Because this is my first time, an employee at the Sandy Springs Gun Club and Range selects a .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol. She lays the gun on the counter a few inches from my shaky hand. My eyes fix on its black, slender body.
Susan Jimison, co-owner of Peerless Bookstore in Alpharetta and leader of the Girls, Guns & Good Books Book Club, leans over to approve the selection of my firearm. “It’s heavy,” she confirms. “But it’s a good one to start with.”
She then assesses my lack of shooting gear. “You need eyes and ears, too.”
I push clear glasses up the bridge of my nose and fit headphones on like snug earmuffs. “Is it that loud in the alley?” I ask.
“Your gun’s not that loud,” Jimison says. “But there will be others shooting in the same alley with you.”
I recall my extreme sensitivity to ear-deafening noises — how I recoil from the sharp popping of fireworks during 4th of July and Diwali celebrations. Perhaps I shouldn’t be here at all.
But because it’s an exercise that will last only a few minutes, I follow Jimison and Marsha Etheridge, another book club member, into the alley where they introduce me to their firearms of choice. Etheridge pulls her .38-caliber Smith & Wesson from her gun tote, a bag that resembles a purse more than a weapon carrier. Jimison too carries a .38 Smith & Wesson. While she and Etheridge compare gun-carrying licenses, I wince with every shot fired in the next lane.
“It’s your turn,” Jimison urges. “Are you ready?”
I shrug my shoulders. I may never be ready.
Taking a few deep breaths, I confront concentric ovals and a red bull’s-eye. Holding the magazine, I feed it with bullets, re-insert it into the pistol and, with some help, retract the slide.
Wrapping the fleshiest part of my palms around the grip, my thumbs meet along the left side of the barrel. Extending my arms, I match the front sight, the knob at the end of the barrel, with the V-shaped rear sight on the part of the gun closest to me. As my right finger slides from the trigger guard to the trigger, I lean slightly forward, nose over toes.
And fire a gun for the first time in my life.
* * *
Jimison formed Girls, Guns & Good Books in December 2011, because she wanted to start a unique book club and practice her shooting more often. At a time when the issue of gun control sparks heated political debate, Jimison maintains that safe and responsible gun ownership is important, especially for women. “It’s a way to feel protected, secure and empowered,” she says.
The club, which has about a half-dozen regular members ages 45 to 65, meets on the first Thursday evening of every month. Members spend 30 minutes shooting at the Sandy Springs Gun Club — Thursday night is ladies’ night, when shooting is free — and then meet afterward at Peerless Bookstore to discuss a book.
While sipping zinfandel and bubbly moscato, the women — retirees, an art director and a schoolteacher — break into a discussion about tattoos and motorcycles, then recall how they got into shooting. Etheridge learned from her husband, who hunted doves. Tylene Foster’s mother and grandmother used to shoot; she fired her own .357 Magnum at the gun club. Many members’ interest in guns originated with family members who serve or have served in the military.
The talk turns to the novel at hand, 2nd Chance, the second of James Patterson‘s “Women’s Murder Club” series. Preferring books with female protagonists, the members have read everyone from Karin Slaughter to Sandra Brown. The “Murder Club” series seems to be a favorite so far. While snacking on chips and hummus, they agree that Patterson left them guessing about the identity of the killer until the very end. And that his pacing and writing style make the book a quick but satisfying read.
The meeting concludes at the cash register, where the members purchase the next book in the “Murder Club” series. In the dark night, their hugs and farewells spill out into the parking lot, where they disperse and head home.
* * *
Back at the Gun Club, I brace myself for a kickback that I imagine will propel me backward. But when I fire, I detect only the slightest pulse. Glancing up, I realize that my first shot has not only pierced the bull’s-eye but has infiltrated the holy grail of target practice, the inconspicuous X at the very center.
This evidence of either skill or beginner’s luck pumps adrenaline through my veins. I discharge the remaining bullets in quick succession, like Agent 007 in the midst of a mission. When I retrieve my target, I’m pleasantly surprised to find that every shot has pierced the red oval. Jimison and Etheridge inflate my ego by declaring me a natural.
Arriving home, I lay the target on the dining room table and write myself a note to buy Patterson’s 3rd Degree, the novel for the next meeting of the book club. I then consider visiting the gun club on my own the next week, to get in some more practice.
Oh, shoot, I think as I head for bed. I just might be hooked.
Girls, Guns, & Good Books meets on the first Thursday of the month at Peerless Bookstore, 8465 Holcomb Bridge Road in Alpharetta. For more information, contact the store at 770-650-7323 or use its website.