If there's a braver and more foolhardy group than rangemasters, I'd sure like to meet them.
For having seen all manner of firing range mishaps and the perpetrators responsible for them, I've concluded that the special qualities required to mentor others in the use of firearms include infinite patience, wisdom, and a sound mind (well, maybe not so much that last one).
That these men and women routinely dodge errantly pointed sidearms and capriciously wielded shotguns without the benefit of suppressive fire is beyond me.
But then, maybe part of my admiration and confusion is that I know just how historically ignorant I've been on the matter of firearms.
I left patrol as a deputy in 1989, returning as a sergeant in 1994. In the interim, the department had begun issuing the Beretta 92F to its personnel, so that by the time I showed up at Industry Station, people were pointing at the revolver on my side and asking, "What the hell is that?"
I felt like a dinosaur—Dino the Dinosaur. But the fact remained that I liked my wheel gun. I could get the Smith & Wesson revolver out of its holster reasonably fast and shoot it with some degree of accuracy. In that order, too. Breaking the weapon down and cleaning it was a breeze. In short, I was comfortable with it and, whether or not it was possible to teach an old dog new tricks, when it came to being trained with the Beretta I didn't want to be the test case.
Some of my reticence could be traced to the fact that I was never a gun nut. Sure, I supported the second amendment, liked Chuck Heston, and enjoyed "Magnum Force." But for me, there was more to life than Guns and Ammo—both the magazine and the lifestyle—and the only reason I didn't begrudge guys like Masaad Ayoob was that it seemed like they were making a living off their obsession. The Tackleberrys of the world were beyond me.
But the biggest factor in my apprehension boiled down to one thing: I was afraid of my new weapon.
I was at least as fearful of betraying my lack of familiarity with it, too. This synergy of ignorance and intimidation started me down a bad path. I'd taken Mark Twain's maxim "Never learn how to do anything; you can always find somebody else to do it for you" to asinine extremes. I learned just enough to shoot with the Beretta accurately and to get it out of the holster quickly. Again, usually in that order.
But when it came to naming its parts, knowing how they interacted with one another, or how things could go wrong and how to correct them, I was in a world of hurt. All this became painfully clear one night when I showed up for a day/night shoot at Wayside.
When it came time to clean our weapons, I found myself staring at mine with the same confused wariness I regard the engine compartment of my vehicle. I struggled with the disassembly latch. I dropped the slide. At one point, a range instructor ducked as a recoil spring sprang across the room. It might've been mine.
The drills the range instructors put us through that day only compounded my predicament. Throughout, the instructors were more tactful with me than I probably would have been. I deserved to have my ass chewed out.
But if there is a singular virtue of embarrassment, it is that it dissuades all save for the most ardent masochist from wanting to repeat its experience.
The following morning I was up before sunrise, locking myself in my vault and breaking down the Beretta. As I became more and more familiar with its components, I also became acutely aware of how stupid I'd been in my apprehension of the sidearm. It wasn't all that exotic, after all. After I spent some time practicing reloads, stovepipe drills, and the like with dummy rounds, I had a friend come over and coach me on all the little implements that would constitute an ideal firearms maintenance kit.
Some Internet snooping proved valuable, as well, as I found all manner of drills and information that helped remediate my deficiencies. After years of dodging the bullet, I finally became comfortable with it.
Now, some will reasonably ask why the hell I would want to admit to such stupidity. Well, how's this for a reason: Because I wasn't the only one out there that day faking my way through firearms training.
I suspect similar horror stories are to be found in abundance from others running gun ranges and conducting firearms training courses. And I know I won't be the last to delude themselves that their compensatory talents of martial arts, wit, intelligence, physical stamina, good looks, etc., will save their ass when the shit hits the fan. But I'm hoping that someone out there is reading these words and maybe recognizing themselves a little bit, and that they decide to clean up their act before they become the next discovery on the firing line.
Get this straight, Will Rogers was right: We are ALL ignorant, only of different things. It's unfortunate that we can't shine 24/7 and may occasionally be the poster child for getting buy-in on things remedial in nature. Mea culpa.
But the older I get, the more I believe that the only dumb question is the one that doesn't get asked. If you're in doubt about something, ask about it. If you're uncomfortable with the forum, drag some poor knowledgeable bastard off to the side and inflict your ignorance on him. For whether or not it's a gun or something else that's pertinent for the performance of the job, you should familiarize yourself with it as though your life depends on it.
Because it does.