Lock or load

2011-09-16 00:00

SHE placed the gun in my hand. It dropped slightly. The weapon was heavier than I had anticipated.

“Um ... I don’t know what to do.”

She loaded the ammunition and handed the .22 Star Pistol back to me.

“Cock it,” she instructed, demonstrating what to do.

I tried to pull back the slide but it didn’t budge. I tightened my fingers around it and tried again. Nothing.

I looked at her sheepishly, and she removed the gun from my hands and effortlessly pulled back the slide. It was loaded and ready.

The cold metal was back in my hands. I held it out in front of me, pretending that I knew how to aim. I barely felt my finger touch the trigger. Bam. A shell flew out.

I paused, staring at the hole that appeared at the top of the paper target. Nothing existed, but that piece of paper and I.

“Keep going,” she said.

I didn’t want to stop.

It was a Friday. The Witness ­web master and video maker, Ryan Calder, decided to gather some troops to check out the Bushbuck Training Centre (BTC), armed with his filming equipment.

His chosen ones: Bongani Hans, deputy news editor Thando Mgaga, Lungani Zama and me. The fatal five. It was a deadly combo and Ryan facebooked his goodbyes before leaving the office, just in case something went wrong.

Greeted by our trainers Anusha Joubert (the administrator of BTC) and Wayne Janneker, we were seated for a brief about firearms in South Africa and training methods by Jaya Dhewnanan. Behind her, a faded newspaper article was stuck to the wall with the headline: “Jaya shoots to the top of her game”.

“Women are joining in large numbers,” she said. The reason for this is mainly due to women needing to feel safe in an environment where crime is rampant. I imagined a colony of Lara Crofts, Sarah Connors and the women from Charlie’s Angels, mowing through fields of criminals. Epic.

She continued about the regulations involving firearms, the responsibility that comes with having one and the limitations for acquiring one. Bongani came with a notebook of questions that seemed endless. In school, he would have been the eager one who did all his homework and answered all the questions. The guy who every person secretly wishes they could be, without being mocked. The rest of us just wanted to shoot.

“Firearms teach people responsibility,” said Wayne. “I grew up in front of a firearm because my father was a sport shooter, and it taught me how to be responsible.”

Finally, we were ready to hit the range. Thando and Lungani bounced ahead in their gangster gait, leading the pack. “They’re just trigger happy,” explained Ryan.

The firing haven was across the street and through a narrow passage. It was small and dusky. I searched the screed flooring for any signs of blood to evaluate the level of danger ahead.

A safety briefing and tutorial followed, with the signing of indemnity forms creating a sense of foreboding.

“So, this can kill someone?” asked Thando, holding one of the bullets in his hand.

“Yes, that can seriously kill a person,” replied Anusha, emphasising that killing someone has various ­degrees of seriousness. “Safety is paramount. Moving with the gun implies intent to kill, and I don’t want to die today because it’s Friday.”

The BTC aims to teach responsible firearm handling, which includes ensuring that your finger is always off the trigger unless you are firing; that people should not fire warning shots up in the air, keeping in mind the trajectory of a projectile; and one should always treat every firearm, whether airsoft or real, as a live weapon.

Caption: Lungani Zama, Thando Mgaga, Bongani Hans (kneeling), Anusha Joubert (administrator of BTC) Ryan Calder and Tharuna Devchand at the Bushbuck Training Centre.

There was more to firing a weapon than I had imagined — different stances, methods of holding the weapon and finding the target, and most importantly, specific steps to follow before even thinking of firing.

“When you pull the trigger you are going to feel it,” said Anusha. “You are going to feel like ‘whoa, what was that’. And then after that your adrenalin kicks in. That is why I love the range so much. The first shot always lets you jump that high.”

Up first was Lungani, who jammed the gun before he could fire it, but he redeemed himself by hitting the bull’s-eye in the first round, and landed an overall score of nine out of 10.

“Firing a gun is always something that you wonder about, so it was exciting to try it out,” he said. “There is a real sense of power and control that you get; you know how much damage it can cause and you have it in your hands. Cocking the gun was the best part for me. You know the gun is fully loaded, you hear that click and know the bullet is in place.”

Next up was Thando, the mob boss.

“The thing is, I know I’m gonna miss. I know I’m gonna miss,” he said anxiously.

He missed.

“The more you miss, the more chances you get to do this thing,” commented Bongani, eagerly awaiting his turn as Thando reloaded the gun. Bongani — the one who strongly felt that gun ownership is wrong in all respects.

Thando and Bongani got a score of 10 out of 10 on their target sheets, but failed to injure the target’s core. And then I was behind the gat.

A shell flew out of the gun onto my jacket, and I automatically picked it up with my fingers. Before I knew what was happening, Anusha’s arms were around me, and the gun was out of my hands and on the table. My fingers were sore from the burning piece of metal.

“It’s hot,” said Anusha, a tad late.

By the third shot, I thought that I had mastered the art of firing a gun. Then I looked at the target and noticed that my aim seemed to levitate to the top of the page.

“Try inhaling and exhaling slowly when you fire,” suggested Wayne.

Bull’s-eye. Overall score: 10 out of 10. I was busy basking in my glory as the woman who defeated the team, when Ryan aimed the piece and hit bull’s-eye three times. By the time he was done, the paper target was bleeding.

Rationalising the day, we all loved the shooting range but none of us really wanted a gun.

“We do need guns,” said Lungani, “but people don’t stick to the guidelines and accidents happen.”

Ryan, however, was the true voice of reason, “There are too many stupid people around. If the way people drive is anything to go by. Imagine if all those people who owned cars, owned guns.”

• For details, phone Jaya Dhewnanan at 033 342 0481 or e-mail jaya@btcgroup.co.za


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