New York City used to be associated with crime. It still has a bit of a bad boy reputation but it has come a long way from the gritty city depicted in movies like Death Wish, The Warriors or Taxi Driver. Today, tourists can stroll down a Disney-like 42nd street at midnight without a worry. But if you want a taste of the old New York and to feel a little gangsta yourself, I suggest heading to the Westside Rifle & Pistol Range. Of course there is no place safer than this particular location because this is where many police officers go to practice their skills.The range is located in a non-assuming building at 20 West 20th Street in Manhattan amidst trendy restaurants and shops. There is only a small plaque on the door to indicate you are at the correct place. So we go inside and head down the stairs to an underground tunnel of hallways. The testosterone is palpable. After registering at the front desk, my husband and I are directed to a classroom in the back. On our way, we come across a figure dressed in bright camo-gear lying stomach down on the ground pointing a rifle toward the back of the building. I thought it was a mannequin but then he moved. What the heck! I jump out of my skin. I think guns make me nervous.
Our class is made up of one well-tattooed instructor, several shady looking male “students” and a few women. I have to say, I felt a little nervous about why these characters were looking to learn how to shoot guns. I felt a little better when the instructor informs us that the bullet cartridges we are practicing with are completely empty. Once we all learn how to load our .22 caliber rifles, shoot and then reload—we are on our way to the shooting range. We all move to a room just outside the range where the teacher instructs us on how to load bullets into the cartridges. This is when I get a better look at my fellow students and they suddenly seem less sinister. There is a young married couple, two women, and a group of guys who all appear to be friends. As it turns out, they are very polite and friendly and we are all joking around by the end of the session. According to the instructor, 10 years ago you’d never see a woman in the place but now they see them regularly.
I approach the range with a bit of trepidation. I am afraid of the gun’s kickback and wonder if will hurt my shoulder. To my relief, all the guns ends are tied to a rope so no one can accidentally tip their gun the wrong way and shoot a fellow student. You can, however, tip up as is evidenced by all the bullet holes on the roof of the range. I take my first shot and it is remarkably easy. I don’t hit my target but now at least I am not afraid and proceed to use up my allotted bullets and reload. You could also buy additional targets in the shape of zombies and other characters.
All in all it was an interesting experience. I went away feeling appropriately respectful of guns and their power. I hope everyone else did too.
TIP: You must be at least 21 years of age and be a permanent U.S. resident. To make an appointment, go online and fill out a criminal background check form at least 5 days in advance and you must receive a confirmation before you can attend a class and shoot. The cost was $65 for a session and that gives you a class taught by an NRA certified Range Safety Officer, a three month membership to go back and shoot again (for a $35 fee plus the cost of ammunition) and you can even use different weapons.