Towards a New Look at Firearms

When I heard the first shot, my whole body contracted. I had no idea it would be this loud, even with noise canceling headphones on.

As I walked past the individual stands at the Right to Self Protect (RTSP) Shooting Range in Union, New Jersey, the shots continued to fire. With each one, I jumped.

“I don’t know if I can do that,” I told my friend Tom DeRosa ’23, who had brought me to RTSP so I could shoot a gun for the first time.

I hate guns. The thought of holding a gun makes me nauseous. In high school, I protested against gun violence. I have friends who have been the victims of gun violence. I never understood why people use guns for fun or for sport. But, even when I don’t understand something, I try to put myself in the other’s shoes. So I found myself on a shooting range, gun in hand, ready to pull the trigger.

In some ways I am both typical of the average (white) gun owner and non-typical (female). According to a study carried out in 2021 by
at the Pew Research Center, three in ten adults report owning a firearm. Of these adults, 36% are white, 24% are black, 18% are Hispanic and 10% are Asian. Men (39%) are more likely to say they own firearms than women (22%). These figures are changing, however. A 2020 National Shooting Sports Foundation survey showed that the largest increase in new gun owners in the United States are blacks, up 58.2%.

Gun ownership increased in 2020 with experts pointing to the pandemic, protests against racial injustice, the 2020 US presidential election and an increase in mass shootings as factors. Shooting ranges have become a popular pastime for those turned back during the lockdown restrictions.

Will Sanford ’22 worked as a security guard at the West Chester Gun Club in the spring of 2021. He was able to take shifts
at the club because his classes were all online. He said regulars continued to visit the club every week during the 2020 lockdown and that the shooting was an outlet for him as well.

“I was there all the time and I was shooting when there were down times,” Sanford said.

David Rossilli, a salesperson at RTSP, told me that all types of people visit shooting ranges.

“All ages and all types,” Rossilli said. “We welcome a lot of old people, a lot of veterans, new people, young shooters.”

To run at RTSP, I had to sign a waiver, watch a security video (which I could click without looking), and present photo ID. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I really thought there would be more precautions, like giving a newbie like me a chance to practice with a gun that wasn’t loaded.

Miles Cody, a range instructor, approached me and started a quick lesson. He removed the magazine from the pistol and
loaded with the bullets. Following his instructions, I inserted the magazine, pushed the clip down, and moved my index finger from the gun side onto the trigger.

“Whenever it’s the first time someone shoots, you always want to put just one in the mag. That way, in case you panic, we
know it’s empty, ”Cody said. I laughed nervously. “Now shoot,” Cody ordered.

I looked at the pink silhouette target I had chosen from a selection of paper targets that included nerdy looking zombies, cartoon criminals and traditional bull eyes.

Then I looked at the gun in my hands. Suddenly I felt weak. I reviewed everything in my head again, firming my position and bending my elbows a little more. Closing one eye, I looked through the gun sight and aimed at the target. I held my breath as my finger started pulling the trigger and closed my eyes at the very last second.


My wrists recoiled. If I hadn’t held a deadly grip on it out of fear, I would have whipped myself with a pistol.
I opened my eyes and examined the weapon, then remembered to put it down.

“See! You got it!” Cody said, pressing a button to bring the target closer.

I had hit the target squarely in the chest. When I was done filming I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and there I met a woman not much older than me. I started washing my hands with normal soap and she motioned for me to use the anti-lead soap.

“Thank you,” I say. “How often do you come here?”

“I’m here almost every day,” she says. “It’s so good to know that I know how to protect myself.”

As for me, I’m glad I went. But I don’t know if I will stay there again. I’m also among the growing number of Americans, nearly 48% according to the Pew 2021 study, who see gun violence as a major problem in the United States. to have fun.

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