Thursday night I took an "Introduction to Handguns" course at a local shooting range. I'm not interested in guns for self-defence, nor am I a hunter. That leaves recreational shooting. I like making little holes in paper targets, and in the future might enjoy getting rid of old fruits, vegetables and beer cans in a noisy and enjoyably challenging way. That's the extent of my desire to use guns.
Friday night, Lady Luck asked me why I like shooting, and why I'm interested in it. I told her that it's a fun challenge, like bowling or darts, with the added bonus of lots of noise and a power rush to boot (I don't mind admitting it). Also, should the world ever be overtaken by cruel, robotic, brain-eating - yet strangely delicious - deer, well, I'd rather know how to safely use a gun and never need to than need to and not know how.
She thinks I'm nuts and, once again, she's entirely right.
I've been thinking about the question a lot over the last few days, though. Why do I enjoy shooting? What makes it attractive to me? Why not just go bowling? Bowling is challenging and noisy. Lots of people despise guns, and would never touch one even in a closely regulated environment (which is entirely OK, by the way).
For me, I think the thrill is being in control while enjoying a "dangerous" activity.
I put dangerous is quotes because while guns are certainly dangerous machines capable of horrendous destruction, they're only dangerous when handled by a person in an inattentive, unsafe, uneducated, or illegal and immoral manner. As the gun instructor said, "Casual = Casualty." Shooting requires a tremendous amount of responsibility, care and discipline.
Does this seem familiar somehow?
A hobby of mine is blacksmithing. Blacksmithing is dangerous. A blacksmith forges steel at around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take a few hundred degrees. That's hot enough to vaporise your skin should you touch it. Let me repeat that: The steel is hot enough to vaporise your skin. Should you stick your hand in the forge, well, let's hope it was your least favorite hand because it's not coming back.
When forging, a smith is intimately aware of the heat coming from the piece and the forge. A smith also needs to be aware that ANY piece of metal in the shop could be hot enough to cause third degree burns. A piece of metal does not have to look hot to be hot.
Then there are the other tools a blacksmith uses; for example, drill presses and grinders. These tools may look innocuous, but are in fact extremely dangerous. A wheel grinder is the most dangerous tool in any shop. It can grab a work piece and hurl it at you hard enough to fracture your skull. An abrasive wheel could shatter, throwing shrapnel in every direction. Either tool could grab your clothing or hair and keep twisting until bad and messy things happen to you.
However, a mindful and responsible blacksmith can safely use these tools all day, without fear, to create just about anything out of metal without ever injuring himself/herself or anyone else.
The important difference between a cheerful, productive blacksmith and that melty puddle over there that used to be some one's cousin is knowing how to safely control dangerous instruments. The blacksmith doesn't fear his/her tools, only respects them and works with attentive care.
Now, I'm certainly not going to say that shooting is a creative activity like blacksmithing. However you want to spin it, guns are implements of destruction. However, in both situations the key to getting home safely with all ten fingers (and the rest of you) afterwards is knowledge and control.
I think every motorcyclist who is serious about the sport understands that our hobby and passion is dangerous. Again, what separates us from a pile of leather-clad hamburger is knowledge and control.
A motorcycle is, after all, only a machine with a front wheel to control direction and a rear wheel that provides thrust. It can't do anything without a person controlling it.
The person in control of that bike has to accept complete responsibility for whatever happens to it and him/her, as well as anyone in the vicinity. If our intrepid rider accepts this responsibility, learns how to operate the motorcycle safely and stays in control while riding it, then he/she has nothing to fear from the motorcycle.
Being in control and safely enjoying a "dangerous" activity is what makes motorcycling a thrill. We get rider training, hone our skills, wear protective gear and always remain alert and mindful while riding so that we can enjoy an exhilarating sport, instead of staying home or "safe" in the confines of a planet-destroying SUV (whose drivers, incidentally, frequently need to accept some control and responsibility. That's a whole different rant, though.).
By accepting and taking control, we can enjoy dangerous activities instead of fearing them. Even fear needs to be controlled, otherwise it's the most dangerous thing that has ever been.