A Thing of Beauty

After much scheduling and postponing and teetering and yessing and noing and maybeing, by some stroke of luck I finally managed to herd a chunk of my closest friends and family members together for a private handgun carry permit class. That unlikely marvel came to fruition this weekend, and it was a thing of beauty. First of all, it was nothing short of tear-jerking to see almost all of my favorite people together in one room (and not a Facebook chat room either). The roll call featured my big brother and his wife, my twin brother, my cousin, one of my best friends and her husband, two more friends of the family, and last but never ever least was my mom, keeping a watchful eye over this rowdy bunch of whippersnappers. Leading the class were three of the finest instructors from the former Rangemaster cadre.

Side note. Why didn’t I teach the class myself? Because. If, heaven forbid, somewhere down the line one of these beloved folks were to face a deadly force situation, I don’t want any Monday morning quarterbacks saying, “Oh, so you got your permit from [air quotes] your sister, huh? Riiiiiight. Wink, wink.”

Thanks to those three awesome instructors and my family members’ open minds, I think everyone in the class learned a ton and had a bustling good time in the process. We had our moments of levity and moments of dead seriousness. I watched from the back of the room as pens waggled, heads nodded, and proverbial lights came on. Black, white, male, female, young, slightly less young, religious, not so religious, married, single, kids, no kids, master’s degrees, high school diplomas — it was a rainbow of a group. If I had to generalize, perhaps the one thing they all might have vaguely had in common (besides affiliation with the Johnson Clan) was a political lean left of center. And yet, here they all were, totally drinking the Second Amendment Kool-Aid. Let that be a lesson to you separatists: please don’t give up on the left.

This was a two-day class. The feel-good camaraderie of the first day was nearly shattered on the second, when we learned that another family member had been fatally shot overnight. He had barely set foot in his twenties, and I hear his young daughter is the classic daddy’s girl.

Now, let’s freeze the frame for a moment. My twin brother is a foot taller than me and looks like a football player. It’s not often that I catch him in the state he was in on Sunday. He knew the shooting victim better than the rest of the people in our class, and he took the news pretty hard. So we were at a crossroads. After such a positive classroom experience on day one, would he now opt out of the shooting segment on day two? Would this gun-related tragedy push him away from firearms or stoke his budding interest in self-defense? As ol’ Murphy would have it, gun violence had mustered up the unmitigated gall to infiltrate our gun class and wag its ugly finger at us. The spark of curiosity that had spawned the class in the first place was now suddenly doused with oppressive grief. For many who are new to guns or otherwise gun-agnostic — especially those whose exposure is mostly from movies (fake) and news (real, but usually tragic) — an event like this hitting so close to home can be the ultimate tipping point. Pro-gun, or anti-gun?

My brother sat out the first string of shooting drills. But then he joined the line. After a brief learning curve that was probably 90% psychological, he shot like a pro. My whole family did. Even my mom — the only lefty in the group (now I’m talking dominant hand) — did great. She had to shake off some initial nerves, but eventually she turned to me and whispered (as if she was embarrassed to admit it), “This is actually kind of fun.” I’m always proud of my family, but man, I gotta tell ya, I was bursting out of my chest.

Some of them might continue training and eventually carry. Some won’t. Either way, they all now have a firm grounding in firearm safety. They can have informed discussions about what handguns are and what they aren’t. They can spot a crock of sh*t in a movie or TV show and confidently say to themselves, “Guns don’t actually do that in real life.” They can think more critically about the George Zimmermans and the Michael Dunns and the Darren Wilsons and the Timothy Loehmanns of the world. They can prepare their children for the inevitable day when guns come into their lives, under favorable circumstances or otherwise. And once the mourning period passes, maybe my brother can explain to his sons that their family member was killed not by a bad gun, but by a bad person.