Shooting My First Gun in Scottsdale

Scottsdale Gun Club Shooting Range Lesson Arizona

The best hookah bar in Phoenix is owned by these two somewhat large Mexican guys who seem to be friendly with everyone. Every time I go there they end up offering me some type of deal, even if it’s just throwing me some quarters for the pool table, and they seem to constantly have a group of buddies hanging around as well.

When I asked why they opened the place, the owner responded, “Well me and my friends like to smoke a lot of hookah, but there are no good places around Phoenix to do so. So we figured we would open our own, make it BYOB, and spray paint the inside to have cool blacklight art and stuff.”

The walls do have really psychedelic neon-colored designs painted across it and also super comfy couches all around. The whole place reminds me of one of those friendly, stoner basements that belonged to that one friend whose parents were cool enough to let them decorate to their liking in high school. But when the owner came around the counter with my hookah ready, I saw that he was openly toting a pretty big pistol in his waistband, and I immediately felt uncomfortable. I also felt confused, because this hookah bar was in a pretty commercial area. Was this gun really necessary? Was he carrying the gun in plain sight like that to make potential troublemakers feel intimidated?

Let me first say this: I have never liked guns. I grew up in Ohio, and while paintball guns and bb guns were a part of growing up in the woods with my brothers, I had made a firm promise to my 8-year-old self to never shoot a real gun in my life – not for hunting, not for self-defense, not ever.

There was one time in college when I came home to visit my friend whose twin brother had been away serving in the National Guard for the last six months. He was showing everyone in the kitchen the new “Remington 870 express with extended mag tube” he had just purchased. I asked him if he had to get a license to buy it, and he said no. He just went to the store and bought it. This terrified me. I picked up the gun, the first I had ever held in my life, and to me it looked and felt like just a toy. I laughed and pointed it at my friend’s brother saying, “This can’t be a real gun.” Everyone in the kitchen threw their hands up and exclaimed that it was not cool what I was doing, and I immediately put the gun down and burst into tears. I had just pointed a lethal weapon at my best friend’s brother, like it was nothing. I ran off and cried and cried because I have thin skin and again made the promise to myself to never, ever shoot a gun. Or deal with one in any way.

Guns have always been foreign objects to me. Seriously, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a pistol and a handgun – or are they the same thing? (I had to double check with Google a lot of my term usage when writing this blog post.) When I was walking through security to the Fun Fun Fun festival in Austin, the guy checking my bag made a joke about packing a 45. I looked at him quizzically, and he repeated himself. Finally, I asked, “A what?” and he just shook his head at me and said “A gun. Seriously?” I guess that’s what I get for being a tourist in Texas. But as a 25-year-old educated woman, I resented being made out to lack the common sense of the Southwest, and I started thinking that it might be time to at least learn the basics of gun handling and gun types. Because, you know, “When in Rome…”

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. Not long after my encounter with the hookah man, I decided that I wanted to learn about guns and how to shoot them in a responsible and safe setting. So I went to the Scottsdale Gun Club with my uncle last week and took a shooting lesson. The gun range was PACKED with people, as my uncle told me it always is. For the first part of the lesson, I sat down in front of a video tutorial that explained the four rules of gun handling:

1. The gun is always loaded.
2. Never point the gun at anything you don’t intend to kill/destroy.
3. Never put your finger on the trigger unless you intend to shoot.
4. Always be aware of your target and what lies behind it.

Seemed simple and safe enough. Then the instructor took me into a conference room where he went over the rules again and also mentioned the common mistakes in some of the terminology people throw around with guns. He explained, frustratedly, that often customers come in and the first thing they do when they pick up a gun they’re hoping to buy is point it right at him. He said at the other gun range he works at, a person who did that would be immediately thrown out. But here, he just had to put up with it. It made me think about how real gun nuts probably haven’t taken a lesson beyond their first time shooting, and how the rules probably get relaxed and forgotten over time as a result.

In this conference room, I learned how to hold the unloaded gun. I learned how to patiently wait for the click of the safety on the trigger and keep my finger on there for my next shot. I also learned that shooting a gun is nothing like you see on TV or in movies (duh). There is no fancy stance you need to be in, just a relaxed position with your feet shoulder-width apart is best. And there is no need to anticipate the kickback. It’s loud, but it comes after you’ve already shot the bullet, so anticipating it will only put you off target before you even shoot.

When I finally entered the gun range, my first impression was LOUD. These guns, which were much bigger and more powerful than the one I was about to shoot, would’ve definitely had my ears ringing for the rest of the week had I not been wearing headphones. Even with the headphones on, my ears were ringing for a couple of hours after my lesson. The guy next to me was shooting a huge gun, and it took me nearly the entire lesson to get used to the sound. Even fifteen minutes into being there, I was still jumping every time he took a shot at his target.

