"The first place we're going," Jeff told me, "is the shooting gallery. You will come with me and we will have fun."
My friend Jeff is a man of unshakable beliefs. One of these is that anything he considers fun is fun, for everyone. I was about to argue the point when I remembered two things: 1) Jeff was my guest in Edmonton, which meant going where he wanted to go, and
2) I was writing a novel in which a character had to load and fire a handgun, and I've never done either. An air pistol, sure, but not the real thing. I figured I should give it a go.
"Excellent," he declared. "I hear they have a great many guns there."
That was a selling point for Jeff, who wanted to shoot something interesting. I merely wanted to shoot something educational.
The gallery did have a great many guns, as it turned out. You could shoot nearly any of them, for a price. You paid for brief access to a gun, ammunition, ear protection, and a gallery where you'd be taken through the basics by a trainer who doubled as a security guard.
"Oh, no," I said, spotting a blindingly shiny gun with an awkward, oversized barrel. "Is that a Desert Eagle?"
"Oh, yes," Jeff said. "Yes it is."
"One of my characters used to carry one," I said. "He thought it was cool. It looks ridiculous."
"It is ridiculous."
"Evidently." I said. "I feel as if I know my character better now. He just, deep down, felt he needed the biggest gun. That's what was wrong with him in a lot of ways."
Jeff wasn't willing to pursue that conversation, so we concentrated on choosing our guns.
I was having a good time, actually, even in the gallery. My gun was easy to hold and shoot, if a pain to load. I enjoyed finding, after a quick lesson from the trainer, that my aim was pretty good.
I'd reloaded once and was about to start shooting again when I realized that I was standing in a room full of strangers, with the exception of Jeff, and that all of them were holding guns.
I'd thought I was used to guns, since they're on TV all the time. I'd played paintball and laser tag. I even knew a few people who carried real guns. Some of my friends did target shooting, and my dad had a rifle. I knew a guy who'd driven for several hours with two bags of loose guns in his trunk, but that's a story for another time.
Anyway, the last thing I'd expected was to feel uncomfortable around guns. It was strange, though. I didn't know these people, for one thing. And they weren't just carrying guns. They were shooting. They weren't shooting each other, of course, but they could have if they'd felt like it. In such a small room, I was pretty sure the trainer/guard wouldn't have been able to pull his own gun until at least one person had been shot. It would have been terrifyingly simple, and quick, and final.
And what about that guard, who carried a gun in case he needed to shoot someone who'd decided to shoot other people? That was a possibility he accepted when he started work each day.
That was when I realized I hadn't come there to learn how to load or fire a gun. I'd thought I had, but those things hadn't been important. I'd come there to learn that a real gun could be scary, no matter how inured to guns a person might believe herself to be. I'd gotten a sense of how my detectives might feel about carrying a gun, and how they might react when a gun was pointed at them. I'd learned there was a surprising weight to even the little one I'd picked up.
I stayed and finished my ammunition, though I didn't really want to. I didn't say anything about what I was thinking to my friend, who'd had a whale of a time and was already planning his next visit.
"We'll come back next time I'm in town," he said. "We can try different guns. You want to shoot the Desert Eagle?"
I said no, thanks.
"You can come back if you want, but I got what I needed in there."