This Grandma Never Thought She’d Be Firing A Gun!
BY KAREN L. RANCOURT
A few weeks ago, there I was, a 78-year-old, politically-leaning-to-the-left grandmother, pointing a gun while yelling, “Down on the floor! Put your hands on your head! Do it, now!”
Prior to this, I had no experience with guns. The closest thing was when an FBI agent friend of my husband’s visited our apartment a few years ago, with a holstered gun on his belt. I freaked out saying, “I’m not comfortable having a firearm in my home!” I was more comfortable signing petitions pushing for legislation to ensure responsible gun acquisition and ownership.
My journey from holding a pen to holding a 9 mm Glock began a few months ago, after two experiences.
First, I happened upon “Southland,” a multi-season series about cops and crime, set in Los Angeles. The more I watched this series, the more I learned about the people behind the badges, both their personal and professional lives. I became more aware of the complexities they deal with as they make split-second decisions involving firearms, sometimes life and death ones.
In the past, I was quick to assume that most shootings by the police could have been avoided. For example, I would muse, from the safety of my home, they could have used a Taser, or tried to calmly talk the offender into stopping the aggressive behavior, or let another professional, such as a social worker, deal with an obviously troubled person.
Then, a few weeks ago, I met Martin (not his real name), a high-ranking police officer, whose duties include firearms training with recruits, in-service police, and other law enforcement officials.
I asked him if he had seen the series “Southland.” He said that not only had he watched it but that he uses snippets from it in his training sessions. I told him how watching it has made me more aware of the nuances in decisions involving firearms that the police have to make. I explained how I found myself less apt to quickly judge that these shootings should have been avoided.
Shortly after this conversation, and maybe because of this conversation, Martin extended an invitation to my husband and me to join him for a tour of his training facility and to participate in some firearms training exercises. We enthusiastically accepted his invitation.
My firearms training
In the firearms training, I was not firing real bullets. Rather, I was holding a laser gun that had the look and heft of a real standard issue, police sidearm, a 9 mm Glock. I was firing at a large screen on which my shots were detected by a computer that calculated my accuracy, or lack thereof. The process provided me with immediate visual and auditory feedback.
At first, I was firing at a series of balls that exploded when I hit one. After that, I participated in realistic scenarios on the screen in which actors role-played various situations that police officers confront on a regular basis, such as, domestic violence, traffic stops precipitated by something suspicious, or potentially dangerous behavior by people in public places.
“…I started yelling, “Down on the floor! Put your hands on your head! Do it, now!” I had my Glock at the ready.”
The first time I “responded” to a domestic call, simulated on a life-sized, computerized screen, I was teamed with Martin. After knocking on the door and announcing that we were police, it was opened by a woman. I noticed a man in the background, but I didn’t pay much attention to him. My first inclination was to communicate with the woman: “We are here to help. Tell us what’s going on,” I said, in what I intended to be a friendly and soothing voice.
I was so focused on connecting with the woman that I was unaware of the man in the background pulling a gun from the back of his waist and pointing it at me. Fortunately, my partner Martin saw him and shot him before the guy could shoot me. I was yelling, “That (expletive) just tried to shoot me!”
After several more practice situations like this, I was able to better take in all that was happening around me. In fact, in one situation, I sensed quick and unpredictable movement from some guy in a domestic violence situation, and that was when I started yelling, “Down on the floor! Put your hands on your head! Do it, now!” I had my Glock at the ready. We subdued him; he was armed.
I have been profoundly impacted by those simulated role plays, especially when the man in one of the domestic situations had a gun pointed at me. I experienced firsthand, the horror and helplessness of being on the receiving end of someone trying to shoot me.
Even though it was in a simulated situation, I was emotionally and physically involved; everything about it felt real. Every time I think about it, I feel gratitude that my partner had “saved” me.
Hands-on experience can make all the difference
This experience in firearms training has changed me. I am less likely to quickly judge and condemn police officers’ actions involving firearms. I now take a position of let’s wait until we have all the details before making a judgment. I am more sympathetic, and because I was almost “shot at,” I have more empathy for those law enforcement professionals who are forced to make instantaneous decisions involving firearms.
I wish there weren’t so many firearms in the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. But because police and other law enforcement professionals never know for sure if the person on the other side of the door, or stopped in a vehicle, or roaming the streets, is armed and ready to fire, they must protect themselves, and others around them.
Have some police made regrettable decisions? Yes, of course, they have, but I now have a better understanding of how split-second decisions involving firearms happen. My experience with a firearm may have been simply a simulated role-play, but it helped me to see, and perhaps more importantly, to understand.
As a result, I am less apt to immediately condemn and more open to learning the facts of each police shooting.