(Ra’anana. )October 21 2005

Nathan Szajnberg

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Stopping power is a matter of physics: mass times velocity. A .45 caliber has greater stopping power, but is slower because of its greater mass. The Berretta uses a .22; faster, perhaps more accurate, but less stopping power. The 9 millimeter FN (Fabrique Nationale of Belgium), which I also trained with Friday, is in-between in stopping power.

All this I learn within three hours of my first fire arms training Friday. We are locked and loaded before Shabbat in Ra’anana, where each shul has its own armed citizen guard greeting worshippers.

In fact, this almost first time I have every shot. (Once decades ago, a neighbor in West Hartford hustled me down to his secret, sound-proofed gun gallery, where I learned that I could hit bullseyes on first efforts. Both of us are shocked.) Training for the citizen police force I am doing before leaving Ra’anana for Jerusalem next Tuesday. Went with Russell, who was a firearms instructor for the Jewish community police force in South Africa. Before his Aliyah, when living in a multi-gated, Johannesburg, his house surrounded by fencing and electronic alarms, men terrorized his family: his mother was tortured with a blow-torch while his wife and two children were visiting. Thieves got through the back patio, as the maid opened the doors. The torture was gratuitous, just for the helluva it, as they had already robbed the house. He recalls the burnt wooden matches trailing through the house; they had to relight the torch repeatedly as they chased his mother. After this, Russell and his family moved to Israel.

Back to the .30 caliber shell on my desk.

We train first on the Carbine. Brief history for those of us who had never before fired nor held a Carbine. Developed in WWII to be a one-handed rifle for paratroopers and such, the Carbine can be held one-handed by its fore-shortened stock, or by its barrel. I sense that the whole matter here is stabilizing the weapon so you shoot where you intend. To do so, as in a bicycle, you work at becoming one with the weapon, so that it feels an extension of yourself; you put yourself around the weapon (don’t accommodate it to your body’s idiosyncracies). Reuven — a bit potty around midsection, shaved head, sound-proof ear muffs with a whistle hanging from them — shows five steps to shoot straight. Cock the first bullet into the chamber: stock to shoulder; right hand on stock, index finger points down the barrel towards target; left hand cradles the stock; then shifts back to snug the magazine; right cheek firmly nuzzles stock. Then, finger trigger; squeeze.

Reuven is crisp, speaks in bursts, declarative statements. 80% of terrorist attacks in the past year are in this Sharon/Dan region. He will teach us to stop a terrorist, shoot him. This is not target practice, it is not sport, nor we will not qualify for Madgam, the SWAT team. He will teach us to load aim, shoot from standing, kneeling and concealed positions. Russell later tells me that Reuven covers in 3 hours what is generally taught in three days.

The Carbine. Designed by convicted murderer, David M. “Carbine” Williams, for Winchester arms, it was first delivered to the U army in 1942; about six million made and is now on its third generation, the second moving from fixed wooden stock, to foldable. A semi-automatic, it works off a clip, is much lighter than the previous M1 rifle. Effective to 300 yards.

The “dry training is perhaps twenty minutes: shows us how to check the rifle when we receive it. Always check. Trust no one. Two fingers into the empty magazine to be sure no bullets inside; slide back the bolt and eye-check for remaining bullet in rifle; check that safety is on. Then load.

Details. If the magazine’s ears are bent apart (as can happen with repeated use), bullets can jam. Check the magazine. Check that the magazine is fully loaded; too late when in the field to find out that only two bullets were in the magazine.

Then Reuven with one finger draws out the “line of death.” No one steps past it on the firing range. Never. Stand behind, get ear cover, pick up rifle. Check rifle. Load. Then, always: hold barrel parallel to ground; always point towards target; always keep forefinger along barrel until ready to fire. Always, always. Yet, I am surprised how often, someone with loaded rifle, turns to ask Reuven or an instructor a question, with barrel waving in the breeze, finger on trigger.

Perhaps 60 people crowded in here. We are quickly lined up to shoot. Five standing; five kneeling.

Standing position I recall: about forty-five degree knee bend, feet a bit beyond shoulder width, right slightly back.

I drop to kneel; forget details. Make a body tripod: right knee drops; butt on right heel; left elbow rests just forward of left knee; cheek to stock. Shoot.

Once cocked, the Carbine unloads its clip with each pull. If jammed, check bolt; resume.

Cartridges fly; one, still-hot, glances my scalp. The ground is littered in a hail of .30 cartridges. Two girls reload our magazines. You could do a soft shoe, tap dance without taps here.

