How I joined the National Rifle Association – by accident

For Simon English, it started with an innocent trip to a shooting range – and ended with a frightening insight into the power of Obama's enemy within

The rules for vodka gimlets are simple. Do not skimp on the vodka. Do not overdo the lime juice. Do not operate heavy machinery. And don't get goaded by your gun-totin' in-laws into becoming a member of the National Rifle Association.

I am in breach of the last rule. If that sounds trite, I can only say it happened in a blur. I've been visiting my wife's family in Kansas for years, having dinners in houses across town that are packed with guns and gun talk. Everyone has them, likes them, enthuses about them. My discomfort at this was something of a family joke, evidence of just how uptight all limeys must be. It's only a gun, son.

While it is hard to think of anywhere friendlier or more welcoming than Johnson County in Kansas City, there's a slight assumption that if you're an English male, you are almost certainly a communist and a nitwit and probably a homosexual.

So I cracked and said I'd go shooting. "Gotta join the NRA first son," I was told, two gimlets in, which turns out not to be true. Anyone can walk into a shooting range and do their worst.

Anyway, a few internet clicks and a few bucks later and I'm confirmed as a member and part of a strange, rather paranoid land. The emails start straight away. The gist of them is this: there is a liberal conspiracy to take over and ruin everything. This conspiracy starts with them stopping you from buying an automatic machine gun. I'm invited to join the NRA Wine Club (eh?) and am pre-approved for an NRA credit card. (I like the idea, but feel this gag is getting out of hand.)

The National Rifle Association was founded in 1871 to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis". It has long since become one of the most powerful political lobbying groups in the US, with four million members (four million and one now) proud to be the foremost defenders of Second Amendment rights.

Those are the rights to bear arms, arms that seem to include AK-47s (there are criminals on the loose and you can't be too careful). Any attempt to reduce these rights and the number of incredibly powerful weapons that are in common circulation is treated as an affront, as a sign that the government is taking over Just Everything.

When there's an awful gun disaster, the NRA are the guys on the news explaining why the solution is more guns rather than fewer.

Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA, likes to say: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun". If you suggest not letting the bad guy get a gun in the first place, that just confirms that you are a communist and a nitwit. In response to an appalling school shoot-up, LaPierre said: "I call on Congress to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation."

Uh huh.

Anyway, now I'm in this club, it is time to go shooting.

CenterFire is in an industrial estate in a decent bit of town. There are five target alleys, like where cops in movies go to do shooting practice. The array of guns I can buy, more or less straight away, is alarming. Would I like to buy a silencer, asks my guide, Tommy? Why would anyone who isn't a hit man want a silencer? If I did order one, could I walk out with it today?

No, he says, the checks on that kind of thing are heavy. I leave money in escrow, then they do a background check that takes six months. That's reassuring, I guess, but it still seems that unless I have an official record of murdering people, I'll get that silencer.

They have a cursory look at my driving licence, then ask me to select my weapon. I've no idea. "A small one. For an idiot," I offer.

What I get is a 45 that shoots nine-millimetre bullets (mostly in the wrong direction, it turns out, but that's me not the gun). It's alarmingly heavy and complicated. Even loading the weapon requires thumb strength and dexterity I seem to lack. After the fourth time of showing me how it is done, my guide loses patience. "You left-handed?" he asks. "Or just retarded?"

Once I'm sorted, I'm sent to a range, strongly feeling I shouldn't have this gigantic death tool in my hands – that the correct thing to do would be to walk right out before anyone gets hurt.

I guess part of the point of firing a gun is to feel stronger. On me, it has the reverse effect. I enter CenterFire feeling fit and instantly feel fragile. My body, I become aware, is not much more than a balloon full of water.

And every single other person at the range could shoot me. That I could, assuming I cock the gun fast enough, shoot back is supposed to make me feel safer. It does not. If I'm scared of the others, why aren't they scared of me? I'm a sweating stranger from thousands of miles away in charge of a piece of equipment he plainly doesn't understand. Anything could happen.

I rattle off some rounds, hitting only thin air. The gun jolts alarmingly, the noise is horrible and when the shell leaves the top of the gun it leaps towards my head. All around me the same shelling is occurring. I am assuming the others are competent gun-users rather than maniacs, but the law is set up to make sure no one is really allowed to check.

At one point an instructor moves me to one side of my booth, noting that my shots are ending up in the lane of the guy next to me, who's rather pissed off that I'm bringing down his average. I clock this guy. He is not a man to upset.

After a while I sort of get the hang of it and the paper man 20ft away gets hosed. I get him in the heart and the liver. His head too.

Next it is the 50ft test, the one I'm told indicates competence with a pistol. When I hit the button to get the paper returned it is, I am pleased to see, entirely clear of bullet holes. Whoever that guy might have been, whatever he had done, I'm glad I didn't hit him. I come out of the range shaking and phone a friend from way back who now lives in New York. I say I suddenly miss the somewhat violent Nottingham village we both grew up in, where fists on the bus were common, but no one got shot at school. Ever.

He laughs and tells me that there are 300 million guns in America. That's one each. That's about 299.9 million too many.

There are many absurdities to all this, one of which is that Johnson County is one of the safest, politest and most well-to-do suburbs in America.

A disagreement about which wealthy person picks up the meal bill is possible. A gunfight over anything at all? Not in this bit of town.

As I leave the range, I notice a big poster of President Obama.

They hate the President around here – he's one of those nuts who thinks guns are bad.

The legend beneath the picture goes like this: Salesman of the Year.

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?