Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part IV. SURVIVE
By the last day of class, I’d taken McNeese’s advice to heart. I slowed down, relaxed, and loosened the sphincter muscle. Instead of trying to remember all the details essential to accurate shooting, I simply trusted myself to do it—coolly, slowly, and methodically.
Soon I was pressing the trigger instead of pulling it jerkily, keeping my eye on the front sight of the gun, hitting targets in clusters around the heart and eyes, and making it through entire shoot houses without killing a single innocent. In 1.5 seconds, day and night, I could draw a holstered pistol, aim at a target seven yards away, and shoot it twice in the heart.
It wasn’t just a lesson in marksmanship. It was a lesson in life.
“We’re in America, we’re shooting guns—it’s a good day!” Campbell proclaimed as he walked down the range, watching his students blast the hearts out of their targets. “There’s nothing better in the world.”
In my final shoot house session, I noticed that the first gunman was wearing a bulletproof vest, so I shot him in the head. In the kitchen, I spotted another gunman outside the window and shot him in the heart. And in the last room, there was a target with a gun, but beneath it, he was holding a small child. I asked him to release the child, and when he didn’t I shot him in the head—twice.
“I’m impressed,” McNeese said. “So you are trainable.”
A feeling of relief washed over my body. I had succeeded in my mission. I felt like I could protect my home in St. Kitts—and in Los Angeles. At least from small bands of looters who hadn’t been trained at Gunsite.
In the process, though, something strange had occurred. I developed a bloodlust I’d never felt before. I actually wanted an excuse to shoot a bad guy, so I could experience what the instructors had talked about.
Guns are designed to kill, and to understand them correctly is to understand killing. Not shooting anyone was like learning to golf on a driving range but never going to an actual course. (Of course, ask anyone about golf at Gunsite and they’ll tell you it’s “a waste of a perfectly good rifle range.”)
I began to understand how armies could so easily indoctrinate new recruits to murder. It’s as easy as stereotyping a group of people as bad, then teaching soldiers day after day how to kill them before they kill you. The better the training, the more of a waste it would be not to use it. After all, those who don’t know how to fight tend to stay out of fights.
“Be safe,” McNeese told us during our graduation ceremony, “and be good to everyone you meet—but always have a plan to kill them.”
He then handed us our diplomas:
“I’ll tell you something,” Stephanie, the student with the government Beretta, told me after the ceremony. “The day I checked in here, I had fired a handgun probably twice before. This course has probably saved my life.”
Afterward, we went to Colonel Cooper’s house to meet his widow and look through his memorabilia. I sat and talked with McNeese, who recommended some of the other courses. “Don’t go into a gunfight with a pistol,” he confided, leaning in close. “It’s a low-damage weapon. It’s what you use when you can’t get a bigger gun.”
“So what kind of gun do you recommend then?” To me, low damage was getting hit in the head with a Ping-Pong ball, not a .45-caliber hollow-point bullet traveling 835 feet a second.
McNeese suggested a twelve-gauge shotgun with an 18.5-inch barrel. He recommended using slugs for outdoor shooting and, for indoors, birdshot, which is less likely to penetrate a wall and hurt a family member. Apparently, I was going to need heavier artillery for my urban survival kit.
Nearby, a group of students and instructors were making fun of Democrats, gun control laws, and anyone from California. “There’s no constitutional amendment that’s been more crippled and regulated than the Second Amendment,” a competitive shooter was saying about the right to keep and bear arms.
After eavesdropping for a while, I began to realize that all my life I’d been a hypocrite. As a journalist I’d always supported the right to free speech, but been opposed to guns. However, by playing favorites with the amendments, it wasn’t the founding fathers’ vision of America I was fighting for—it was just my personal opinion.
Though I’d passed the writing and shooting tests at Gunsite, which made me eligible for the permit to carry a concealed weapon, I discovered that I needed to send a set of fingerprints to the State of Arizona to receive it. And, unlike the prints I submitted to get my background check for St. Kitts, these would be kept on file permanently. So I was faced with a dilemma: which was more important, my safety or my privacy?
After weeks of debate, I chose privacy. If the social order ever broke down, no one would be checking for concealed-weapons permits anyway.
Spencer, meanwhile, was solving the same problem the B way. “I’ve actually been trying to find a podunk place where I can buy the police a squad car in exchange for being named an off-duty cop,” he said when I called to tell him about my brand-new pistol skills. “That way, I can carry a concealed weapon anywhere.” He hesitated for a moment. “I want to have it ready for the next fiscal crisis.”
This wouldn’t be my last gun class. I would eventually purchase and learn to use a Remington 870 Wingmaster shotgun with a ventilated rib barrel and a model 700 rifle with a Tasco Super Sniper scope.
Thanks to Kurt Saxon, Mel Tappan, and Bruce Clayton, I’d become a gun nut. I’d become one of the guys I would have been too scared to hang out with on the millennial New Year.