Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fear vs. Control

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.


Biker Betty said...

I participate in more "dangerous" activities then my mom would like, lol. I get asked why I like to rock climb. When done in a safe manner, the risks are either non-existant or very low. I don't do the extreme rock climbing.

I do like to shoot guns and haven't had the opportunity in many years. I'm like you, I only like to shoot the paper targets, cans, etc. I had quite a few opportunities to shoot at targets in my teen years and in my mid-20's. I took the Hunter Safety course in my teens, but never intended to hunt, lol. For one year (when I was in the Air Force and just before I got out) I was an auxilary police officer. I really enjoyed it. I got my markmanship ribbon with the pistol during that time. It's been enough years now that I probably can't hit the broad side of a barn, lol.

Like you said, guns are only dangerous if misused.

Combatscoot said...

I like the "accepting responsibility for our actions" part near the end.
I don't know if you know who Thomas the Tank Engine is, but there is a marked difference between the modern tales in the TV series and some books, and the tales originally written about him. The original tales dealt with animated engines who were "normal", I.E. they made mistakes, got attitudes at times. When they were bad, they payed for their actions. The modern tales seem to stay far away from that format, which strangely echoes real life as I have seen it lately. I see modern people staying far away from accepting the consequences for their actions, although they eventually must.

Bill Sommers said...

I agree with the entire content of this post. I'd like to pass this along to a friend that actually teaches Hunters Safety, yet preaches the need of gun ownership in a scary way.

I earned marksmanship medals in my youth, and have always been a recreational shooter. Like you, I do it for fun, but if I need to use it for a robot, or the tasty deer, I can.

Have fun,

Lucky said...

betty - I just don't tell my mom about the dangerous things I do. She finds out about them eventually here on my blog, but I know she prefers to just ignore it. :D

John - So I never thought Thomas the Tank Engine would come up on my blog, but here it is. Sure, I'm familiar with the show. I've never read the kids books though. Now I'm going to have to buy them for someone's kids so I can take a look at them first.

Responsibility seems like it's only optional for some people. Hopefully popular thought will swing back in the other direction, and soon.

Bill - By all means pass it on. I'll always take new readers! :D

Steve Williams said...

Heck with the shooting. I've had plenty of guns and shooting and it has fallen into the who cares department for me. I was a good shot for things standing still but really disappointed my father with moving targets like birds and rabbits. Even our dogs hated to hunt with me. But blacksmithing! Now that has been a dream since I was a welder in a shipyard in another life. I'm not interested in slavery to horses either but rather the noble profession of producing well wrought chain mail and swords. At least that was a day dream fancy.

My blacksmithing dreams now are more sculptural than forging and I have turned a plasma torch and welding rod on some steel to produce some things both practical and artistic. What sort of smithing are you doing? When I retire I definitely am going to be looking that direction.

I've never considered guns or working with steel as dangerous though I do know you have to pay attention and know what you are doing.

Lucky said...

Steve - Leave the horses to the farriers, that's what I say.

My smithing tends towards architectural, decorative, and furniture. With a big handful of toolmaking, as well.

The dream is to make large, pointy gates. Someday, I will. :D

American Scooterist Blog said...

I love to shoot too (I almost wrote 'I love to shoot myself'lol). I see it as a discipline. You can only become good with attention to detail and lots of practice. I began with firearms, moved to precision air rifles and handguns and now somewhat back to firearms. You can really get good with a high quality air rifle and all the attention to detail is there to learn but without the noise, the distance an errant projectile may go, and the somewhat less interest in thieves stealing an "airgun". If you really love the process and discipline of precision shooting its incredibly easy and economical to set up a ten meter range for some high end ten meter rifle and pistol shooting. Quiet, low velocity, and Olympic grade equipment is with reach of most shooters who want to get the most use for their money. No range fees, no goofballs in the lanes next to you... when you have time, you pick up an air rifle and put teeny tiny ragged holes in a piece of paper right at the home range and no one will even hear you.

When people become afraid of guns and bikes you have to know that at some point those people, who have little or no knowlege of either activity, have become arrogant enough to think they know better than those participating in the activity. That is quite an assumption to make.

Harv aka The Roadbum