The subject of personal ownership of guns came up during the discussion on a recent post, and one respondent wrote, "Never had a gun, don’t want one, lotsa people get shot with their own gun…."
Well, as I was reminded over the weekend, you don’t actually have to shoot yourself to get hurt firing a gun. Or — forgive me — I should say, a rifle.
Somehow, I had gotten to my current ripe old age without ever having fired a high-powered rifle. I had experience with pistol (can’t hit a durn’ thing with ’em), rifle (which I’m not bad at, for a civilian), and shotgun (which you don’t have to be all that good with to hit something).
But when I say "rifle," I mean .22s. Anybody can hit a tin can with a .22, I suppose.
But Saturday, I was visiting kin up in Marlboro County, and my cousin had a new .30-06 rifle he wanted to try out. So we went out to some land belonging to a friend of my uncle’s, where there was an open field with about a 10-foot embankment of earth piled up at one end of it. That’s where we put the paper target.
My cousin shot first, it being his rifle. It was a short, carbine-like weapon with a sort of built-in clip arrangement on the bottom. You swing out the clip thing, load in three rounds in staggered formation, and swing it back up until it snaps into place under the bolt-action breech.
Now, I had been thinking ".30 caliber — that’s not all that much more than a .22." Maybe, if you’re talking about an M-16 kind of .223 round. See, I had reckoned without the enormous shell behind the modest slug — one of those things about three inches long, with most of its length looking to be about twice the diameter of the slug. That’s a lot of powder. That’s a big bullet.
When the first shot was fired, I went straight to my car, opened my briefcase (which is filled with junk for all sorts of contingencies), and pulled out some foam earplugs. Wow.
I had to hurry to get back to Columbia, so I asked to go next, after my cousin had fired a couple of clips. He handed it over, showed me how the first cartridge went in, and I managed to insert the other two of those artillery shells without embarrassing myself. I asked where the safety was, and fumbled with it a bit.
My cousin had noted what a light weapon it was, and he was right. A little too light, I believe. I assumed what I hoped was a good standing position, my feet forming a line about 30 degrees from the direction of fire. I drew it up firmly to my shoulder, aimed the best I could (it was a kind of sight I’d never seen before, and pulled the trigger.
BLAM! The thing slammed into my bony shoulder like somebody hitting me with a baseball bat, while the barrel jerked way up and a little off to the right.
It hurt like an SOB. My immediate thought was, "I do NOT want to do this again." But rather than wimp out, I brought the barrel back down and got ready to fire again. I really tensed up for the second shot, making sure it was tight against my shoulder, and gripping firmly with my left hand to keep the muzzle pointed downrange. It didn’t work. It still kicked like a donkey, and ended up pointed at the sky.
I only have to get through one more round. This time I forced myself to relax, to hold it a little more lightly, and to remember to squeeze the trigger with even pressure throughout my hand, rather than jerk it. I missed the target by about a foot.
My second had missed, too. But miracle of miracles, my first shot — before I knew what I was in for — had actually grazed the black center of the target. And — ahem — mine was the first one to do so.
But I got to thinking later: The M1 Garand fired more or less the same ammunition, from a clip of eight, I believe. And the M-1 Carbine was pretty light (although I think it also fired lighter ammo; somebody tell me if I’m wrong). The average WWII Army recruit, according to Stephen Ambrose, was:
… five feet eight inches tall, weighed 144 pounds, had a thirty-three-and-a-half-inch chest, and a thirty-one-inch waist.
How on Earth did a little guy like that (a thirty-three-and-a-half-inch chest!!!) fire clip after clip of that ammunition and still have use of his right arm? Sure, they were half my age (an average of 26), and they probably knew some trick that I don’t know about the proper way to seat the butt against the shoulder, and the Garand was heavier than the carbine, but still. It makes me respect those guys — all of whom have been my heroes my whole life — even more.
Maybe I wasn’t holding it right; I don’t know. But if it hurt like that, after a day of fighting through the hedgerows, when the time came that the sergeant told us to dig in for the night, I think I might have said, "Sarge, why don’t we just let the Germans have France?"
Of course, knowing the way soldiers gripe, I’m sure a lot of guys did say that. But they still dug in, and got up and fought again the next day.