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March 7, 2008

Put Down the Knitting Needles; Pick Up the Gun

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As a longtime fan of mystery and thriller books I spend a fair time at mystery conferences. Among the things I have learned from authors in these genres is that if they do not get the gun right in a book they are going to get mail, lots of mail. Thus education on this topic is a must and research on this topic is important. There usually is at least one session on guns and weaponry at writer's conferences like Sleuthfest, which I attended last weekend in Florida.

I have seen author James O. Born (his latest book is Burn Zone) conduct these sessions both here and at Thriller Fest, the International Thriller Writers Convention. Born is known to most of us as Jim Born though I do think it should be spelled Bourne, like Jason. He is is a Special Agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) thus his class draws on real-life experience and he can walk writers through setting up a crime scene with authority. He also has a wicked sense of humor and thus keeps these sessions as amusing as they are educational.
As I watched him run through his program it always made me want to do one thing --- fire a gun. So a while back I asked Jim to take me to a firing range the next time I was in Florida. Our schedules coordinated this trip and I was all too happy to put down the knitting needles that I had been clicking away with in the morning sessions to fire a gun at the range. Loved that image...she dropped the knitting needles and picked up a gun. Can't you see that in the pages of a book now?

Now let me be clear here before I get my own stack of reader mail. I do not want to buy a gun, own a gun or shoot anyone or anything. (Okay maybe I do harbor fantasies of dropping a few of the deer that are eating up my shrubs and plants, but those are fantasies.) But I did want to know how it feels to hold a gun and fire a shot much like I have read about in some of my favorite books. I wanted to hear what it sounded like, feel the recoil and get a handle on just how tough, or easy this is.

Thus last Saturday I found myself stopping by Jim's pickup truck to grab his Beretta as we headed to the Delray Shooting Center along with Fred Rea who was carrying a air-powered rifle in a canvas bag much like the one I use to tote swim equipment and knitting. Hey, to each his own vices. One never knows what is wrapped in a towel in a canvas bag. As we motored up Interstate 95 I felt safe though I had some mild trepidations about being pulled over and explaining guns. After all, we have all read about how 95 is the running zone for drug and gun smugglers.

Entering the shooting gallery I was in foreign territory and very glad to have Jim there directing this event. He plunked down his badge and clearly got the respect from the proprietor behind the counter. In short order we had 100 rounds of ammo, three targets and a cage assignment. For humor here, while Jim and I had talked about this weeks ago, we never confirmed we were going to actually hit the gallery so I wearing conference clothes, not shooting clothes. He actually did ask at one point, "Are you wearing THAT to shoot?" I guess he never saw Charlie's Angels. I mean seriously, those girls seemed to pack some gun power even with heels and my heels were not even high. And while I was fashionable, I had the attitude needed. But I digress.

Before we enter the range I was instructed to put on ear protection, plan to wear my sunglasses and be prepared for noise. Now my palms were starting to sweat.

We got to our cage and Jim started loading bullets into three magazines, showing me how the firepower (note this very cool descriptive word) was racked in there. Next to us on either side people were shooting and nailing their targets. I saw the reason for eye protection as shells from the cage to our left were landing in ours. Jim hung our target and moved it out into the shooting gallery via a clothesline like device. I was happy to see it close enough so I might actually have a chance to HIT IT.
Jim fired off a few shots so our target at least looked officially hit and then he demonstrated how to hold the gun with two hands ensuring that I was allowing for the chamber to recoil by positioning my hands low enough. He also showed me how to line my finger next to the trigger not on it. I then was ready to go. First shot went and I immediately understood what recoil felt like. And the noise of a shot. And amazingly I hit the target. Not at the X but pretty darn close.
From there I was shooting as he gave me instructions trying to ensure I did not whallop my hand by covering the chamber and that I kept things steady. He set up scenarios like "someone is coming after you...he's armed...shoot shoot shoot." I saw this was not as easy as it looks on TV and the movies. I was concentrating and still was not firing smoothly. But as time went on I got the hang of it. Arms straight out and firing fast. Aim and shoot slow. I tried it all. Well, not quite all. I did not do the drop to the floor, roll and shoot that I always see on film. I think if I rolled to the floor and shot I would have shot myself! This IS harder than it looks.

I also saw that if I ever was in a situation where I was being fired at and I was trying to pull this off, it was going to be a totally different story. I had mild adrenelin going and I still was sweating. The shells coming back at me, as well as the noise level was more than I had anticipated.

Fred then asked if I wanted to try the rifle. I confess that this was just beyond me. I never got the hang of the looking down the periscope eyepiece. There is something pretty scary about
not even SEEING the target.

Our final target was the Bin Laden target. It's much different shooting at a blank target than facsimile of a person. I shot and shot and shot. Jim said I would have fired a lethal shot at some point when we studied the sheet, but then again I was not being fired at. One hundred rounds later and a few moments for photo ops, I felt like I had a small handle on this.

On the way out I picked up some shells from the floor as well as one live bullet and grabbed the "shot" targets as souvenirs. When I got back to the hotel I went into a small panic about what to do with the live bullet since I knew it was not going to make it through security. I ditched it in the garbage can. My older son is now fearing a visit from Homeland Security! Amazingly the spent shells never got searched in my luggage. As for the targets. Yes, they did make it to the office this week after I showed them to my husband and boys. The rips in the paper are pretty scary. You can just imagine a bullet's impact on flesh. And I do not want to think about hollowpoints.

This week as I have been reading books I view gunshots with new respect. For complete amusement, Linda Fairstein's character, Assistant District Attorney Alex Cooper, spends time at a firing range learning to shoot in her new book, KILLER HEAT. Well, who knew Coop and I would have something in common?
Huge thanks to Jim for this experience --- and for his patience as I asked MANY questions. Now where are those knitting needles? I somehow can focus those a lot better than a gun!