I haven’t written anything about this for awhile, but I’m still working on a writing project about learning how to shoot, gun culture, women and guns, and other things I can’t seem to quite categorize or pin down. The project has grown larger in scope than I originally intended, and it’s somewhat nebulous. I’ve been scouring the library holdings where I teach for books about guns, and I sometimes wonder if the research librarian has red-flagged my library account, as I’ve been running searches like this: “women and guns” “gun violence” etc. It’s made for some interesting summer reading.
One of my writer friends, Rachel Kramer Bussel, told me about a documentary called A Girl and A Gun and I’m really excited to watch it. I wish it was coming to a theater near Minneapolis, but it looks like I’ll have to download it on itunes.
This morning on The Hairpin I came across an interview with Cathryne Czubek, who created the documentary. After reading the interview, now I really want to watch the documentary.
In the interview, Czubek talks about how she shot a gun for the first time alongside a 10-year-old girl, and how some of these girls took up skeet shooting as a way to bond with their fathers. In the process of learning how to shoot, I have found that my interest in guns has resulted in bonding with some of my male (and female!) family members, and family friends. When I was home in Pennsylvania last summer, I shot a pistol, rifle, and shotgun with my best friend from home, J, and her dad. I have known both J and her dad my entire life, but shooting clays with them was a bonding experience, unlike any other we’ve had. I could tell that J’s dad enjoyed teaching us the mechanics of how the shotgun worked, giving us pointers on how to aim, and just spending time with us, teaching us about something he loves to do. Every time J or I hit a clay, her dad let out a whoop of genuine excitement.
In Pennsylvania, I shot a variety of guns with one of my uncles, and that too was a bonding experience. This uncle likes to hunt, and now that I am interested in hunting and shooting, we have a lot to talk about. My uncle coached me on how to shoot my dad’s old thirty-ought-six, and as I was shooting, I remember thinking how cool it was that I was shooting my dad’s old gun, and that my uncle was coaching me on how to shoot it. There we were, in the woods, shooting targets, old beer cans, and water jugs, and it was so much fun. My dad’s gun was heavy and had a significant recoil that left me with bruises dotting my shoulder, but I’d gladly shoot it again.
Likewise, on that Pennsylvania trip another friend from home invited me up to her back 40 and her brother coached me on how to shoot all kinds of guns. He had set up a number of targets, including but not limited to: a water heater, some boxes, actual targets, soda bottles and beer cans, and a toilet. I shot a toilet with an AR-15, while wearing a WWII helmet, just because I could. There’s a lot more to this story, but you’ll have to wait until I publish the book to read about it.
In my personal experience, the people in my life have been quite generous in mentoring me as I learn about guns. They have been excited about teaching me what they know, and when I set out to begin this project, I hadn’t foreseen how it would strengthen my relationships with them. It has also strengthened my relationship with my husband, as we both enjoy shooting, although he prefers shooting handguns, while I prefer shooting shotguns. Last summer, when we were up in north-central Minnesota, our friend D taught us how to load and shoot a shotgun, and my husband and I shot clays for hours under the unrelenting Minnesota sun. It was a fabulous day.
The bonding and relationship strengthening and building was not something I had foreseen in the early days of my gun project, but it has been good, and it got me to thinking about my gun experience in a different way. Why am I so interested in shooting? Obviously I am interested in how women and guns go together, and how they’re portrayed in popular culture, and guns as a feminist issue. But there’s more to it than that, I think. Learning how to shoot, and researching this project has been a way for me to connect with the rural Pennsylvania of my youth, and also a way to connect with my friends and family there, now that I live in suburban Minnesota, which seems about as far away from my childhood experience as possible. So maybe in a way I am like those 10-year-old girls in Maine who are skeet shooting in part to bond with their dads. Instead I am a 32-year-old woman learning how to shoot as a way to get back to a certain time and place, and to bond in a new way with important people in my life. Maybe it’s also a way to acknowledge part of who I am, and where I am from. I’ve been living in suburban Minnesota since 2003, and that’s 13 years, but I spent the first 22 years of my life in rural Pennsylvania, and my experiences there obviously played a large role in shaping who I am today.
While I am enjoying the process of this writing project, there is a bit of sadness to it. The person who might’ve been the most excited about it, and who would’ve loved to mentor me on how to shoot is gone. I like to imagine that if there is a heaven, per my Catholic upbringing (and I have no idea what I believe on that subject, and that is a whole separate blog post), that this person is looking down from the clouds and is as excited about this project as I am. I would’ve loved to have shot with this person, and I think they would’ve loved shooting with me. I think about them every time I shoot, and when I’m doing research.
One of my favorite essays involving guns is “Shooting Dad” by Sarah Vowell. It can be found in essay collection Take the Cannoli. It’s about much more than just guns, including father/daughter relationships and politics. The last paragraph of this essay is just phenomenal (talk about ending with a bang!).
As you can see, I’ve been thinking about all of this quite a bit. Guns, Women, Writing. There is lots more to come…