Twenty-two cents to kill a man

Date: Sun, 23 Mar 1997 05:57:06 -0800 (PST)
From: Matthew Chester Heck <>

I went to a target range today to use my pistol crosbow, and after about an hour, the owner of the place (its only about a month old) came in and asked if he could try it. After he did (rather badly, I might add, but my sights are, uh, "customed"), I kept practicing for about another hour. Finally, both my arms were totally tired out from pulling the draw cable back, so I got ready to leave.

"Did you have fun?"
"Yup! Thanks."
"See anything you want to try out?"

...and then it hits me, oh yeah, this is mainly a GUN range, that's why there's just the one bow lane...

"Beretta, Glock, Colt..."

...hey, Nick (a guy I work with) owns a Glock...

"Yeah, okay, how about the Glock?"
"Here ya go."


Have you ever SEEN a .45 caliber automatic pistol? This is a rather LARGE piece of armament. The sleek black shape of Glock engineered firepower sat quietly on the table. I picked it up... heavy, but PERFECELY balanced. Its hard to describe HOW WELL those things are balanced. The weight was about like a full can of coffee.

"Here's some ear protection; I'll get some ammo and meet you in the lane-- first door on the left."


A few minutes later, he comes in and slaps down a block of 50 .45 caliber copper slug rounds. Jesus Christ. Have you ever SEEN the SIZE of a .45 round? Whack your thumb off at the top knuckle and you have a pretty close approximation.

"Okay. Now the first thing to do is load the clip. (clickshh) See? Just slides out. Now take a bullet, primer side towards the back, and pop it down and back into the clip, like this. Now you try."

I load a round in the clip, simple enough.

"Good. Now, when you put the clip in, you pull the slide back and let it go to chamber the first round. Try."

I pull the slide back without the clip in the pistol and let go. It snaps forward with a suprising amount of force-- natural for an automatic.

"Okay, just let it go a little smoother, just let it snap back. Okay, go ahead and fire a round."

20 feet out there is a large, three-foot bullseye-style target. It is labelled "25-ft Timed and Rapid-Fire Pistol Target". It seems ridiculously close-- the closest thing I ever shoot at with my crossbow is about 20 yards, three times this distance.

I pick up the pistol and slap the clip into it.
Pull... (SNAP) First round chambered.
I get ready to aim... then realize that the grip I am using isn't appropriate for this weapon-- my left hand is bracing the bottom of the barrel, good for crossbows, bad idea for pistols. The owner shows me a more appropriate grip for a device which will be throwing a chunk of copper at supersonic speeds on my command: right hand all the way up on the grip, to lower muzzle rise; right index finger ABOVE the trigger until ready to fire; left hand wrapped around right, thumbs together.

"That's it."

Dot. Goes between the posts... simple enough. Dot, posts, bullseye... pull... The trigger moves back to the position that reminds you that this devices does NOT have a safety as I am familiar with it (my crossbow has a trigger-block, which has its own problems). A little more pressure, and

[ B L A M ! ]

There is an instant shower of sparks and I am aware of the casing flying past the right side of my face as I stare at the new hole in the target, about an inch off the dead center of the bullseye.


The slide is open, and smoke is drifting slowly out of the chamber.

The snap of the pistol had suprised me-- its impossible for it not to, no matter how much you expect it, until you've fired it a few times-- but it had been almost entirely muzzle rise, practically no kick. This is not to say that it was a "soft" motion-- my arms were already sore from crossbow practice, but by the time I was going to leave, they would be positively rubberized-- but for a .45 caliber automatic pistol it was amazingly light.

"That's pretty incredible-- that light of a kick for a .45"

"Yup. And that's the largest one they make, too-- keep THAT in mind!" he said with a grin. He is, after all, a man who appreciates good equipment, albeit in a slightly differrent field than myself.

"Well, let me know if you need anything!" Before I realize what he means, the door shuts and I am alone with a Glock .45 caliber automatic and 49 rounds of ammunition.

It is an odd feeling.

I stare down the firing lane at the angled steel shot dumps in the back. Oh well... Hell, why not? After all, this target only has one hole in it... I pull the clip out and start loading ammunition into it. Clack, chink... clack, chink... it gets harder to load with each round, since the spring is more compressed, and I am not quite sure if I have filled it or not. Close enough. I start firing, remembering the "NO RAPID FIRING" sign. The spark, blast, and jerk are easy to get used to and expect, but the shell casings are hitting me square in the face half of the time-- a consequence of using a more outstretched grip than I probably should.

