Danielle Berrin takes aim at the Los Angeles Gun Club shooting range. Photos and video by Rick Sorkin

How Trump made me a Second Amendment American


We called ourselves Bonnie and Clyde for the day.

We felt dangerous and powerful holding the gun between our fists, laying our eyes on the target, spraying bullets into the air.

Boom! Bullet to the head.

Boom! Bullet to the eye.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Thigh, kidney, heart.

I never imagined I’d be a good shot. But there I was, spending a Friday afternoon at the Los Angeles Gun Club, shooting a weapon for the first time.

Something about the frenzied atmosphere of paranoia caused by the Donald Trump Administration — with its covert Russian ties, autocratic tendencies and growing contempt for the press (not to mention the surge of the alt-right) — inspired me to get a handle on self-defense.

I wasn’t alone. The New Yorker recently reported that Silicon Valley and Wall Street executives are buying foreign landing strips and underground luxury apartments, and stocking up on ammunition, preparing for the “crackup of civilization.” It’s a bit hysterical, I admit, and the moral calculus of the über-wealthy seeking only to spare themselves is disturbing. But it got me thinking: What recourse do the rest of us have if we can’t afford an end-of-days investment in former missile silos?

Enter: The Gun.

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Growing up, I never encountered one. “Mom was a little freaked out about them,” my dad said. So, we didn’t have one in the house. Guns, for me, were exotic and unfamiliar — the domain of Hollywood movies, faraway wars or my dad’s Republican cousin. As an adult, I came to associate guns with mass shootings and politics; at shul, I frequently heard sermons on behalf of gun control, but my exposure to the real thing was limited.

“I’m taking you shooting,” my friend, musician Rick Sorkin, said to me.

So, off we went to a nondescript building on a quiet block downtown. Inside, the L.A. Gun Club offers a dazzling array of firearms for rent and a small indoor shooting range.

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Guns were everywhere — symmetrically layed out in glass cases, mounted on walls and sitting in the holsters of the clerks who work there. An assortment of paper targets was plastered throughout for your shooting pleasure — a terrorist in a bush, a sketch of the human anatomy, or a plain old bull’s-eye. It was like a library, devoted to the culture of killing machines.

To get a gun, all Rick and I had to do was sign a release, then leave a fingerprint and a driver’s license. Minutes later, I was holding a Glock 17 in my hands — “popular with law enforcement,” the clerk said. Since it was my first time, he performed a brief demonstration, showing me how to lock, load and shoot before we entered the range.

DSC_0048Rick clicked in a round of cartridges, then handed me my first loaded gun. My nerves simmered as I gripped it, one hand over the other, index finger flat on the side, right above the trigger.

I stood in our little chamber as the sound of rifles exploded all around us, so loud it was dizzying, despite the fact I was wearing both earplugs and earmuffs. Feet firmly apart, I lifted the gun and aimed at the target.

“Take a deep breath, then pull the trigger on the exhale,” Rick said.

But I could barely breathe, I was so overwhelmed. I was sure the thing either was going to accidentally kill someone or backfire in my face.

“I don’t think I can do it,” I told him.

But there was no way I was going to chicken out while a guy had all the fun.

I squinted over the top of the barrel and aimed for the head on the target.

Boom! Right through the brain.

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Blood surged through my veins in a heady rush of adrenaline and excitement. I had metaphorically killed a man with my very first shot. That’s how easy it is to end a life.

Shooting a gun, it turns out, can be exhilarating, especially when you’re good at it. It also demystifies an object associated with death and destruction. As a woman, it’s empowering to hold a weapon in your hands and know how to use it. But it’s a complicated power — God forbid you ever need to exercise it.

DSC_0158The more I pounded my paper target, the more I realized the dissonance of what I was doing: Target practice is fun, even a bit addictive, but let’s be honest, it’s not the reason guns exist. They were created to kill animals and human beings.

That doesn’t mean, given the current political atmosphere and the history of our country, that I’m not grateful for the constitutional right to bear arms. I like that more than 200 years after the Second Amendment was adopted, a relatively defenseless urbanite like myself can walk into a gun range, get some instruction and learn a new way to protect myself — though I’m also aware of the risks of gun ownership and that I’d need more training and practice before I ever felt comfortable, God forbid, using a gun to save myself or someone else.

I also know the religious tradition I love aspires to a prophetic vision of a world of nonviolence, where swords will turn into plowshares and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

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But from one afternoon, the Demon Gun now feels a little less demonic. And me? I feel a little more American.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

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