Jeffrey Goldberg

Jeffrey Goldberg

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 9 1999 9:30 PM

Jeffrey Goldberg

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The place I usually go to shoot guns, the Blue Ridge Arsenal, is located in a boxy industrial park in Chantilly, Virginia, not too far from Dulles International Airport. When I first heard the name Blue Ridge Arsenal, I pictured some sort of slag-heap firing range in a smoky hollow frequented by toothless, gut-heaving rednecks who would say things like "Goldberg? What is that, a German name?" and then try to stomp the shit out of me, which I wouldn't let them do because I am a badass Jew who is ready for gunplay.

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So I was disappointed to find the Blue Ridge Arsenal a friendly, mainstreamish place where even Jews are welcome. I didn't even have to flash my NRA card to buy ammo. This is not to say that Blue Ridge is the gun equivalent of Fresh Fields. They're different out there--they drive pickups, they eat fried-pork products, they don't get irony, but so what? I'm sick of irony. They don't get shtick, or neurosis either--they certainly don't get neurosis shtick--but who cares? Man does not live by shtick alone, even Jewish Man, though science hasn't yet proved this last point.

I'm not actually a member of the NRA, mind you, it's just that it keeps sending me these colorful hard-plastic membership cards as enticements to sign up. The NRA's most recent solicitation arrived a couple of days after the ACLU's most recent letter reached me. The NRA's letter was better. For one thing, it was signed by Charlton Heston, whereas the ACLU letter was signed by Nadine Strossen. Also, the ACLU had the nerve to ask me to "accept this personal invitation to become a 'card-carrying member,' " but then didn't include a colorful hard-plastic card, like the NRA did. I love those plastic membership cards. I carried one identifying me as a member of the World Jewish Congress until the day I was getting on a plane to Afghanistan and realized that the Taliban most definitely doesn't get shtick. (I actually cut up and threw away that card in Islamabad, and worried hard about whether Pakistani intelligence also doesn't get shtick.)

But, guns. I will say that though I refuse to join the NRA on the grounds that it advocates nonsense, I do read the Second Amendment differently than most people I know do, which is to say, the Second Amendment allows citizens of the United States to bear arms. I'm not an activist in this cause--I'm more an activist in support of the Third Amendment, which, by my reading, is a constitutional safeguard against unwanted houseguests--but I feel strongly enough about this that I'm almost willing to move to Virginia from Washington. But not quite.

Lately, I've been working with a shooting instructor, who I'm hoping will certify me NRA-qualified, though I don't know exactly what that will get me, except the chance to shock magazine editors and Reform rabbis by saying that I'm NRA-qualified.

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This time, though, I was out on the range alone, firing the Glock 9-mm. What I wanted to do was fire 41 bullets as fast as possible. I've been thinking quite a bit about the Diallo shooting in the Bronx, and I'm trying to understand how four officers could fire 41 times without realizing that they've fired 41 times. This is what 41 shots sound like, more or less, because I had to reload a couple of times: bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang and bang.

Which, when the smoke cleared, made me think three things: One is, poor guy. Two is, just who was in charge of training those cops? It is one thing to fire on someone you think may be carrying a weapon, but it is another for you to empty your clip in him. Three is, I feel sorry for those cops. This wasn't Abner Louima redux. This was a terrible mistake.

I spoke to Bill Bratton about this last week. He's the former police commissioner in New York, and I asked him what he thinks happened. "No one can justify 41 shots in those circumstances," he said. "This becomes a situation where panic comes into play."

Pardon me for that little reporting diversion, but it proves a point: People who are properly trained in handgun use don't generally make mistakes. This is what my gun-hating friends don't realize. They think guns just go off. They don't. I'm not entirely comfortable with American gun culture, but there's a middle ground, inhabited by neither the ACLU nor the NRA.

I will say this, though: At least the gunnies have a sense of humor. A bumper sticker sold by Blue Ridge and stuck on the backs of some of the pickups outside reads: "Keep Honking While I Reload." I live in an area in which the most popular bumper sticker seems to be, "Thelma and Louise Live," followed by "Stop CVS." I'll take "Keep Honking While I Reload" over those.