Photos: New to guns, a reporter shoots for the first time -- with an AR-15

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Big photos below.
Like many reporters, I've written plenty of stories about guns over the years. But I'd never fired one -- not a real one, anyhow.

A gun-owning friend thought that was wrong given what I do for a living and set out to change it in a big way -- by arranging a training session for me with a semi-automatic AR-15. He was confident that afterward, I'd have a different, much more informed point of view about firearms -- and damn it if he wasn't right. Here's what happened, in words and photos.

How did someone who grew up in Western Colorado, regarded by outdoors lovers as one of nature's finest playgrounds, manage to get through five decades-plus without ever pulling the trigger of a weapon more lethal than a cap pistol or a Super Soaker?

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Me and my dad, whose idea of enjoying the great outdoors was going to a drive-in movie.
Well, neither of my parents were into roughing it and none of my close relatives or friends were hunting aficionados. True, there were plenty of such folks in my hometown of Grand Junction: I remember returning for a visit back in the mid-'80s and realizing that I was driving one of the few vehicles without a gun rack. But somehow, this proximity didn't translate into the slightest interest in arming myself. To the contrary, even the thought of a gun in the vicinity, whether or not it was securely locked in a safe, made me want to head in the opposite direction.

This philosophy hardened when my wife and I started a family. Our son Nick, who took the photos accompanying this post (he's 24), came along first, and while we didn't prohibit him from watching TV shows and movies featuring gun violence once we felt he was old enough to process it properly, we made a point of talking to him frequently about the line between fantasy and reality. Likewise, we bought him plenty of action figures, which he loved-loved-loved -- but before we gave them to him, we disarmed the ones with weapons. If they were going to fight, they'd have to do it with their fists and feet, just like Bruce Lee intended.

These experiences didn't give Nick my brand of gun phobia. He became an Eagle Scout, learning to use firearms en route to earning this honor. But it never occurred to me to follow in his footsteps when it came to weapons -- and it probably wouldn't have were it not for Rick Enstrom.

I met Rick, the scion of the family known for Grand Junction's greatest export, Enstrom's Almond Toffee, when he purchased a record-and-video store where I worked while attending Mesa College (now Colorado Mesa University). I eventually wound up as manager of the place, and along the way, I grew to know and love Rick, who's truly one of the most unusual people I've ever known -- a man able to balance being a wild prankster and a conservative Republican, a pillar of the community and a Frank Zappa addict.

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Rick and Linda Enstrom.
Rick and I stayed friends long after my record-store days were behind me, and when my twin daughters, Lora and Ellie, came along a few years after Nick, we asked him and his wonderful wife Linda to be Lora's godparents -- even though we knew there was enough firepower and ammo in their house to reenact Red Dawn several times over.

This past year, Rick ran and lost in a race for state representative -- which is just as well, since now he's got more time to hunt and fish. A past state wildlife commissioner, he's a sportsman in the classic sense, which helps explain why the past year's debate over gun control legislation drove him nuts. Not only was he flabbergasted by misstatements from politicians such as Congresswoman Diana DeGette: Earlier this year, she made comments suggesting she didn't understand the difference between bullets and gun magazines. But he also felt many of the journalists covering the issue were either biased in favor of limits and bans (hardly a new charge from someone on the right) or so misinformed about the subject that it added up to the same thing.

In his opinion, critics should at least learn what it's like to shoot a gun before they pretend to be an expert about them -- a message he delivered to me repeatedly, along with an open invitation for me to accompany him to a shooting range for a lesson about how to do it right. And finally, after months and months and months, I said okay.

This spring, as the political chatter about guns was at its loudest, Nick and I headed over to Rick's Jefferson County home, where I was introduced to Eric Coe. Eric isn't a professional firearms instructor -- he works for a water-treatment construction company -- but he fathered one: His daughter is a counselor at the Whittington Center, an adventure camp in Raton, New Mexico, that's operated under the umbrella of the National Rifle Association. But based on spending an evening with him, he'd be a good one. An avid outdoorsman who's as adept at hunting big game with a bow and arrow as with a long gun, he was patient, detailed and an absolute stickler for safety -- something he didn't take for granted or fail to emphasize a single time in my presence.

