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Photograph: Kevin RobinsonRoll out the barrel Our writer has you in her sights.

Taking aim

Learning to fire a handgun turns out to be a blast.


A few months ago, I got a hankering to shoot a handgun. Part of it was nostalgia (I used to shoot rifles at summer camp), part of it living in a culture oversaturated with gun imagery, part of it genuine curiosity, but the biggest factor was I thought it would be—in a safe, controlled and legal way—kind of cool. I found the answer to my gun-lust prayers in the firearms training courses at Midwest Sporting Goods (a.k.a. Midwest Guns) in west suburban Lyons, about 15 miles southwest of the Loop. (Chicago forbids any ranges within city limits.) It’s close by, and you don’t need an Illinois firearms license to take the classes. When I called to register, they reminded me to wear a belt because we’d be learning “holstering.” Hot damn.

The most basic introductory class is the revolver familiarization course, which consists of hour-long safety lecture and instruction on how to handle and aim a revolver, and then about two hours of actual shooting. Classes have around ten students, and the ones I attended had a decent mix of experience levels and age groups. Some people were curious like me, others there for target practice, some there because they want to learn defensive shooting skills. Everyone’s friendly, but we’re all taking the class seriously. We’re handling deadly weapons, and however enjoyable and exciting it is (very, on both counts), it isn’t a joke.

Also not a joke is our instructor Jack Manfre, a no-nonsense 80-year-old, who’s been teaching firearms courses to the Chicago PD and branches of the Armed Services since God was a baby. His watchful eye is both imposing (he was a cop for 30 years) and comforting (you’ve never seen anyone more in control). After the safety instruction, we’re told to grab holsters, protective goggles and headphones; stuff our pockets with bullets and pick up .38-caliber revolvers from the rear of the range. And then it’s shooting time.

Students line up facing simple paper targets, and Manfre has us load one round. An hour’s worth of anticipation plus a lifetime of revolver virginity, and I’m really freaking nervous. My mind is racing, but then Manfre blows the whistle—and that means fire. Okay, I think. Shoulders forward; hold the gun tightly; line up the front site with the back site; and count one, two, three as I pull the trigger. We’re only standing a few feet away from our targets, but I’m still elated when my shot turns out to be decent. After we all get the hang of firing one round at a time, we shoot two, and then three. We practice pulling the gun from the holster and firing, and we shoot one-handed. I’m not in Annie Oakley territory just yet, but I’m getting the hang of it, which is why I decide to sign up for the semiautomatic course a few weeks later.

Semi class is just like revolver class, only more awesome. (And a little more expensive—$75 for revolver and $95 for semi. Worth every damn penny.) Loading the magazines with bullets is a little tricky especially if you have freakishly weak fingers like I do, but Manfre helps me out and most normal-fingered people shouldn’t have any trouble. Again we fired one round, then two, three and four; we shot one-handed, we practiced drawing. Semis are more intimidating to handle, but once I get in the groove, I could go all day. Sadly, class only includes about 75 rounds.

I’m an exceedingly liberal Democrat—cut me, I bleed blue state—but suddenly, my idea of a good way to spend a weekend morning is on a gun range with a holster on my hip, a pocket full of ammo and a gun in my hand. Preferably that Glock 9mm.

Midwest Guns holds a revolver and semiautomatic familiarization course. Call 708-447-4848 to reserve a spot.

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