Recently, I decided to find out if the University of Calgary Firearms Association is dangerous and if its members are crazy.
By mid-December, I had talked with some of the executives. Club president Henry Lung is always a gentleman. Delano Civitarese, the club’s operations director, has a country attitude that revolves around mutual respect and the first time I met UCFA vice-president communications Adam Strashok, he talked to me about Henry Kissinger. I don’t like Kissinger, but I liked that he wanted to talk about him.
I decided to spend an evening at the firing range to find out if the club was really the menace that some fear it to be. On Dec. 30, I found myself early for one of their shoots. The first member approached me with a quiet gaze. His hand stretched out to shake mine and our conversation was friendly enough. Unprompted, another young man (most of the club is young men) quickly gave me a rundown of what he knew about guns. He began with a disclaimer of comparative ignorance. Then he managed to start listing various police forces that use the Beretta M9 as their standard sidearm. He talked more about the qualities of various ammunition as we strolled the shop.
“Of course, the .50 calibre is more of an anti-material bullet,” he explained at one point. “The more manageable .338 is a much better choice for any anti-troop needs.”
He kept interjecting that he had never been in a gun shop before.
The club executives soon paraded in. Though the UCFA is just three months old, the executives already owned matching swag. Their pride in the UCFA was obvious. The letters on their backs reading “executive” were fading from shirts that had obviously been washed many times.
The executives handed out permission slips, explaining to us that if a haphazard round were to pulverize my shin, the Students’ Union would have contracts proving that everyone here understood the menace posed by stray fire. I’m paraphrasing with the gore. But the executives seemed organized and prepared for the hazards that accompany young men packing military-grade weapons.
Once a crowd of around 25 showed up, we were led to a backroom for a quick rundown in gun safety. One of the employees led the safety lesson. He talked quickly and flashed a cocky, grim smile when divulging the bloody details.
“If your thumb is placed too high [behind the slide], it will absorb ten thousand pounds of force, effectively removing it,” he yelled, his voice muffled by gunfire in the next room.
On the firing range, there were several guns laid out for us, each with a box of ammo sitting beside. The executives smirked at the horror overcoming some of the club’s newer members. Being around assault weapons for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially when there are models such as the AR-15, which has been made infamous by recent shootings.
The AR-15 is a high powered assault rifle, a feat of engineering both beautiful and terrifying. While each of the rifle’s powerful shots shook the firing range, the recoil on my shoulder was smooth. The same red dot scope I had used in video games a thousand times before was mounted on its barrel. And just like in video games, it was simple to point and shoot. The violent force spewed with each click of the trigger gave me a thrill. But the thought of this same rifle being aimed indiscriminately in a Colorado theatre scared the shit out of me. Some of the others seemed nervous.
One of the worst affected was Sadiq Vialliani, president of the Mount Royal University Students’ Association. He told me he knew a few of the club members. I found myself strangely amused watching him flinch every time the boom of an AR-15 stole the breath from his chest and jangled his eyebrows. This tension was short-lived. Every time a nervous volunteer finished his first couple of shots, he began to loosen up.
Even while shooting a Glock at a white, life-sized target in the shape of a human torso, it’s easy to forget the destructive power of guns. But shooting is something that is fun on its own. And as far as I could tell, that’s what the UCFA is all about: a love of guns and target shooting for the sake of guns and target shooting.
The fear of a campus gun club is understandable. Linking guns and school life, even when safety is stressed, can be interpreted as distasteful for obvious reasons. Most of the members I met were friendly, social and encouraging. They just loved to shoot.
But a club featuring guns will draw certain personalities that we fear and sometimes misunderstand — the quiet, anxious, socially awkward types that, even if kind-hearted, end up coming across as weird. And this is what scares people about guns: the idea that a weird guy might get ahold of one, and what might happen if they do. But as far as I could tell, the UCFA poses no danger. Just some history geeks, military-tech buffs and weekend hunters. Let them shoot in peace.