appraisals of the military.

I eventually fired off the rounds, despite the fact that every time I stared down the concrete lanes and relaxed almost enough to shoot the gun, my friend would command me to “Relax!” which made me feel like a tense, shaky idiot again.

After I finished and ejected the clip, we retrieved the target using the clever mechanical pulley as featured in so many cop shows. Gazing intently at the target, which was riddled with bullet holes, Jay proudly announced:

“Whatever it was, we killed it.”

Surveying the target, I was pleasantly surprised with how well I had done. Most of my bullets had actually found their way onto the target somewhere. Jay’s shots had found their way to the big “X” in the center of our gender-devoid victim, although I began to regret that I didn’t bring my high-school yearbook, since we could have chosen to shoot at about anything we wanted except a can of kerosene. I remarked that he had done quite a bit better than I had, and he chuckled, “At least your taxes aren’t being completely wasted.”

A flat fee of $12 secured us a lane for as long as we wanted (that’s $8 for one person and $4 for each additional gun-waver), and after we depleted our 100 rounds (which cost about $14), we both decided we’d had enough for one afternoon. The total cost of the hours of fun was only about $18 a person, which included the rental of everything we needed: a lane, bullets, a gun, and targets.

As we sauntered back out of the soundproof chamber into the lounge, Jay dragged me over to the glass case of guns for sale. He was hoping to check out the Beretta, the standard military-issue gun that he’d have to get once he went back on active duty. I was surprised when the person who appeared behind the counter was the co-owner of Top Brass – the female co-owner. She was knowledgeable and quite personable, but she was set back in her mission to annihilate the stereotype of the gun-ignorant female when her sweater got caught in the chamber of the gun and she left it swinging from her sleeve while she called to someone for help. When assistance arrived, she asked him a question about the gun Jay was examining. He turned up his nose and walked away saying, “I don’t do Berettas.” He delivered the line with a nerdy flair, not unlike what you’d expect when asking Steve Jobs a question about Windows 95.

Though I didn’t leave feeling like RoboCop, I did enjoy the indoor shooting-range experience. I got to pretend to be a bad-ass for a nominal fee, and I gained a little more respect for those who responsibly wield firearms. For anyone (barring those with general panic disorders) who wants to learn to shoot a gun without becoming an NRA enthusiast, or for anyone who simply wants a little macho in their weekend, an indoor shooting range could represent a bounty of untapped amusement and enjoyment. Though as a person who is decidedly “anti-gun,” I did not find solace in the hundreds of witty bumper stickers in the lounge that proclaimed things like “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people!” and “Have you hugged your NRA supporter today?” The experience did not make me want to buy a Glock or an AK-47 or an Uzi, or even a bumper sticker.

So my Scully complex goes unresolved, and I remain decidedly un-macho. I have yet to decide whether to let my interest in packing heat die a quiet death or to go back to the range and take another small stride toward becoming a deadly babe.

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