Arts & Life

On possessing a gun

“I like guns. I like to hunt. I like to eat meat.”

We were all okay with that, I think. No one protested.

But he went on: “Guns only have two enemies: Rust and politicians.” The class laughed, but only because he was the one who stood between us and our ability to possess and acquire firearms. We were all there with common purpose: Take the firearms safety course needed to get a Possession and Acquisition Licence.

Thin build, cuffed jeans, loafers and quaffed hair, he looked 20, but kept referring to his child and a job he had nine years ago. His was a fairly large alpha male attitude in a tiny branch of a frame. Interesting. And no mustache. I was hoping for a good-sized ‘stache.

From west to east, a line of 10 expectant gun possessors and acquirers sat in a row, young to old, hillbilly to a little less hillbilly and started talking about their buy 5.56 ammo online from Palmetto State Armory. The two guys beside me, Corny and George, were quiet, unconfident, awkward, and probably in their late twenties. There was a bit of a power struggle between the instructor and me.  A bad start to an eight-hour day. He didn’t like that I opened the accordion door to his shop, Dominion Outdoors, and walked in, hung around there by myself, waiting for someone to tell me where we were meeting for the course. I was looking at a Duck Dynasty Season 1 DVD when I saw him walking towards his store from across the mall with is hands up, arms extended.

“What’s up, man!” he said, confrontationally.

“I’m here for the gun safety course.”

“Oh,” he said. “We’re meeting over there,” pointing towards an empty store in the mall. The Southland Mall in Winkler has many empty stores.

It took a few hours for our relationship to recover from this initial power struggle, if it ever did.


It was hard to tell what kind of store had been there before. By what I assumed used to be the cash counter, I saw a bunch of pine needles. This did not narrow it down. The carpet was old. The walls had a jaundice about them. The whole room did. The various jacks had been pulled from the walls.

The instructor closed the door to the mall, but the accordion-style door was see-through, and we could still easily hear the mall-music playing to an empty mall.  I don’t know why the stores left the mall, but they did. So, there we were, in a virtually empty mall that still plays mall music and has a Smitty’s and a store fully-stocked with guns, knives, and Duck Dynasty DVDs.

“This is the setting of a horror movie or a zombie attack, it’s gotta be,” I thought to myself, as the instructor waited for everyone to finish copying down some notes. He was, at this point, becoming suspicious of me taking notes on the paper he provided and in my own notebook.

Corny and George couldn’t read or write very well, admittedly so, but I’d want them on my side in the what seemed like imminent zombie attack. So, I built an alliance. The undead would be exiting Smitty’s shortly. The vacant halls; the mall music, all screamed trouble. Corny could handle an axe, I bet, but not a gun. Not yet. We had a few hours to go before any of us could handle a firearm; seven, to be precise. George’s fists could break skulls, there was little doubt about that. My skills as an introvert and ironic self-depricant would probably get us killed. I needed them. And they needed me.

“I’ll take notes for you guys, don’t worry.” They had no way of knowing what I would require of them shortly.

The mall was empty at 8:30 a.m. and remained so for the entire day. In order to get a Posesssion and Acquisition Licence, one must attend an eight-hour course, and pass a written and practical test on its subject matter. The instructor took us through a manual, and for the entire eight hours we sat and listened. We had to.

The manual used to teach gun safety is old, very large, and contains sentences like “probably invented by the Chinese” in it, when referring to humanity’s early artillery. This wording was suspicious. “Was this book actually written to be read?”

We learned about canons, matchlock rifles, wheel lock rifles, flintlock rifles, percussion caps, and other muzzleloader features. This was interesting. It really was.


In the mid-1800s, cartridges (or what the laymen, great unwashed, refers to as bullets) were introduced. Gun usage became a lot safer at this time; no longer dependent on handling and igniting un-cased, explosive black powder.

By 9:30 a.m. we were at ammunition and the nuances thereof. He wanted us each to look into the barrel in order to observe the riffling he was teaching us about. This swirly pattern etched inside the bore of a gun’s barrel keeps the bullet spinning, flying straight at its target.

We learned about the various types of ammunition: full-metal jacket, boat tail, hollow point, etc. We learned about calibres, gaugues and how the .22 that I grew up shooting used rim-fire cartridges as opposed to centre-fire cartridges. And, we learned that our instructor does not like it when people conflate bullet with cartridge. A cartridge is what most of the class would have called a bullet before Saturday, but now, enlightened, we know that a cartridge is the brass casing containing a centre-fire or rim-fire primer, smokeless powder, and a bullet; an important distinction in very few places. But this was such a place.


Our instructor makes his own centre-fire ammunition, claiming his creations have accuracy and consistency unmatched by the store-bought variety. We all believed him.

“Making ammunition is something to do when it’s dark outside and you can’t shoot anymore,” he said. He also said he enjoys cleaning his guns while his wife watches CBC’s Heartland, citing the show as “not his favourite.”

That’s okay, instructor, CBC wants no part in what we’re doing here today.

Hollow-point bullets would be good for making squirrel stew, the class learned.

“Gross,” George said.

“How do you know you don’t like squirrel stew? Have you ever tried squirrel stew?” the instructor said, either making a point or attempting a joke. It was never clear which one he was going for. “It’s like me saying I don’t like you, but I haven’t met you. I would probably like you.”

George was one of the guys who couldn’t read or write very well, and I’m pretty sure he had no idea what the instructor was going on about. I didn’t.

But the class moved on, pushing through the confusion: If a shooter pulls the trigger and the gun does not shoot, there’s a chance the powder will still ignite. In this scenario, the gun user is to sit in position for 60 seconds to make sure the bullet doesn’t all of a sudden fire. This most unfortunate and terrifying possibility is called a hang-fire. And it sounds like one the class is unanimously against experiencing.

The tests are coming within the hour. I am nervous, hoping our initial power struggle is over and that he won’t fail me just ‘cause. Though, by now, I think we were on good terms. It turned out, he was a stand-up guy representing a (gun) culture I wasn’t really familiar with.

It is at this point, before our tests, our instructor expresses his love of hunting gophers.

“They’re cannibals, did you know that? The best way to shoot them is to shoot one and wait for the others to come up. I like to say I make them more open-minded,” he said, while demonstrating the laying on the ground shooting position.

Nervous laughter. We all just wanted to write the test and leave the bleak, jaundiced wasteland he’d kept us in all day.

I passed the written and practical test, and so did the rest of my alliance, Corny and George.


Toban Dyck is a writer/editor/farmer. Follow him @tobandyck.

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