Back to School

I’ve always loved school. Well, certain schools. Like up to high school really and a bit beyond. Then our “school”. We made a career out of school. I don’t miss working but I do miss school. Yesterday Rudy remedied that. Sort of.

We spent the day at gun school. Handguns that is. A perfectly American past time. Living on our farm we had several guns. Shotguns and rifles used to fend off wildlife predators. There was never a fear of using the weapons for self defence. And Rudy attended all of the required training and acquired all of the licenses. He was a legal gun owner. When we sold the farm his guns were passed on to other legal owners and hunters. Gun ownership in Canada is only for criminals now and those willing to jump through the hoops. Crooks don’t care about laws.

The US is very different. In most states anyway, such as Florida. There are many gun shops, shows, ranges and classes. Rudy enrolled us in a one day hand gun class. It would be a two part class including theory followed by the firing range. The booking was done on line. Once we were booked in we received an email detailing the rules and regulations. Don’t be late; we start promptly. Don’t buy a gun to bring to class; we will provide them. If you have a gun already you can bring it. Bring safety glasses and noise protection if you have them. Bring ID. Bring a drink. It was a very thorough list of dos and donts. Ingauge Firearms Academy has done firearms training for years.

We got up a bit earlier than usual (for me and Molly) as we headed out the door at 8 am to arrive before 9 am. We drive to the facility in nearby Winter Haven and are the first to walk into the classroom. We choose a seat up front to the right. There are two rows of three tables with two per table. Each table is neatly set up with a pad and pen, a folder of materials, a registration sheet and membership pamphlets. Rudy remarks that the set up is better than my former workshops. Ha ha. Not funny. Mine were stellar.

There’s an instructor, Robert, who’s part GI Joe, part cop, part drill sergeant part something (he had a weird small pony tail that didn’t fit his image otherwise). He was wearing a short sleeved shirt tucked into khaki pants with a tight belt and sturdy hiking boots. He had a trimmed pencil moustache and wired frame glasses. I would have taken a photo but there was a neon coloured warning on the desk prohibiting any media. He was gruff and surly. He ticked off every box on the Chuck Norris wanna be list.

He remarked on my baseball cap (a Grey Cup cap from my friend Shari) and snorted when we said we were Canadians. There was a time and place when being a Canadian was an enviable trait; not in Polk County in Central Florida. They think we are a laughable hot mess. We agree. Thanks Trudeau.

The class full and sarge starts barking orders. He starts by announcing that he’s an equal opportunity offender and is not politically correct. If you can’t handle it leave now. Everyone sat still. Intimidated. Turn your phones off. The restrooms are located … fill in the forms. Get your ID out. Then he looked at us with disdain … do you even have ID?? Funny guy. Then he talks about the course and the organization and the NRA and the community work they engage in. The room is filled with plaques and articles and awards. And a sign that says: if someone wants to take your gun, give them the ammo first.

Then he asks who brought a gun. A few hands go up and he says pull them out and lay them on the desk in front of you. The couple beside us pull their guns out. Hers has a pink grip. I comment quietly that it’s cute. Sarge spins around and yells: it’s not cute!! Cute will get you killed!!! Yikes.

After we complete the paperwork we are instructed to open the folders. The first part of the class is demonstrating why a concealed weapon is a potential life saver. We are presented with several news articles about self defence cases and also cases where improper gun safety resulted in casualties. It is impressed upon us that guns are tools and must always be handled properly and safely. There are three rules that were drilled into us: always point the gun in a safe direction (the safe direction depends on where you are); never put your finger on the trigger unless you are prepared to fire (your finger should always be alongside the frame of the gun) and never have your gun loaded unless you are ready to fire.

Then we learn about types of handguns. Sarge is clever when he addresses the graph in his pages showing models and makes of guns rated best to worst. It’s clear that the people who brought guns were sold substandard guns (according to sarge) and the lives of them and their loved ones was not fully protected. He recommended a simple revolver for home safety as there was less chance for error and malfunction. All of the guns brought to class were semi automatics.

