Staring down the range and adjusting to the uncomfortable weight of the rifle, I tried to shake the thought that I was sharing the view of Stephen Paddock and the many other mass-murderers whose weapon of choice I was now holding. I tried to think of the soldiers who valiantly brandished these weapons, but the context was inescapable. Every squeeze of the trigger and every hole ripped through the paper target reminded me of only one thing. The gun gave me a power that felt undeserved. There was no adrenaline rush or satisfaction, just memories of headlines and climbing death tolls. But this was only part of the story.
I did not go to a shooting range expecting to learn anything other than how to shoot a gun. It was just something new and interesting that I wanted to try. For most of my life I had been inundated with information, misinformation and political messaging surrounding guns and those who own them. It was another on a long list of topics that I was expected to have an opinion on without having any first-hand knowledge. Having grown up in a predominantly liberal environment, I was taught to associate guns with mass shootings, hicks and the ominous National Rifle Association. I left the shooting range feeling that this narrative was misguided, socially harmful and politically toxic.
There were no stereotypes at the range. Despite being in the South, there were no big trucks with Confederate flags in the parking lot. Like the post office or the liquor store, it was a democratizing venue where nearly all demographics were brought together without tension. I came thinking I might faceunease or hostility as a young black man. On the contrary, I felt more comfortable there than I have in many cosmopolitan retail stores. In a way, it was everything I was taught not to expect.
Still, I had come to shoot a gun and ultimately that is what I was least prepared for. The safety instructions and the attentive staff made for a perfectly controlled and secure environment. Still, I felt exceedingly uncomfortable with every shot. The rifles for sale on the wall, the rounds of ammunition, the shell casings on the ground all brought to mind the pictures of guns, magazines and bullets strewn across Stephen Paddock’s Las Vegas hotel room. The sound of gunfire on the range, still violently loud despite the ear protection, played like the cellphone videos taken by those under fire.
I do not think I will be purchasing a gun anytime soon. I have no interest in hunting or shooting for sport, and I do not feel the need to have a gun in order to protect myself. I also do not feel that I have any right to judge those who choose to have guns.
Regardless of where you stand on gun policy, it is important to know that the power of the gun lobby is not in some dark, faceless organization that buys political influence, but rather in the millions of Americans who support its cause. They are not all the same, and they certainly are not all deserving of scorn. For me, guns may forever be inextricably linked to their worst use, but it would be foolish to think that there is not more to the story.
Coleman is a Duke sophomore majoring in political science and visual art. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.