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.