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Photo by Nick Roberts
No, this isn't the usual centerpiece on the Enstrom's table.
Lucky thing, because when we arrived, Rick had assembled a veritable arsenal.

Continue for more about a reporter going shooting for the first time with an AR-15.


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29 comments
Steve At Work
Steve At Work

"The shortest path to victory is to disarm your opponents before the conflict." -- Robert E. Lee (following the CSA's unexpected attack on an Indiana arsenal.)

Daniel J. King IV
Daniel J. King IV

"The unarmed man is not just defenseless he is also contemptible." -- Machiavelli

Steve At Work
Steve At Work

I don't find them practical therefor I've no interest. I prefer the .45 and a decent aim.

Archer80022
Archer80022

Much respect for you.  Good night and big balls.

Ross Brasher
Ross Brasher

Obviously not a super-douche blind liberal.

Doug Hubka
Doug Hubka

Who gives a fuck what you respect .

Divad Mcpot
Divad Mcpot

I would like to shoot it in the darkness of a movie theater jjj motherfuckers jjjjjjjjjjjj

Brian Burridge
Brian Burridge

I will give a like for actually having the balls to do this story.

Ross Brasher
Ross Brasher

I lack respect for a man that hasn't ever fired a weapon.

Rich Madison
Rich Madison

Fired hundreds and own six types of semi-autos. Fun fun fun.

PavePusher
PavePusher

"firing a huge, semi-automatic weapon..."  Kudos to you for facing your apprehensions and going for a new and, to you, frightening experience.  However, for the record, an AR-15 is not at all "huge".  It is, in fact, at the low end of both the size and power scale for firearms.  I urge you to continue your education and broadening experiences.  If you ever want to go shooting in the Tucson area, I'll be happy to take you to the Pima County Range for both hand-gun and ling-gun experience.

Steven Tillinghast
Steven Tillinghast

Did he cry? I mean, that's okay. It can hurt quite a bit after the first time.

BackOffImStarving
BackOffImStarving topcommenter

I'm glad you got training from someone who knows what they're doing. 

ermagherd01
ermagherd01

Nice story. Thanks for taking the time to experience what shooting sports are really like. Now imagine the amount of practice and discipline it takes to get a group of shots into a 1/4 inch hole from 100 yards or more!

Monkey
Monkey

Great job!! Target shooting is one of those activities that bring you into the present moment, while the past and future fade away. Time slows down and you feel everything happening, the weight of the gun, the expansion of your lungs, the resistance of the trigger, and with a little practice, you can feel where the bullet will go. Then there's that burst of excitement when the explosion surprises you while you're putting the gun back on target after the recoil. 

Cognitive_Dissident
Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

Thank you for taking the time to understand firearms. I'm sure it will help you understand stories on which you're asked to report. I do believe if more people were exposed to firearms etiquette, fewer would villainize them and their owners.

TheStateIsCorrupt
TheStateIsCorrupt

Awesome. I would now like to see the WestWord step up to the plate and reject the propaganda filled articles fabricated by state criminals favoring gun control/confiscation....

xyzabc
xyzabc

Excellent Mike!  Good to see you took the plunge!  Nothing like hands-on to give reporting another perspective.  Being 4th gen Colorado resident (2nd gen Boulder County native) you brought up some of my fondest memeories of this fine state - Enstrom Toffee, buying a couple boxes of cartridges in Gene Taylor's and going out to the Book Cliff's for target practice!!

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@Brian Burridge Thanks, Brian -- and thanks for posting.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@Ross Brasher Succinct and to the point, Ross. We're going to make your post an upcoming Comment of the Day. Thanks.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@ermagherd01 It would take an incredible amount of skill to manage that, ermagherd01. Thanks for posting.

jgoran7
jgoran7

Don Quixote of La Mancha?

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