We learned about bullets. I had no idea how many types there was! He brought them out and placed boxes on each desk. There are different bullets for each model of gun. The bottom line is, according to sarge, when you buy bullets make sure to buy the one exactly for your gun, open the box in store and make sure it’s the right one, hollow points will do the most damage and that’s what you want when your life is at risk. Sarge explained that a hollow point bullet will make the biggest hole and stop the assailant. He also showed us the Stop the Bleed Kit as most gun shot wounds are fatal due to loss of blood before emergency teams arrive. He tells real life stories at each lesson to emphasize the point.

Sarge has talked nonstop since 9 am sharp. At 1:15 pm he asks who needs lunch. A few hands go up. Perfect! He says; the rest of you will drive directly to the range and those having lunch will be there no later than 3 pm. Those going to the range must go directly as we start shooting at 2 pm sharp. Yes sir!

We get in the car and Rudy is grateful for the sandwich we packed in the morning. The drive to the range is about 15 min and it’s in the middle of nowhere (as suspected). I thought maybe it was an indoor range but this was nothing that would have imagined. It’s a dumpy white small shack with a tent over a bank of tables in the side yard. The tables face a lineup of targets placed in the grass and beyond the targets is a sand heap. Very rustic. When we pull in (again we are first … eager Canadians) we park beside the only other vehicle: a red mini van with “Trump Train” stickers on the side showing a face of Trump as a passenger. An elderly lady (if I had to guess I would say 80’s) comes towards us. She’s got short white hair and grey army pants belted over her NRA instructor shirt. She tells us we can’t park there we must park outside of the fence. Another sergeant.

I need to pee and she directs me inside the shack. Oh no. My phobia kicks in. She says: it’s not pretty but it’s clean and gets the job done. I find my way to a tiny toilet but it’s clean. Really clean. Whew.

Back outside the others start to arrive and we chat. One lady lives alone in 33 acres and her license had expired. The other couple had guns and they were here on behalf of their church (I had to ask … why would a church need guns? Apparently crazies target churches since they’re sitting ducks and they have security to take out any threats). But they were most curious about us. Canadians. We are something of a novelty. And laughing stock.

Sarge shows up with a large case and we walk over to the tent awning covering the tables. He opens the case and pulls out several revolvers. We each choose the one that best fits our grip. Sarge informs us that the next steps would be like Simon says. Don’t move or breathe unless instructed to do so. One by one (there’s 6 of us) we are called to step up to our chosen gun and pick up the gun. They are all still unloaded. With our unloaded guns we take the stance: toes and feet pointed forward arms up at eye level, knees slightly bent and body leaning forward. An aggressive stance that protects vital organs and is ready to shoot. Relax. Guns down. Step back.

He demonstrates how to load. Four revolvers use the cylinder and the two semis have a magazine. Step up in twos and load under careful supervision. Relax. Step back.

We are ready to aim and fire. Put on your glasses. Put on ear protection. First shooter step up. Each of us take a turn. We fire two shots. Relax. Step back. This is repeated two more times. Six shots fired at close range (10 feet) to a 9” paper plate target (someone’s chest) stapled to a board. The bullets pass through the plate and bury into the sand hill behind.

We learn to unload and reload. Fire again. Then the targets are moved further away for three of us. The others remain up close. We fire on command. Relax. Unload. Reload. Targets move again for three of us. Step up. Fire at will. Unload. Make safe. After each round we collect our paper plates. Got the first round I shook like a leaf. But I managed to hit the target. Then I got into the flow. I surprised myself (and Rudy) with my ability to hit the target. However we were marvelling at church dude who’s potential perpetrators have zero chance. This guy was good!!

The lunch group is gathering off to the side as we wrap up. When we say good bye and leave the lunch group is looking for any feedback. They are nervous, ready, scared, eager ….

We jump in the car on adrenaline highs. What a day. Back to school was never so exciting. Can’t wait to get my “report card”.

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