A target: "Shooting is kind of sexy, because concentration is sexy". Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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The man with the guns was the worst kind of control freak – one with a rationale

The ex-cop talked a lot of Zen stuff about waiting for the perfect moment, the lining up of the cross hairs. Letting the gun tell you when to pull the trigger. Aim for the head. Or heart. What a rush.

He looked just as I imagined someone who loves guns would look, so it was odd meeting him in the reception of the old Guardian offices in the Farringdon Road. He was imposing, and before I could stop him, he started getting out his stuff to show me.

“I’ve brought this revolver just for you.” He had six guns on him. The security guards who never let me past reception hadn’t seemed to notice. I bundled him out into daylight. Soon we were underground in one of the city’s shooting ranges.

He was American. Of course. He had been a cop. Of course. He had left in somewhat hazy circumstances that seemed to be to do with killing a burglar. Of course. He was going to teach me how to shoot.

Before the meeting he had barked all sorts of instructions down the phone about the precise kind of belt and shoes I should wear. No small talk.

This wasn’t the first time I’d held a gun. There were guns in the countryside where I grew up. A local policeman had brought round a sawn-off shotgun for my brother because he fancied my mum.

When I lived in the States various boyfriends had made me look after their guns but I was jumpy and handed them back as soon as possible.

Now, researching a piece on shooting for a magazine, I was being taught to draw from a holster – hence the belt – even though I kept arguing that I did not need to know this.

“The most common injury is that you shoot your own butt off,” the man reassured me.

The thing about shooting is that everyone around you shouts, because they are mostly deaf. You’re meant to wear headphones but as so many of them are ex-military their hearing is already shot to pieces. There’s just thudding and barking and intensity.

The moving targets are of outlines of men coming to attack you.

Shooting is kind of sexy, because concentration is sexy and you soon feel yourself getting better. I saw how you could get hooked.

The ex-cop talked a lot of Zen stuff about waiting for the perfect moment, the lining up of the cross hairs. Letting the gun tell you when to pull the trigger. Aim for the head. Or heart. What a rush.

Then I went to the loo and realised I was in charge of a loaded gun and felt somewhat out of control. When I went back downstairs I decided to tackle him about “gun culture”.

“If you teach ’em right everyone is safe around guns,” he insisted. He would brook no criticism.

I decided I needed to leave.

“You’re not going,” he said. “I’ve planned the entire evening.” He was the worst kind of control freak: the kind with a rationale.

I thought of my friend’s cousin who shot himself by accident in her dad’s kitchen in Miami. At what age did the ex-cop think children could handle guns?

“Three years old. If you teach them right.”

In an underground range full of weaponry, it was this that actually made me want to take aim.

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 26 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Bush v Clinton 2

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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.