Vantage Point: The Bloodletting


When you see this at the range, should you intervene? Tom’s empathetic side says yes.

A libertarian mindset and compassion aren’t, at least by definition, mutually exclusive. However, there are occasions in life where one has to plant a stake in the ground and choose one or the other.

Most every range outing, I spot a new(er) shooting cautiously aiming a pistol downrange, arms quivering, anticipation coming off their body in near-visible waves. As I peruse the stance and grip, I see it. The dreaded “thumbs crossed” over the butt end of a semi-auto pistol.
The mini-libertarian elf break dancing on my left shoulder says, “So what? If they choose to come to the range to torch off a lethal weapon without even considering the instruction manual, then they have to live with the consequences. It’s not our role in life to save people from themselves.”

But there’s another gnome on my right shoulder. He’s playing Kenny G. remakes on a harp, and his counsel is different. “You have an opportunity to save someone from slicing their thumb clean off and bloodying up the range. Don’t you love your fellow humans? What, do you watch reruns of Halloween XVIII in your spare time? What’s wrong with you? Go help them!”

He’s got a point, because empathy comes into play in this particular situation.

I’m not talking about sympathy, where you kinda think you can relate to someone else’s situation. I’m talking about real empathy. The kind of empathy Brian Williams and Dan Rather share. You physically feel their pain because you’ve been there before, made that mistake and suffered through the consequences.

When I see the crossed thumbs, I’m pretty sure I have so much empathy the web of my support hand starts to bleed, and I start looking for a police escort to the nearest CVS Pharmacy. That’s because, once upon a time, long, long ago, when I was even more of a dope than I might be now, I just about removed a body part as a result of hubris.

My first “real” handgun was a Series 1 Colt Woodsman .22 LR semi-auto pistol. My grandfather bought it back in 1936 and fired maybe 50 rounds through it. While he didn’t save the box, he did maintain it meticulously. Apparently, his maintenance regimen included sharpening the slide rails, but we’ll come back to that. Anyway, it was (and is — sorry, I’m never parting with it) a gorgeous pistol, and I was anxious to shoot it.

At that point in my life, I’d shot a few BB guns and .22 rifles here and there. If memory serves, I even fired one shot from a .50-caliber flintlock rifle at summer camp, although I now realize the coach charged it with barely enough powder to dribble the lead ball out the fiery end. I had precisely zero experience with handguns.

But no worries, you can tell by looking handguns are easy to operate. Hold the handle thing, yank on the trigger, and it’s sure to perforate the target of your choice, right? Why would anyone bother with directions or asking for help? After all, I was a man and born in America. I’m pretty sure the genes for firearm “expert-cy” are passed down in a meandering genetic path straight from Daniel Boone.

So off to the range I went with a fresh box of .22 ammo. After carefully emptying my newly acquired Wal-Mart shooting bag, opening my fresh bulk pack of ammo, and unwrapping my Woodsman from its well-oiled T-shirt, I was ready to shoot. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous, not having any real idea of what I was doing. It was also my first time in a shooting range, so I didn’t know the etiquette.

Tom knows from personal experience the slide rails on early Colt Woodsman
models were intended to serve double duty as straight razors.

I loaded the magazine, inserted it into the pistol, aimed, pulled — not pressed — the trigger and … click. After a hot second or two, I realized there was nothing wrong with the old, but pristine, pistol. In my haste, as you’ve already guessed, I hadn’t racked the slide. Easy fix there. Upon correcting this problem, I proceeded to empty the magazine in short order, putting at least some of the shots on paper somewhere. Success! I figured I was now an experienced, bordering on expert, handgunner! So I removed the empty magazine and reached for the big box of .22 ammo to reload.

It was then I noticed some idiot had bled all over my shooting table, splattering pints of Type O- and various bits of tissue all over my gear. Huh? Where’d that come from? After a minute or two, I figured out the source of the bloodletting was my left hand, in the web between my thumb and index finger. I was flummoxed. How could that possibly have happened? Ricochet? Did the sketchy looking guy four lanes to the left shoot me? Falling pieces from the Skylab Space Station?

While I was pondering the source of my impending death by exsanguination, I made like the old spaghetti westerns and wrapped up my hand with a dirty rag. The only one I had available was the oily T-shirt shroud serving as the faithful preservation agent for my Colt Woodsman. Oil makes a great antiseptic, right? If it works for Clint Eastwood, it’d certainly work for me.

It took me quite a while to figure out what happened. As all of you likely know by now, a Colt Woodsman slide reciprocates rearward at Warp Factor 7 after each shot. And like an asteroid, it doesn’t really care what’s in the way, even if it is a frequently used body part. Oh, and I also learned Colt designed those early Woodsmans with a special bonus feature. The bottom of the slide rail doubles as a great straight razor in a pinch, pre-oiled to go easy on facial skin. I also learned precisely how much blood you can lose and still remain conscious and capable of driving. The range was a bit out in the boonies, and it took me a good 20 minutes to pack up, sneak out the front door, and find a pharmacy well-stocked with bandages and tape. That sucker didn’t stop bleeding for a good hour. What? Ask the range for a first aid kit? That’s ridiculous because it would have been … embarrassing.

I learned a valuable lesson about how semi-auto pistols work, and even more about how not to hold them. I might have also learned a thing or two about the importance of recognizing one’s own ignorance and limitations. I guess, in hindsight, it might have been a good idea to make that first range trip with an experienced friend. And, also in hindsight, I’ll bet a nickel the proprietor of that indoor range would have been happy to help me out had I swallowed the hairball of pride and asked.

By the way, if anyone needs any tips on how to best leave a shooting range discreetly, while bleeding all over the place, drop me an email. I’m kind of an expert in that.

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