During summer 1970, I joined a contingent of R.O.T.C. officer candidates between their junior and senior year in college at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs for that branch of the services’ equivalent of boot camp.
The majority of those six, sleep-deprived weeks were consumed with marching in grass sprinkled with recycled water that turned our highly polished shoes white, watching instructional movies while being poked in the ribs by fellow cadets so we didn’t gain demerits for falling asleep, and—after lights out—ironing uniforms and spit polishing our stained footwear back to an anthracite glow.
As part of this training package, each of us was required to successfully complete a handgun qualification course. Before arriving at the range, the closest I had been to a gun was when I was four or five years old. I espied a rifle hanging on a basement wall above my dad’s workbench. When I inquired about it, my father told me it was his from the war. At some point soon afterwards, it came down and I never saw it again.
Despite my lack of experience, I managed to qualify at the Colorado Springs range and, as a “treat,” was allowed to fire an M-16, the military equivalent to what became the AR-15. We were allowed to fire in semi-automatic configuration—meaning individual squeezes of the trigger were required to launch a round—in standing, kneeling, and prone positions.
In the brief span of time required to fire several rounds, I still recall the rush of adrenalin and the overwhelming sense of power I felt as I pulled the trigger, heard the report, felt the minor kick, and saw the destruction of an object positioned so distant that I had to use a scope to see it.
The euphoria of that sequence might be likened to tossing a fifty-yard, game-winning touchdown pass, being chosen class president, or elected homecoming queen.
It scared the shit out of me: that sense of potency; the ability to destroy an object (or worse) far beyond the range of my own hands. I decided then and there to stay away from guns, not because I feared them, but because I feared what they could do to the psyche of an otherwise non-aggressive, nerdy guy like me or anyone else with a mindset to use such a weapon off the battlefield
Mother Jones, February 27, 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/02/assault-weapons-high-capacity-magazines-mass-shootings-feinstein