For roughly $135 and one weekend’s worth of time, you can see a side of gun culture that often escapes us at Colorado College.

James Olson and Alex Langstaff pose with handguns during their NRA handgun class in Colorado Springs last year. Photo courtesy of James Olson
James Olson and Alex Langstaff pose with handguns during their NRA handgun class in Colorado Springs last year. Photo courtesy of James Olson

Last spring, we took a basic handgun course offered by the local gun store, Paradise Firearms. Neither of us had fired a gun before, but we were excited and curious to step into this strange community that we had never had much interaction with but had heard a lot about.

Arriving late to our first classroom session, we were led into a crowded room that doubled as an armory where Doug, a two-tour Vietnam veteran adorned in a jacket with all manner of brightly colored National Rifle Association patches and a great, white beard, was addressing the attendees of the course.

Doug launched into a speech about how firearms can make a person more self reliant, safer, and generally more empowered. He denounced non-gun owners as overly reliant on ineffectual government protection and told everyone to “rest assured” because there would be “no liberals” taking this class. The room filled with many chuckles of camaraderie as the incognito CC students shot worried looks at each other.

So began our three-day basic handgun course, a step into a different universe.

The narrative of NRA ideology was very much present throughout our experience; however, it’s a phenomenon that’s hard to talk about objectively and sympathetically, so we won’t. Instead, this is the story of our experience learning to handle handguns.

That Friday night and the following Saturday, we spent 17 hours in the gun store learning extensively about handguns and firearms in general. There were many different instructors – all of whom were enthusiastic, unpaid volunteers.

The course had a very strong emphasis on safety, including a presentation on legal protection given by a Colorado College alumnus lawyer.

On Saturday, we selected our respective handguns for the weekend, a 9-millimeter and a .45 caliber. In a more bizarre moment, we practiced dry firing our handguns together as a class in the parking lot and each student received a personal NRA instructor.

We learned stances, drawing technique, and how to aim.

The next morning, we woke at the crack of dawn and drove far out to a dusty shooting range in Southern Colorado. For six hours, we would “experience” a multitude of exotic guns with thousands of shell casings.

Our personal firing instructors came in with the other instructors from the class. There were a series of guns positioned on tables from left to right, beginning with a low-caliber pistol and working upwards in firepower.

We fired a variety of semi-automatic handguns and revolvers, then shotguns, and finally assault rifles, including the M4 and AK-47. Doug, an expert musket shot, was manning the black powder musket station and was very thorough in showing how to fire the musket. Over the past few days, we had found our instructors and classmates to be incredibly warm and helpful. With Doug’s help, we found that the old gun was quite an experience to shoot.

After firing these guns, we moved on to firing and loading our own pistols for the rest of the day. At first, it was challenging to accustom ourselves to subtleties of firing the handgun; breathing and stance had to be mastered, but after practice and instruction we were able to shoot with some accuracy.

The experience of shooting was almost meditative in the concentration and breathing technique it required, but was also exhilarating, especially once it became competitive between the two of us.

We learned about guns, got a glimpse into gun culture and tried something new.

Guns are dangerous things. Our three-day course was thrilling and informed us about many technical aspects of guns, while also allowing us to meet some of their most ardent supporters. We found that, contrary to what many people believe, shooting a gun isn’t as simple as pulling a trigger.

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