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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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.