“Bang, bang from the closet walls,
The schoolhouse halls,
The shotgun’s loaded.
Push me and I’ll push back.
I’m done asking, I demand.” –
Rise Against, from “Make It Stop”

“I’m not afraid of machines. I don’t think the robots are taking over. I think the men who play with toys have taken over. And if we don’t take the toys out of their hands, we’re fools.” – Ray Bradbury

 

When I was in grad school, I usually stopped in Paducah, KY as a halfway point between my parents’ home in North Carolina, and my own home in Iowa. The first time I stopped in Paducah, it was late afternoon, and I asked the woman who checked me into my hotel for suggestions of things to do. It was a blustery late December day, the type that didn’t make me want to do things outside – except for the fact I’d been stuck in my car for the previous 10 hours.

Put a gun in your hand, open the chamber. Take a revolver, an assault rifle, a shotgun. Load it.

You’ll first feel the dense mass of steel, polymer, or wood weight in your palms. You’ll roll the cylinder, if there is one, pop it open and snap it shut. You’ll learn the distinct snicks and clicks of safety levers and shells and the hammer. With a shotgun, you’ll beware the bite of the spring snap after you shove the last round in the loading port. You’ll see that it takes time for untrained fingers: slipping single bullets into the chamber, loading multiple cartridges into the magazine. You’ll count as you shoot. The sound of each shot will be extra startling if you shoot indoors the first time: WHOUUM for the 357 Magnum. TAP TAP for the 22. You won’t help but wonder about all the pockmarks in the ceiling and sidewalls from previous bullets poorly aimed. Gunpowder will make a shocking cloud. You’ll leave with black marks on your hands, and you’ll smell faintly of fireworks.

I clawed at the unforgiving cushions of the back seat of our rental Camry, sweat pouring from my brow and running down the sides of my neck to pool unpleasantly around my shirt collar, my back arched as my muscles clenched and spasmed. I don’t know how long the drive was, only that the minutes screamed endlessly, like a man getting sucked into a wind tunnel in a better class of action movie. Traffic lights shone bright – so bright! – scorching my retinas, flaring like an ammunition dump explosion in a lower class of romantic comedy.