Overcompensation for muzzle rise and a weak grip as my arms get more tired result in some low shot groups, but the lack of an increasing number of holes in the target combined with steadily increasing diameters of those already present tells me that my aim isn't too bad. The idea of a fully automatic pistol seems totally nuts now-- even this is fast enough that I could probably empty the clip in under three seconds.

The idea of ten rounds of .45 ammunition hitting anything is also enough to make me pause.

Within 20 minutes, I have finished off the ammunition. The floor is coated in brass shell casings, and my hands smell like burnt gunpowder-- a smell I am quite familiar with, but never, I am amused to think, for this somewhat more traditional reason. I go back up front and return the glock, picking my gear belt back up. Bullets run me $10.76-- crossbow practice had come to a total of $5 for all day range fees and 3 targets. Both seem like reasonably cheap hobbies. The owner remarks that he is a licensed dealer and will order me any gun for $20 over cost plus shipping. Several open trade catalogs indicate that he is willing to put his money where is mouth is. The .45 is around $400 and I am suprised that it is that cheap. A 9mm model is to be had for around $320. The owner does not know that I am under 21, and had in fact initially checked the "law-enforcement" box on my sign in card. I thank him and make a quiet exit as he chats with another customer.

The whole thing was quite... strange. I have always enjoyed marksmanship as a hobby; the amount of concentration and clarity required makes it a farily good way to relax, and it is an easy hobby to gauge progress in. That, however, has been with bows, crossbows, and .22 rifles. And while, certainly, all of those are capable of killing a man, the pistol is the first device I have used where it is hard to think of that as a secondary purpose. The image of getting hit with a .45 caliber round is sufficient to make me wince on the ride home. The thought of it being used as a non-lethal tactic seems improbable at best. The Glock had been designed-- over-engineered, in fact-- for this. Its sole purpose was to ensure that if its wielder had determined that his target must be stopped, it would stop it.

The thought of killing a man in less than half a second without even having to think about it made me sick to my stomach. It was that easy. And there was absolutely nothing you could do about it. In competent hands, it was not likely to miss. Ammunition had run about twenty-two cents a shot.

Twenty-two cents to kill a man.

Pocket change.

If you dropped it on the floor, you wouldn't even think about it. It wouldn't by you a cup of coffee, a pack of gum, not even a pinball game. But you could take a life with it. I was once told that the value of a human body was between a few hundred and a few million dollars, depending on whether or not you included the complex organic compounds or just the base materials. Insurance companies have to figure out what a person probably would've earned during the rest of their life. Then there's pain and sufferring... Any way you slice it, twenty-two cents seems incomparably small. As I drive, I wonder: if killing a man has to be easy, perhaps it shouldn't be cheap. But then, knives are cheap. So are crossbow bolts, for that matter. Not as cheap as bullets, at one or two dollars per bolt-- I lost six bucks worth that I couldn't find in the haystack behind the target-- but too cheap to kill a man.

A near miss on the road reminds me that my odds of getting killed in a car wreck are still more likely than my odds of getting shot, although eighteen thousand dollars for the oncoming BMW still seems too cheap to kill a man. Then I remember the two people I had seen coming out of my own hallway, down my front steps, and up the street as I was walking back to my house the previous night and wonder how quickly I can load my crossbow in the dark. It is a question I already know the answer to, and for some reason I feel ashamed about it.

I don't know if I'll take up pistol shooting as another hobby. Maybe when I get sick of changing crossbow cables and rebuilding crappy windage sights. Maybe when twenty-two cents for a non-recoverable bullet seems better than a buck for a bolt I can usually recover 5 times or so. Maybe just because there's so little to do in San Luis Obispo. Maybe because when I turn 21 I'll want to. But I'm not so sure I want to own my own gun. It won't feel like grandpa's rifle, ready to be aimed at a tin can, or my black fiberglass crossbow, ready to be aimed at a haystack. It'll feel heavy and quiet, totally indifferrent to its target, but silently implying what it is.

--Matt Heck