As I went to take my first shot, I found myself terrified. I almost just handed the gun back to the instructor in tears and said, “Nevermind, I can’t do it.” But I took a deep breath and I did the damn thing. And as it turns out, I have pretty good aim. After refining my posture a few times (I have terrible posture whether or not I’m shooting a gun), I finally started to get the appeal. Loading ten bullets into my clip and keeping my finger on the trigger only to release and squeeze, release and squeeze with the safety, the whole experience actually felt sort of calming. Seeing the way gun nuts are on social media, I thought I would get some type of addicting thrill out of the experience, but it was the opposite. I enjoyed myself, sure, and I would honestly do it again, but the way I felt in that gun range was similar to how I used to feel diving into the pool and swimming laps for a few hours. Everything else just sort of disappears, and it’s just you and the target.

Gun Shooting Target Practice Scottsdale Arizona

There was no thirst to destroy, there was no rush at the kickback. It was just me and this glorified hole-puncher, trying to get as close to the center of my target as possible. I won’t say that I’m inclined to buy a gun now, but I would definitely take another lesson in a controlled setting like that. And if that makes me having turned over to the dark side in the eyes of my more liberal friends and family, then so be it. The way I chose to shoot a gun was the way guns should be shot, in a safe setting as a sport where no one is injured or in danger. I don’t know about needing them for self-defense, and I don’t really like killing animals for sport, but I don’t see the harm in taking a lesson and learning how to shoot a gun the right way. New experiences are why I chose to travel, and I can now say that I did a very “Arizona” thing while I lived here. Cheers to that!

Most People Posting Warm Weather Photos in Winter Aren’t Assholes (Except for Californians)

Any person on social media (everyone) witnesses a divide that seems to happen every winter – on one side stands those in East Coast and Northern states, feeling frigid and depressed in a world of snow, ice, and freezing wind, and on the other side lounges everyone in sunny states, seemingly blissful as they hang out by the swimming pool, go on hikes, watch sunsets, etc. While the East Coasters can be seen bitterly posting screenshots of their single digit (sometimes in the negatives) temperatures, West Coasters are found posting shitty memes (saying things like, “My favorite part of winter is watching it on TV from California”) that inspire harsher pangs bitterness in the shivering bellies of every snow dweller.

Phoenix Winter Storm Meme Funny

People in Southern/South Western states are no different with their Instagram posts of sunsets, tan lines, and poolside pedicures. But living in Phoenix this winter, I realize the very big difference between what it means to brag about winter here and what it is to brag about it in California.

Let me tell you a little bit about summers in the desert. Temperatures rise above a hundred degrees (actually above 110 degrees) and often stay there for at least 30 days at a time. All traces of green disappear. The leaves die and fall off the trees, the grass dies and leaves a myriad of dust pits in its place, and views of the mountains and surrounding desert become a dull, relentless sea of brown. Dust storms sweep through Phoenix semi-frequently, choking the already smoggy air and blanketing the city for days afterward.

The high temperatures of summer in Phoenix last for five months. FIVE MONTHS. That’s pretty much the equivalent of a long winter in Cleveland. So for five months, people take shelter indoors, staking out in air conditioned movie theaters, museums, and bowling alleys. It’s not a joke to go outside during summer in Phoenix – it’s seriously dangerous. There’s a big outdoorsy scene here and even those brave souls you won’t find trying to hike the mountains until well after 9pm, when the ground has cooled off enough to not cook you. And having just popped my night-hike cherry, let me tell you it’s not the most pleasant. The need for flashlights limits your ability to think creatively on how best to get up or down steep areas. Predators such as hawks and coyotes are known to come out for hunting. Also tarantulas, scorpions, and rattlesnakes. Okay, maybe I’m just not the adventuring type, so sorry for the whiney paranoia, but I have yet to find a desert animal or creature I wouldn’t mind being within 10 feet of me.

Winter Green Palm Trees in Phoenix
Look at all that green!

The point is, summer in the desert is the equivalent of winter on the East Coast. Everything dies and being outside becomes unbearable, leading to the depressing, constant state of remaining indoors that is weighing on many of you right now during snow season. So think twice before you feel bitter about seeing a sunset post this winter on a desert resident’s Instagram account. They’re not posting it to be cut deeper into your misery, they’re just genuinely excited to be able to experience some fresh air without passing out from heat stroke. This summer, everyone here will be jealous of your beach pictures because the idea of sand and bare feet at that time will make them want to cry and jump immediately into an ice bath.

Those Californians though, with their year-round perfect weather, are total jerks. You should definitely keep hating on them.

Why the Super Bowl and Human Sex Trafficking Are Linked, Even If They’re Not

Tricked documentary human sex trafficking Super Bowl Phoenix
Online sex trafficking ads shown in the documentary, “Tricked.”

It’s Super Bowl XLIX all week in Phoenix, right smack dab in the middle of my travel assignment here. I love football and hate the Patriots, so yes this is an exciting time for me! The Super Bowl is broadcasted around the world, watched by roughly 110 million people each year and attended by 75,000 fans, with many more watching in bars around the city, in 2015. But while to some this is a huge party or a traffic nuisance, to others it’s considered an opportunity to sell and buy men and women that have become modern day slaves to the underground trade of sex trafficking.

