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In Range

Thursday night at Target Masters

By Vrinda Normand

SUBTLE tremors run through my hands. Maybe it's the frigid air inside the shooting range, pushed down to 40 degrees by swamp coolers this January night. Or maybe it's the cool metal of the small, black semiautomatic under my hesitant fingertips.

Images from Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine flash through my mind: careless kids messing around with weapons like this, pulling triggers like switches on a Nintendo console. One clumsy second and an ear-shattering bang later, reality ripped through their fantasy worlds.

Everyone at this Milpitas hangout called Target Masters walks the fine line between fun and death. Robert Hill, the friendly man behind the counter, uses humor to smooth the edges of his message. He points out a sign on the wall for a suicide-prevention hot line. A notice above his head says no one can rent a gun alone. One of the questions on the waiver probes: Are you depressed?

Precautions like this put a serious spin on the arcade atmosphere. Young men and women crowd the range on Thursday for ladies night, when anyone accompanied by a female shooter gets 50 percent off equipment rentals and lane fees (an hour of fun here for one person could easily top $20 without this perk). The idea is to get more women into the sport, employee Chris Jordan explains. "They pay a little less, have the same amount of fun, and hopefully come back for more," he says.

OK, it's fun, I tell myself. Never mind the story about the guy who freaked out at his pistol's unexpected kick and accidentally shot a bullet into the concrete floor, spraying shrapnel into the skin of several people around him. This is supposed to be empowering.

Hill suggests a light .22-caliber semiautomatic to start with and shows me how to load the shiny bullets into the magazine that clicks into the base of the gun. He demonstrates how to hold the weapon, keeping the left hand away from the slide that pops back and forth at 100 mph after a bullet is shot.

Never point the gun at people, he cautions, especially when you're returning it to the guy at the counter. Watch out for the empty cartridges that fly into the air and could land behind your glasses. Keep your wrists strong and don't recoil at the blast of the gun. Got it.

A thunderous explosion comes from the lane next to me, where a leather-clad chick with chunky silver rings wields a heavier handgun and a determined expression. Encouraged, I wrap my chilly hands around the pistol and prepare for my first shot. The target blurs in the dim light, and the noise fades outside my ear mufflers. I tighten the muscles in my arms, take a deep breath, and ... bang! Orange fire flashes as the gun jumps. I exhale, releasing the built-up tension.

Wow. What a rush.

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From the January 19-25, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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