I've been on a quest to find a sport non-sporting enough for me to actually participate in. I had ruled out bowling, as I can't hack the cardio, and badminton, because I am deathly afraid of netting, so I decided to take up shooting. As a sports columnist, I may not be qualified to decide if the current tyrant threat level (currently it stands at Code Mauve: cloudy with a 9 percent chance of Megatron) merits the mountains of firearms we as a nation have been accumulating, but I think I can talk about the sporting end of things. Now, hunting is a sport because there is a chance you'll lose your life to a lion or your reputation to the wild sexual allegations of some no-good moose who just wants the publicity. (Seriously, who are you going to believe, me or Timmy-Two-Antlers? Do you think it's just a coincidence his album dropped the same week?) But as the only real hunting in Baltimore would get me kicked out of the zoo or the dog park, I decided to take my quest to the FreeState Gun Range in exotic Middle River, near White Marsh.
On the surface, shooting would appear to have everything I'm looking for in a sport: rental earmuffs, squinting, and a moderate anaerobic index-finger workout. But for a guy who's only shot a gun a handful of times and nearly lost an eye playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey (details in a future Spitballin', once I get through the court-mandated counseling), there is the very real danger of death. With safety in mind, I went with a police officer friend who, I'd hoped, knew what he was doing, and with the exception of trusting me with a weapon, he checked out.
With my cop friend on point, this was turning into the best day of shooting I'd ever had, if for nothing more than he knew what to say at the counter. Gun ranges can be intimidating-not just because nearly everyone there is armed, but because they are also frequently dicks. I've found shooting ranges to be a lot like comic book shops: They are often full of mouth-breathing hoarder nerds with an underdeveloped understanding of human interaction and an odd belief that they are the gatekeepers of some secret world. The folks at FreeState, however, couldn't be nicer, which they didn't have to be, as I'm pretty sure they've got a gun behind the counter. Possibly hidden under the dozens and dozens of guns.
I do own a weapon for home defense, a 12-gauge shotgun. I figure if I ever have to defend myself against a home, maybe Evil Dead style, shit has gone truly and horribly awry, and I'm going to need some serious stopping power, but my buddy brought a panoply of pistols, plus a special treat, so that I might find my inner firearm. Going to the shooting range is a bit like the sorting assembly at Hogwarts, except instead of putting on a magical talking hat that looks oddly like Grimace, you spread your legs just a bit, grab a hard, oiled piece, and pump some slugs downrange until you're empty. Turns out I like 'em long and black.
Even so, it's difficult for me to think of shooting as a sport. Like, you know the sport coat? Did you ever wonder what sport it was for? It's not some bizarre alternate home uniform for the Toledo Mud Hens; it's for shooting. It would never work for a more athletic sport like horseshoes, where mobility is so important. Then there are the ranges. They lack the whimsy of a putt-putt course-it's just simple lanes where you condition yourself to blast holes in paper targets. It would be cool if the targets were kinda putt-putt-y, with castles and UFOs and stuff. There was one guy shooting at targets of garden gnomes pushing wheelbarrows full of pink-flamingos that really had me wondering about his history with lawn ornaments, but for the most part, the targets are shaped like people.
As a guy who didn't grow up with guns, just holding them, even unloaded, feels dangerous, like holding a handful of death. We started with a Glock 22, and at first I didn't trust the weapon. I was afraid it would go off on its own, and the fact that Glocks don't have a manual safety didn't help. Pointing it downrange still didn't feel safe. I was constantly worried I was going to kill someone. But once I got into it, I was struck by the other thing that makes shooting not feel like a sport: It's so easy.
The gun weighs just a pound and a half; cocking it is a two-finger affair; and when it comes to pulling the trigger, this gun is supposed to be a heavy draw, but it just slides so easy: Blam. Blam-Blam-Blam-Blam-Blam! It doesn't take long at the range to go from terror to a terrific time. Pretty soon I am draining mags and annihilating center mass. If I am ever attacked by a silhouette with excellent posture, I am ready.
The Glock was fun, in a goody-goody Gryffindor kinda way, but when I took a turn on the AR-15 assault rifle, I realized I'm a Slytherin boy. The black military weapon was a revelation in simplicity. The magazine slid in so easy, raising the rifle to my shoulder and squeezing off a few rounds blew me away. It was the loudest thing I'd ever heard, but it kicked like a nip-addled kitten-just put the laser where you want it and bye-bye paper human-shape.
For a minute I thought, Man, I gotta get one of these! Even with the post-Newtown run on ARs, there is a bunch for sale on the wall, and while it may not be a sport and I definitely don't need it, it would be a hell of a lot of fun to own. But my first love is motorsports, and if I'm gonna drop that kinda cake, I'd rather put it toward wheels. I've always wanted a fast car-I'd love one of those new Dallara Indycars, of course you can't get one of those, it doesn't have bumpers, headlights, or a windshield, it's too low to the ground, and the tires are too wide, not to mention how loud it is and the lack of emissions controls. That car is illegal. Apparently it's too dangerous.