The largest event in American football, the Super Bowl is also thought to be amongst the largest event of human sex trafficking in the country. To clarify, this supposed surge in human trafficking doesn’t happen on Super Bowl Sunday, but in the surrounding area (Phoenix, 2015) in days before and after the game. Though debunked by some, this trend has only recently been noticed and thoroughly researched, and you are about to see new evidence from this research cropping up over the next several weeks after the Super Bowl ends on February 1st.

Here to shed light on the many misunderstandings and oversights surrounding human sex trafficking in America, Tricked, a documentary that hit theaters in 2013, will finally be released to DVD on February 3rd, 2015. The movie gets its name from the obvious trickery behind the force, fraud, and coercion by which victims are entered into the trade, but also details nuances of how the public generally views human sex trafficking. Many still don’t believe that sex trafficking is a human rights issue. Others think that legislation is the answer, as producer of Tricked Jane Wells puts it, “that somehow all of the trends we’re seeing of more violence, younger children, and police enforcement problems will disappear with legalization.” This has not been the case in places like Amsterdam, where still thousands are forced into sex slavery every year.

Still others don’t recognize that the sex trafficking industry enslaves more than just women, including men and transgender persons, and that pimps are not all men either. And perhaps the most nearsighted misconception that Americans allow themselves to believe, even those that are buying sex, is that most of the men and women sold for sex are there by choice, when in fact about 90% of them are not. Co-director of the film reiterates the illusion he and Wells encountered during their research:

We also found that ‘johns’ would come right out and say to us, “Oh, I never choose the girl that’s actually in a disadvantaged position. I’m smart enough.” And we bring up the numbers, saying, “Well, the vast majority of the women out there truly didn’t choose this on their own.” And yet the guy would still say, “Yeah, but you know, I make sure I only pick up ones who are just doing this to get through dentistry school, et cetera,” So that’s a situation where the guys, in many ways, are tricking themselves. (You can read the rest of the interview with the Tricked creators here.)

And now, one more trick we might all be fooled by as of late is that sex trafficking actually does increase during Super Bowl time in the sporting event’s host city. Though research is limited, the only tangible shift in the market that has been documented around Super Bowl time is more aggressive buying. As for hundreds of sex slaves and prostitutes being shipped in for the event, it doesn’t need to happen because the demand is already there. Any numbers you’ve seen regarding sex trafficking transactions taking place during the week of the Super Bowl area most likely pretty close to the numbers that take place 365 days per year in cities across America. The only real shift that seems to have recently happened with sex trafficking during Super Bowl time is that the media becomes more tuned into it. And by default, so do you.

So, why the Super Bowl, if it’s not empirically proven that sex trafficking increases all that much in days surrounding the event? Wells explains:

Because the Super Bowl is such a quintessential part of the American narrative, I think it’s also an excellent way to underscore that this is a domestic issue. Because there’s still a sense among Americans that it happens elsewhere, not right here at home.

Super Bowl XLIX Phoenix human sex trafficking
United Way volunteers hand out pamphlets to raise awareness.

Cindy McCain, wife of Arizona senator John McCain, has been heavily backing the claim that sex trafficking does in fact increase around the Super Bowl and other major sporting events, despite the lack of empirical evidence, and Arizona police force has been visibly cracking down. During one day of walking to and from the doctors office in downtown Phoenix (a 7-block journey each way), I was handed 3 flyers by people trying to promote awareness about sex trafficking in America. News reports are already out that the human trafficking task force in Phoenix has already landed 13 federal prosecutions, over 350 arrests of ‘johns’ and pimps, and offered services to 26 juvenile victims and 180 adult victims.

While the Super Bowl may not be any greater opportunity for sex trafficking than any other day in America, the awareness that has risen around it has resulted in positive outcomes. In a message to international leaders on the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace, Pope Francis said, “We are facing a global phenomenon which exceeds the competence of any one community or country. In order to eliminate it, we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself.”His message couldn’t be any clearer, awareness is key to solving this problem.

Awareness, in this instance, doesn’t only mean understanding that the sex trade exists on a global scale, in rural towns and big cities around you every day, but should also become a personal and international effort to debunk the common misconceptions surrounding it, such as that only women and children are enslaved or that most of the victims in the industry are actually there by choice. As my research on this whole topic has shown me, we could all benefit from educating ourselves on the subject matter properly and then challenging ourselves in the preconceived notions we already have about human sex trafficking.

As Tricked reveals, pimps are cunning, tech-savvy, and skillful in how they manipulate their victims, and the documentary’s creators urge viewers to explore and think about the socioeconomic factors that make these victims most vulnerable to force, fraud, and coercion. By donating or volunteering with programs that help women get out of and recover from human trafficking, or with support to potential victims that are effected by similar socioeconomic situations (aka homeless shelters, drug recovery, immigration programs, etc.), you can make a big difference.