Gunning for a Good Time
By PETER L. HOPKINS
Crimson Staff Writer
Waking up with a hangover is never easy. This is simply a fact of nature, much like gravity or relativity. Last Sunday morning, however, I learned just how hard an early-morning hangover could be.
I had been up for little more than an hour. In that time, I had nursed myself to an uneasy state of recovery through a self-prescribed regimen of temple massaging, controlled breathing and eye squints—all while en route to Manchester, N.H., from Cambridge. I was still in that precarious physical condition where even the sound of my own swallowing rocked my head like a bullhorn when we arrived at our destination. So, one can imagine how my fragile equilibrium—and my will to live—were jolted when suddenly a noise as sharp and as a loud as a gunshot rang out.
It was, in fact, a gunshot.
I was standing in the range of Manchester Firing Line in southern New Hampshire on the newly formed Harvard Law School (HLS) Target Shooting Club’s first spring semester outing. Our group of 18—law students, a few graduate students, two other undergraduates and even a law professor—had traveled 45 minutes north of Cambridge, across the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border to take advantage of the Granite State’s lax firing range laws (which allow anyone to fire weapons on the range without background checks, waiting periods or even basic sobriety tests) and to enjoy a peaceful (and early) Sunday morning shooting the hell out of stationary targets.
The “gun club,” as some of its members lovingly refer to it, is a new addition to the extracurricular offerings at HLS. The club got its start last September when second-year law student Sasha Volokh decided to address what he saw as a serious problem on the HLS campus—the absolute lack of lethal firearms.
With assassin-like resolve, Volokh undertook the numerous tasks necessary to inaugurate an official campus organization. He solicited members by placing fliers in student mail boxes at HLS and recruited a faculty adviser, Richard Parker, who is Williams professor of criminal justice. He then drew up a formal club constitution and solemnly pledged to the HLS general counsel that the gun club would restrict its gun-related activities to off-campus venues.
The Manchester Firing Line Range is, by all accounts, a Shangri-La of high-powered weaponry. If Charlton Heston is the Holy Father of the gun world, then the Manchester Firing Line Range is certainly his Vatican, in New England anyway.
Posted in the entryway of the firing range gift shop is a sign that discourages any attempt at theft from the premises due to the “extraordinary” danger such a feat would entail. Adjacent to that sign is another that advertises, “Children under 13 Shoot for Free.” Mounted on the wall above the cash register is the stuffed head of a bear, captured with teeth drawn, tongue wagging and rage apparent. Any doubt I ever had about my willingness to shoot a gun was dismissed when I stared into the beady eyes of that villainous caricature of a bear, which simply begged to be shot. Every inch of wall space not covered by a gun poster held a shelf of guns instead. There were gun rental options on crowded shelves, in display cases, on top of display cases, hanging from the walls, leaning against the walls and free-standing on tripod mounts.
Before handling the weapons, we signed waivers, handed over our driver’s licenses and got brief oral instruction on how to operate a gun, which included the warning, “Only point your gun at things you wish to destroy.”
For this particular outing, each lane of the range was devoted to a different gun rented from the range by the gun club. The day’s gun offerings included a 9mm Beretta, a 9mm Glock, a .45 automatic, a .44 magnum, a .38 special, a Ruger 9mm carbine, an HK-MP5 (a big-ass machine gun à la Rambo) and a Benelli 12-gauge shotgun, which the range owner, Jim McLoud, reports is popular among law enforcement officers because “that’s what it’s good for.”
Members of the group took turns at each lane, trying their hand with each gun and then moving to another. The scene was a sort of cross between bowling and musical chairs, NRA-style. This was my first time holding a gun, let alone firing one, and it showed. Volokh watched over my shoulder as I fired my very first round, calmly directing my hand to the proper position on the gun and reassuring me each time I hesitated. “Remember,” he said, “make sure you don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.” I looked down at my right forefinger, which was wrapped tightly around the trigger even though I was holding the gun at my side, with its barrel dangling somewhere above the second and fourth toes of my right foot. I lifted my finger ever so slowly, fearing what would I might do to myself if I made any sudden movements. With a deep breath, I lifted the gun into position, the barrel (more) safely pointed in the general direction of the target before me. I won’t lie, I was scared. I was scared for me, I was scared for my potential descendants that might never be and I was scared for every other soul at that range who might soon cease to exist. I looked once more at Volokh, who gave me a friendly look of “hurry the hell up.” So, I turned back to the target, cut my mini-drama short and grasped for the trigger. BANG! My hand jumped. My heart raced. The bullet sailed about two feet over the upper left corner of the target. I had fired my first shot! Now, I just had to hit my first target!
There are, perhaps, few sights more intellectually fulfilling than watching a line of budding legal minds living and breathing the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The skill and accuracy with which many of the law students fired suggested that while the gun club might be new to HLS, a passion for guns certainly is not. Many of my new shooting friends said they either grew up hunting for sport or had some other experience to explain their proficiency—one enthusiast said he spent one summer shooting deer for the forestry service.
As a first-time shooter, however, I quickly discovered that hitting the actual targets, as opposed to the ceiling or the roof of the range, was not my forte. So, I took almost immediate affection to the 9mm Glock, with its three internal safety mechanisms that promised me the lowest probability of accidentally hitting one of the many non-stationary targets available at the range. Later, I confided my preferences for the Glock to Lisa M. Giroux, a second-year law student and financial officer of the gun club. Giroux seconded that emotion, replying, “I love my Glock.”
Volokh, the consummate firing range host, moved from lane to lane checking up on everyone. If anyone is in their element at the Manchester Firing Line Range, that person—weirdly enough, he made it his.
Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Volokh attributes his love of guns to the libertarian influence of his parents, who gave up on the Soviet Union in the early 1980s and moved their family to California. According to Volokh, his parents “vote Republican, think communism is bad and free enterprise is good, and love Reagan.” Such an ideological pedigree could probably not fail to produce a non-gun lover. Volokh hopes the presence of a gun club at HLS will not only provide recreational shooters an opportunity to get to the range, but will also educate students about the pro-gun agenda.
To an outside observer, a gun club on the traditionally liberal HLS campus might seem misplaced. But as unorthodox as the club might seem, it seems to have been embraced by the student body. Currently, there are over 100 members of the club—5 percent of the HLS student body, Volokh proudly notes. Volokh has also been impressed by non-members’ tolerance for the club. “I haven’t gotten any angry letters,” he reports. “I was hoping for some outrage.”
Volokh has big plans for the gun club. With the help of Giroux, he hopes to expand its offerings significantly. Plans are in the works for gun-themed movie nights, with screenings of movies that depict “heroic characters using guns for good, such as Red Dawn and The Patriot.” Volokh also hopes to attract pro-gun speakers to campus—perhaps even the great Heston himself. At present, however, the activities of the group are confined to two trips per semester to the Manchester Firing Line.
After the gun club had had enough of target shooting—that is, if anyone can ever truly have enough shooting—we headed back to the range gift shop to browse for last minute souvenirs. A gun, perhaps, or maybe a crossbow, or even an industrial bottle of Mace the size of a fire extinguisher. We then headed out to lunch to reflect on our day as a group. One need not have psychic gifts to guess where the members of the gun club elected to go to fill their empty stomachs—yes, we feasted on beef and beer at the Longhorn Steak House.
Later on, as I looked back upon a day in which I had awoke with a vicious hangover, traveled across state lines to exploit lax gun laws, dulled my senses by firing many absurdly big and loud guns and, finally, sated my animal hunger with bloody meat, I could not help but think that, for one day, I had lived the American dream. With a vengeance.