Dozens escape injury as our intrepid reporter opens fire at a Nashville gun range 

Pistol Packin' Mama

Pistol Packin' Mama
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Michael W. Bunch

Where: Nashville Armory

When: November 20, 11:18 a.m.

It all started with a naughty raccoon.

A few weeks ago, I received a panicked late-night phone call from my friend Kylie, who was entirely convinced that someone was trying to break into her house. Being a fellow single gal who lives alone, I can sympathize: It's scary when you hear strange noises late at night. If you're caught off guard, and you don't have a big strong protector there on the premises, you might run into your kitchen and grab the first utensil you find for defense. This is how Kylie ended up hiding in her bathroom, armed with a spatula.

While this particular noise was just a raccoon doing some late-night spelunking in Kylie's crawlspace, it did raise awareness of how vulnerable she was in the event of an actual emergency. Since very few marauders are routed, injured or restrained by the common kitchen spatula, we decided to learn how to truly defend ourselves.

Thus we ended up at the Nashville Armory, Tennessee's premier firearms complex. We rounded up a small group of folks with various levels of expertise in the gun department, which I would rank in this order, from lowest to highest:

Me: Second time holding a weapon of destruction, possesses poor hand-eye coordination and even worse spatial orientation;

Kylie: Limited experience with firearms, but hails from Australia, so naturally a badass and probably good at killing things;

Tristan: The youngest in the group at 10 years old, but shows promise as the son of a former Marine;

Will: Former Marine ... enough said.

We arrived at the Nashville Armory just off I-65 near 100 Oaks on a gorgeous November morning just before Thanksgiving. I'd only been in one other shooting range, and that one was located in a Middle Tennessee strip mall. It was all prison lighting and dodgy people who probably know a thing or two about prison lighting. So my bar was set pretty low.

That bar was blown out of the room when I walked inside. The Nashville Armory calls to mind a really nice car dealership showroom, except with S&Ws instead of BMWs. The employees are all super friendly and knowledgeable, and not one of them was dismissive or condescending to a girl who spent most of her morning figuring out what to wear to a shooting range. (In case you're wondering, I decided upon pleather pants, a wife-beater, and a denim shirt from Tractor Supply Company.)

Despite hailing from a family filled with cops, I know nothing about guns, so I try to pay attention during the informative video they make you watch in a little classroom off the lobby. Unfortunately, I'm sitting in the back row with Kylie, and we instantly transform into the disruptive kids who sit in the back of the class. She's doodling on her release form. I'm playing on Facebook on my phone.

Will, on the other hand, is sitting in front of us with Tristan, who is watching intently. I start to feel bad for being such a bad example. It doesn't help when Will — noting that neither Kylie nor myself is paying attention — says, "Did you guys read the release form you're about to sign?"

I scan the document, which is titled "Acknowledgement of Risk, Release & Indemnity Agreement." Well, that sounds serious. I better read this.

Further investigation of said document reveals that, if I sign this form, I may or may not be subjecting myself to hazards including slipping, falling, inhalation of contaminants, contact with hot brass, contact with flying brass and falling ceiling tiles. Hey, with my inherently clumsy nature, I'm subjected to these kinds of hazards on nearly a daily basis — I've fallen out of two different hot tubs this month, people. Sure, my activities today could result in "being shot by or shooting myself or others," but that's pretty unlikely, right?

I sign the paper. As soon as the video is over, we are instructed to select our guns and our targets. Will brought a few guns with him, but I spy a bright pink rifle on the wall that I simply must use.

"Can I have the pink one?" I ask Karen, the woman behind the counter.

Karen looks at the gun, then looks back at me. "It's a kids' gun, but sure," she responds.

I decide that's probably a safe place for me to start. But I feel kind of stupid for picking a children's gun. I need to feel better about myself. Is there anybody here who knows less about weaponry than me?

"Hey Kylie," I say smugly. "Do you know what a magazine is?"

Kylie looks at me blankly. "What on earth are you talking about?" she asks. I giggle. I feel better already.

I select a male zombie target named "Big Todd" and suit up with my eye and ear protection. It's not a sexy look, folks — if you're picturing Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight, adjust your setting to Carl Reiner in Ocean's Eleven. We enter the shooting stall area, which is pretty full for a random Tuesday morning. As unsexy as those ear protectors are, I'm grateful to partially drown out the never-not-startling crackle of gunfire that permeates the room.

We attach our targets to the target backers. If you accidentally shoot above the line on the target backer, you are charged $8. I learn this $48 later.

I load my Barbie gun and set my target to 10 yards out. On my first shot, I get Big Todd right in the face. I'm pretty proud. Everyone else seems surprised.

Apparently, I was experiencing some beginner's luck, because throughout the rest of our session I manage to shoot everything except my target. I also break a nail on a .38 Special. Up until today, that was a term I associated with a band I can't stand. Now it's a gun I can't stand.

I have a go with a semi-automatic that I find only mildly terrifying. Just like in the movies, Will suggests I shoot from the hip and let 'er rip. How anyone aims while doing that is beyond me, because I'm fairly certain that all I hit was air.

Disillusioned with my rapidly declining gun skills, I lose interest and relinquish my stall to Kylie. Will is showing her how to load a 9mm gun.

"Oh! That's what a magazine is!" I hear Kylie exclaim, over the din of multiple guns going off at the same time.

Well, at least we learned something today. Raccoons of Nashville, watch out.

Email editor@nashvillescene.com

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