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A field trip to The Range 

The gun debate is uncomfortable and complicated

When I arrived at The Range, a female-owned firearms shooting facility in Lake Norman, I couldn't have felt more uncomfortable. I was there to meet up with several female CL staffers. They were there to shoot guns and write about the experience for this week's cover story.

The exterior of the facility is earthy adobe yellow with stone columns in the front that give the place a sort of dusty, OK Corral feel. Just inside is a retail area — The Range's version of a golf pro shop — where gun enthusiasts were milling about, looking at weapons of all kinds, colors (even pink) and brands, from semi-automatic Glock handguns to those scary-looking AR-15 rifles often referred to as assault weapons.

The staffers at The Range were all smiles and very friendly, helpfully explaining the details of each weapon like a pro shop attendant would talk about the newest state-of-the-art Callaway driver. And the instructors were patient and thorough with our ragtag band of alt-weekly reporters. They kept their political opinions about the gun debate clear and composed — at least until one member of our group referred to the AR-15 as an "assault rifle." That ruffled our instructor, Randy.

"It's not an assault rifle," Randy protested. "There's no such thing as an 'assault rifle.' That's what the anti-gun people call weapons they don't like."

Don't get me wrong: I was not made to feel uncomfortable when I walked into The Range. I was uncomfortable because I don't like guns. I don't think of guns in terms of sports or recreation. I think of guns as tools designed solely to kill living, breathing creatures. That colors my feelings about the gun problem in this country. I'm aware of that. To Randy, guns are synonymous with sports and recreation. He tells us he can't play golf, but that as a military veteran, he's very good at shooting guns. That's going to color his feelings about the gun issue. And he's aware of that, too.

I may not like that so many Americans love guns, but my likes or dislikes shouldn't be brought into the gun debate. Some people might not like the fact that I enjoy the music of a radical, politically left hip-hop group called The Coup, but their feelings shouldn't be considered if lawmakers wanted to legislate the kinds of music we listen to. And yet, as far as I know, no mentally unbalanced person has ever walked into a school with a loaded, semi-automatic Coup album and blown away a bunch of kids. And I don't keep my Coup album at home to "protect" my family from intruders. If my kid got a hold of my Coup album, she wouldn't accidentally kill herself or a friend with it.

That's my take on the gun issue. The issue is much more subtle and nuanced than that, I know. But that's my take on it.

The CL staff got to talking about the gun debate in an editorial meeting just after the Sandy Hook tragedy. The majority of the editorial staffers here are female, and I was a little surprised by the range of opinions among them. (Yes, I had stereotyped them.) One said she had recently received a handgun as a gift from her father. Another said she grew up loving to shoot firearms. And another said she was afraid of guns. It got us thinking: Why not take a field trip — go shoot some guns and write about the experience, try to come to some deeper understanding of these objects that have caused such polarization in this country? Why not look at the gun debate from a woman's perspective?

The gun issue is not just liberals versus conservatives, Democrats versus Republicans or Libertarians, women versus men — it's more complicated than that. We've heard from plenty of liberals who don't want the government taking their guns, even if they do support some regulation. (Just check out www.theliberalgunclub.com.) And we've heard from a conservative federal judge in California, Larry Alan Burns, who argues that the country needs much stronger gun control.

Our cover story will not change any minds. It does not deeply analyze the arguments for or against gun control. It simply takes you inside the minds of a few women who write for Creative Loafing. They went to The Range and shot a few rounds. They had a good time. And they left with the same ideas they had about guns when they walked into the place.

By the way, for a guy who doesn't like guns, I was told by a gun-loving friend who went along for the ride that I'm a pretty damn good shot. That didn't change my mind about guns either. I'm also pretty good at darts. I think I'll stick to that.

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