I have never been a fan of firearms. I mostly found them scary, and the only things I liked about my grandfather’s hunting trips to the Italian countryside were the stories about wild foxes he came back with.
Yet here I am, looking through a scope at a black piece of paper that has been placed metres away from me, the butt plate of a rifle pressed against my shoulder, while my finger gently tickles its trigger. I can almost feel the silence. I have already tried my luck with a heavy air gun: my hands were so shaky that the gun kept rattling left to right as if my body were shaking with laughter. It wasn’t.
Instead, the rifle is steady. So I hold my breath and pull the trigger. Once. Twice. Then again. Three more times, until the acrid smell of the propellant turns into barely noticeable whiffs of smoke. My heart pounds vigorously against my ribs, pushing adrenaline to the tip of my fingers like small electric jolts.
“That was a good shot!” Stefán Ingi Ólafsson smiles at me from the doorway. In 2012, Stefán was among the group of Borgarnes firearms aficionados who founded the Skotfélag Vesturlands. It took them two years to renovate an old slaughterhouse they received from the municipality into a brightly lit shooting range with alabaster walls and blood-red accents. Now it counts 130 members including women and young kids, who can start shooting under the supervision of a teacher at about fifteen years old.
Stefán and a colleague seem excited to show me around. Their boisterous laughter echoes under the high ceilings, but that doesn’t mean they don’t take this volunteer work seriously. In a luminous room for airgun shooting, they are patient enough to show me repeatedly how to place my feet and hold the gun, reminding me never to turn it to either side lest I hurt someone. Then, when Stefán points the gun, something changes. There is something majestic about him as he straightens his back, his gun suddenly an integral part of his hand. His arm performs fluid, steady movements and I can see he’s in his element. He’s a trained hunter.
Hunting & Competing
Stefán began shooting on hunting trips in the surrounding countryside. The hunting season, however, is relatively short. A shooting range like this seemed like the perfect opportunity to continue practising during the winter. “I think that’s how most people start. We are all countrymen here and for countrymen owning a gun is an advantage,” Stefán tells me. “But when you start having a taste for competition it becomes a sport. I’ve competed a couple of times myself. I mean, some people play chess; some choose football; I just want to shoot.”
Though evidently very proud of their shooting range, Stefán and the rest of the society are excited about acquiring licenses for an outdoor area to better train hunters in long-range shooting, field target and clay pigeon shooting—all with their own registered and silencers, which are essential for protecting ears. With their guns safely stored in 6mm steel safes, the Shooting Society takes all possible precautions to make this a safe environment for everyone, as Stefán makes abundantly clear when he reels off all the rules. I understand now the ideas I had of this place (and of an arms-free Iceland) were a little naive. “I think this image people have of firearms as a prerogative of criminals is what we have to confront ourselves the most,” Stefán confirms shaking his head. “People tend to associate guns and silencers only with crime or murder, as if we were in a James Bond movie, but it has nothing to do with feeling protected or being a criminal. For us this is more of a social endeavour.”
It’s already 8pm when we finally walk towards the target I was aiming at with my rifle. When the guys get close enough they burst out laughing. “Are you sure this was your first time?” he asks. Five out of six shots went straight through the two innermost circles. I nod my head in amusement. I think now I’ve got a taste for it, too.
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