By Jacob Mathias
First, a disclaimer.
I don’t like guns. They frighten me. Having something with that much power in my hands is not something I’m comfortable with. I don’t like the glorification of firearms.
This isn’t because I’m against owning a gun for protection or sport or that I don’t support the second amendment to the United States Constitution — I do, but with reservations.
My concerns come from a number of places. I don’t believe the average citizen is educated enough in respecting firearms, or the responsibility that comes with owning one — but I know they can be.
I’m not here to lecture you. I just want you to know where I stand before I continue.
It was a busy week for the students of the Portage Co. Law Enforcement Citizen’s Academy. On Saturday, my classmates and I met at the Dewey Shooting Range for a day of firearm instruction. While I don’t like guns, I think it’s my duty as a citizen in a country with the right to bear arms to understand how they work and how to handle them safely.
Our class began with a lecture on the different weaponry employed by our local law enforcement. It quickly became clear that our local officers and deputies take their responsibilities regarding their sidearms and other weapons very seriously: this wasn’t a boys club. Safety and responsibility were paramount. We then put on protective vests and headed to the range.
Everyone in class was given the opportunity to shoot a variety of semi-automatic rifles and pistols as well as a fully-automatic rifle. I don’t know enough technical details to share exact models and calibers so I won’t try.
I won’t lie; I had fun. From a purely sporting standpoint, I understand the appeal of shooting. It’s satisfying to feel the power of the weapon and hit your target. I’m even comfortable saying that I think I shot well (although we weren’t very far from our targets).
On the other hand, I struggled with my feelings about it afterward. Using a firearm, at least for a police officer or sheriff’s deputy, is a use of deadly force. There seems to be a disparity in enjoying an activity in practice that, when used in real life, has potentially fatal consequences. Should I have enjoyed myself? I’m not sure.
Again, I don’t know the right answer here. I’m not criticizing law enforcement. I believe our officers use their force as safely and judiciously as possible. But from only my own experience, I’m conflicted.
A few days earlier, our class toured the Portage Co. Jail, and I’m never going back in there.
I was truly surprised at my reaction to the jail. I don’t get uncomfortable very easily. I’m almost always open to knowledge and experience, and I was excited to see something most people don’t.
Then we stepped inside.
A wave of dread and unease came over me. It was all I could do to just pay attention to our tour guide. I couldn’t even look up for fear of seeing an inmate through the cell block door. I felt like a spectator in a human zoo, and a feeling of voyeuristic perversity seeped into my thoughts.
I could not handle seeing my fellow man at their lowest state. It felt like an invasion of privacy akin to walking in on someone in the shower and then not immediately turning around.
It’s been a few days and it’s still on my mind.
Stay tuned next week as I continue my education at the Citizens’ Academy.