When I was growing up in the Bronx, my friends and I would regularly play “guns.”
It was a catchall name for playing Army or cops and robbers.
I had at various times a cap gun, a gold-colored pistol that was supposed to shoot little pellets but never really did and a plastic Tommy gun that I bought at Woolworth’s for 99 cents.
When we would “fire” at somebody in our imaginary play, we would make the appropriate noises of “pew pew pew” or something rapid fire like “pppppdddddd.”
In determining whether a person was shot or was missed was based on the honor system between shooter and target: Was the target ambushed? Had they taken cover? Did they return fire?
Of course, real life gunplay has no referee to say whether you are wounded or dead.
This all became clear when the members of the About Men Radio crew recently piled into the Dingmans Shooting Range in Dingmans Ferry on a rainy Saturday afternoon as part of a long-planned outing.
Of the four of us, I probably had the most experience with weapons — and that’s not saying much.
As a kid, I shot a rifle at tin cans with my uncle in his backyard and an M1, bolt-action, single-shot rifle at Boy Scout summer camp; and went to a range in the Poconos with my late fiancée about a dozen years ago and fired three different handguns.
Two years ago at Drive A Tank in Minnesota, I shot a Sten machine gun, a 1919 belt-fed machine gun and an M4.
Those occasions were fun. I had looked forward to this day at the range as an opportunity for male bonding but something about this visit was less exhilarating.
Unlike my previous shooting experiences, this one felt fraught with the heaviness of the superheated debate about gun control and the drumbeat of news about mass shootings and other gun violence.
There was something profoundly unsettling about the power and responsibility that rested in my hands.
A wrong move or a lapse of attention and I could hurt – or kill — myself or others.
I felt hypervigilant.
To its credit, the range emphasized safety, including an extended safety video and patient, attentive instructors.
Maybe I was feeling overwhelmed by the small space (six shooting lanes), the crowd, the noise, the smell of gunpowder and spent shells popping everywhere.
It got me to thinking about police officers in the middle of pitched gun battles, the likes of which we saw in Dallas, where five officers were assassinated. I, for one, would not be able to keep a clear head in the chaos of a situation like that.
A number of people at the range were gun owners and/or enthusiasts who had a good time.
As for me, I was glad to hang up my ear protection and get outside. My palms were sweaty and my heart was beating through my chest.
The experience left me with an even deeper respect for law enforcers and reinforced that, unlike my pretend gunfire as a kid, handling a weapon was no mere child’s play.