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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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era