I go for round two, realizing that I fired not fully aware of what I had done. Surprised at the power of the recoil, how much the barrel rises after each shot and needs to be re-aimed. Concentrate on getting the front sight (a “shin” in hebrew) within the center of the circular rear sight. With the Carbine, I use my right eye; with the gun, we learn differently. Do fine with standing shots, then drop to shoot, with left knee down. Both instructor and I notice that I err. Correct to right knee, and he gives a slight push to my rump, encourages me to have a firm seat on my heel. Fire the remaining five into target.

We break before handgun training.

We will shoot on Berrettas and FN, except for those who brought private guns.

Reuven emphasizes the close-range and difficult accuracy of handguns. With good aim, effective to ten meters; every meter beyond, accuracy drops fifty percent, until almost zero likelihood of hitting intended target at twenty meters. Intended target he emphasizes. A degree off in close range, means about one meter off from near target. He engraves into our foreheads: passersby get hit by handguns. Almost every close-quarter terrorist action has some passerby hit by accident.

After the dry training on gun parts, the rapid draw demonstration, he keeps it to the point. For handgun, point and shoot. Don’t bother aiming. Point: with forefinger towards target, then into trigger, then quick bursts. Aim to stop the terrorist.

(Now, I picture most vividly Reuven in profile, whipping the handgun from holster, right elbow 90 degrees gun at eye level, left hand cocks as in-one-motion rotates gun upright, elbow to side, fore finger points to target, then shoots in bursts. He pivots repeatedly, lightening moves,180 degrees to us from side to side. Moves precisely, focused, as if nothing exists but his imaginary fatal target. I want to be at his side, on his side. Always.)

Everyone disarmed, we move past the line of death, deep into the target range. This is a shabby concrete outside structure; nothing like the TV versions of indoor ranges with mobile targets and such. Beyond the targets is a deep berm of heavy sand (to absorb bullets, prevent ricochet) and beyond that, concrete wall. The wood posts between the line of death and the far targets are bullet riddled.

This is just to get the feel. No drawing from holsters, no fancy right elbow at 90 degrees followed by left hand cock and hand rotation 90 degrees to elbow at side. Just stand, grasp right hand with three fingers on stock, forefinger along barrel, thumb ninety degrees around the inner stock; left hand three lower fingers wrapped around right fingers. Stand feet slightly wider than shoulders, elbows slightly out, triangulating with the gun at the apex of this isosceles. Bring gun up to eyes, not head down to gun. Fire in burst.

Then, drop to crouch, and fire remaining clip. Each Berretta carries eight .22 calibers, just a bit more than half the diameter than its larger cousin, the nine millimeter. Lighter, smaller, the Berretta is weapon of choice for citizen police. The nine millimeter FN has a more pronounced recoil; need to get it aimed more, even as I try to remember to point, shoot bursts.

On the bike ride back — urban cowboys on our steel steeds, packing — Russell reveals his knowledge and background about arms. Defying the danger of the traffic, I try to listen. He goes through technical details; differences between rifle and handgun; how god made each man different and Samuel Colt made every man “equal”; how the rifled barrel spins the bullet so that it begins to spiral outside, enters the body, flipping over itself, creating greater damage — stopping power. From this father of four, an engineer, who left South Africa after his mother was tortured in front of his wife and children. Who lives in this idyllic Ra’anana. Who, on bike patrol the night before, sees the suspicious abandoned bag left by the sidewalk of a bustling restaurant; the car parked in a bus zone as commuters wait; the Russian fellow, nervously smoking a cigarette as he waits outside a money-change store as the owner is just locking up. He notices more than I see. I admire, but do not envy how much he notices.

Here is what I do notice: at the firing range, an absence of machismo. These men and women are here to learn how to shoot; no sport in this. There is an air of seriousness without being grim. Stopping power. Sobering.

In 1977, a dear colleague and student of Piaget, Gilbert Voyat, took great pride as we strolled in Estoril, Portugal along the beach, in talking about his rifle from army service. I could not put together in my mind how to integrate his remarkable intellect, sensitivity to a child’s thinking, with such prattle about guns. I learned after our walk, I learned from his exquisite and dedicated younger wife, that Gilbert was dying of renal cancer. Earlier, as we were walking through a dark tunnel in the evening, crossing beneath the highway, heading towards the beach, and my then wife was a bit frightened in the dark, Gilbert took her arm, and told her to whistle a happy tune, just like in the movie. I understood later how much he was whistling in the dark.

My friend, Paul Ekman told me that the two countries with highest per capita ownership of firearms are Switzerland and Israel; both have low homicide rates. Seems a matter of culture and self-control.

Copyright 2006 Nathan Szajnberg

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