Ricardo met me across the border in Maryland, at the Prince George's County Trap and Skeet Center, where he rented a shotgun for me. The plan was to shoot one box of ammunition (25 shells). I hoped I would avoid utter humiliation and hit one target, if just by accident. As we stood in the dusk, the quiet interrupted by the pop-pop-pop of gunfire from the neighboring stations, making me think how lucky I was that it wasn't the sound of insurgents, a family of deer emerged to calmly regard us. I read in their look the knowledge that the lady with the Volvo was no threat.
The ammo itself made me uneasy, as if it could explode on contact, and I fumbled as I tried to load the shotgun. The first few shots didn't go well. I could hear my blood pumping in my ears, and I realized that when you close both eyes as you pull the trigger, your clay target will fall to the ground intact. I slowed my breath, forced myself to keep one eye opened, and miraculously hit the thing. In the end I blasted 11 out of 25. Ricardo was thrilled and so was I. I felt even better about myself when, after I made Ricardo shoot a box of ammo, he hit only two more targets than I did.
It's not unusual for a woman to quickly shoot well, he said. "She tends to listen to detail more precisely, and she has no preconceived notion she knows what to do."
Before I slinked back to my now-embarrassing Volvo, I stopped to watch two men shooting. They were fast and fluid and the targets shattered one after another. I am happily married, but I found myself thinking these two—whose faces I couldn't even make out—were awfully attractive. It brought to mind a newspaper article from a few years back. After the death of Hugh Culverhouse Sr., the owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his various entanglements caused his widow to sue his estate. During the court proceedings, it was revealed that Culverhouse had an affair with the wife of a now-deceased television anchor. Culverhouse's son testified that the caretaker of his father's ranch told him that the caretaker would escort the anchor's wife and Culverhouse "into the woods and they would shoot guns and basically have sex." I thought the article was hilarious at the time. Now I understood.
After my trap-shooting triumph with the shotgun, Ricardo was going to teach me to shoot pistols. They terrified me. I recalled Woody Allen as an inept bank robber in Take the Money and Run, handing the teller a note that read, "I have a gub." I thought the world would be safer if I stuck to gubs. But in the classroom, as I gripped the unloaded .38-caliber Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver, scenes from Clint Eastwood movies rushed through my head. I forced myself not so say, "Go ahead, make my day." The human hand feels like it was designed to handle a pistol. It feels as natural as a shot glass or a cigarette, and I suddenly understood why we have a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (or the Bureau of Things You Like To Fool With That Can Be Bad).
A few days later I met Ricardo at the pistol range at the bucolic Izaak Walton League in Damascus, Md. Along to record the event was Dianna Douglas, a producer from NPR. I had asked her if she had any experience with guns, thinking she might want to do some shooting. "No, no, no, no, no," she replied with a laugh. "I'm not going to want to shoot any guns. No, no, no, no, no."
I stepped up to the line and looked at the target—a paper plate with a 3-inch black bull's-eye—Ricardo had stapled to a pole 21 feet away. A few days before I had taken a yoga class, and during the breathing I envisioned myself aligning the gun's front and back sights and slowly squeezing the trigger. Now I held the revolver, cocked the hammer, and shot. I hit the plate just southeast of dead center. Ricardo told me to keep going, and I start to punch a hole in the target. Maybe I could teach yoga at the NRA!
I switched to a Beretta 92FS 9 mm Parabellum semiautomatic and again I punched a decent hole. Ricardo then let me try his Sig Sauer P226 9 mm with the crimson trace laser-grip. With this gun, when you put your finger on the trigger a red laser dot illuminates your target. Ricardo had me load the magazine with 15 bullets. (From watching movies, I had thought magazines came already loaded, which I realized was like thinking candles came already lit.) After a few shots around the center of the plate, Ricardo told me to get in a faster rhythm, and I found myself hitting with greater accuracy. "Go ahead, paper plate, make my day."
After I emptied the semi, Dianna came up hesitantly. "Umm, how hard would it be for me to umm, shoot a few rounds?" she asked Ricardo. I said, "I told you so."
"Well, you look like such a badass doing it, I want to try," she explained.
Ricardo had me be Dianna's instructor on the revolver. After I explained the basic safety rules she timidly reached for the gun. "My hands are so cold," she said as she touched it.