This is probably the most controversial post I've ever written. BUT, before I start I'd like to say that I am completely against the idea that it's legal to carry a gun in the US.
When we travelled to Florida recently, we wanted to do the really touristy things, like go to Disney and see all the sights, but we also wanted to experience what this state is really like, and how the 'Sunshine State' filled with the magic of Disney could breed the awful attack on the Pulse nightclub.
Stepping into the lobby at the gun range was like stepping into another world. None of us were prepared for how absolutely terrifying it would be. Suddenly we were four little English people surrounded by burly men shouting above the noise coming through the wall of the range. We signed over our rights to sue or complain if we suffered injury or death whilst shooting in the range. We had to hand our passports over and weren't given them back until we were ready to leave. Soon we had come together in a little huddle of fear, facing a wall of different guns and bullets, with our backs to a group of people who'd brought their own weapons along to fire.
Every member of staff was casually carrying a firearm as though it was normal. No one turned a blind eye to them, or the men sat in the lobby with their weapons too. We were asked what gun we wanted to try, given a two minute demonstration on how to load and fire a pistol, and then it was handed over to us to show that we had been watching and could now load a gun. My hands have never been as sweaty as they were when I was pushing that bullet into the holder.
The one rule? You can't pose with the gun for a photo. You were meant to be 21, as we were from another country, but when we mentioned that my sister was 20 they waved it off: they didn't care. You could film each other shooting at the targets shaped like people, you could do almost whatever the hell you liked. We all had a go at shooting at our target and it was horrific. The gun was heavy and pulling the trigger was physically a little hard, but do you know what? After a couple of attempts, it became easy for us to hit the target. That was probably the scariest part: how easy it was.
Alongside us at the range was a father with his two 17 year old sons. They were out for their Sunday afternoon recreational time. At what point is that acceptable? You're teaching your children how to shoot. They too had the person-shaped target, and those boys were bang on with their shots. These boys are still at school. And it's totally legal for them to practice shooting with their dad at a range. They were some of the people that brought their own guns along.
The worst moment happened when we were about to leave. We were all wearing protective glasses and ear-muffs, but the sound of each gun was still so loud. I've always thought that I could mistake other loud noises for a gun going off, but now I know that I wouldn't be able to. Even after hearing a few different guns being shot, we weren't prepared for one of the staff to use a machine gun. The sound of that gun going off was ground-shakingly scary. The huddle was back again. And what was worse? This man, who worked at the range, turned to some other customers and said: 'I should've shouted Allah Akbar'. And they all laughed together.
This was the point at which we decided to leave. We had experienced what we set out to experience I guess: we now had more of an insight into how such horrible attacks could happen. In a world in which you can pay to practice shooting at a human shaped target, and choose the gun that fits you best, and start doing it from when you're a child, is it any wonder that it happens so often, and with so much accuracy?
Heading to that range is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The sensation of holding that gun, with sweaty palms and shells from other customers bouncing around will never leave me. I simply cannot fathom living in a country in which that kind of thing is legal, and I was so happy to get back in our car and drive away.