The First Time I Shot a Gun

When I started working on this show about guns, Inside: Secret America: Armed & Undercover, I didn’t know much about them. In fact, I had never shot a gun before.  I come from a country, Portugal, where firearms are not as available or as popular as they are here. The civilian firearm possession rate in Portugal is about 8.5 (per 100 people) compared to 88.8 in the United States.

1503200_on-camera_deq2kuesklccf46ljqoaxnfpkdncurxrbvj6lwuht2ya6mzmafma_610x457To gain a better understanding of guns and why people are so passionate about them, we knew we had to immerse ourselves in the culture. Over the course of filming, I was able to participate in a shooting competition and shoot all types of guns, including handguns, semi-automatic rifles, even a .50 caliber, which is one of the most powerful guns out there.

While shooting can be fun, I also wanted to learn about gun safety.  So I enrolled in an NRA Basic Pistol Class. The class was an all-day affair, taught by a husband and wife team.  First there was a lecture where they explain all the basics, the different parts of the gun, and how they work. After that, the fun begins. You go outside for an intensive hands-on session where they teach how to safely handle a gun – how to load and unload, how to clean your firearm, and of course, how to shoot.

Throughout the day, I was very impressed by the emphasis they put on safety. They continually drilled safety measures into your head so you don’t forget them, including the four main principles: Always keep your finger off the trigger. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.  Always keep the safety on.  And always treat the gun as if it was loaded. Overall, it was a great experience and I learned quite a bit.

1503208_loaded-clip_waisisvschj6pqhhwgom5hbf33ncurxrbvj6lwuht2ya6mzmafma_610x610One of the questions that Darren and I asked each other during filming was what would we like to see happen, if anything, when it comes to gun laws in this country?  And I have to say, if I could suggest one piece of gun-related legislation, it would be that everyone who wants to purchase a firearm has to take a class like the one I took.  Gun laws vary by state, and while some states require safety training as a prerequisite for gun ownership, others like Arizona do not.   I found it interesting that while the NRA sponsors the class I took, they actually don’t believe the classes should be required by law.

Whether you like it or not, the US is the most heavily armed nation on earth.  Put aside the country’s high rate of gun violence and you still have thousands of people who are killed each year in accidents involving guns.  It seems to me that sufficient safety training should be mandatory for anyone who wants to own a gun.

By Mariana van Zeller, One Nation Undercover, Inside: Secret America: Armed & Undercover


  1. James Hughes
    Lufkin, Texas
    July 17, 2013, 10:15 pm

    When I started watching this documentary, I figured it would be the typical “gun bashing” junk that is usually seen on TV these days. I must say, though, that I was VERY PLEASED

  2. James Hughes
    Lufkin, Texas
    July 17, 2013, 10:27 pm

    When I started watching this documentary, I figured it would be the typical “gun bashing” junk usually shown on TV these days. However, I was VERY PLEASED with what I saw. Ms van Zeller was very unbiased and fair in her reporting, and I wish I could thank her personally for that.. This is something that is very seldom seen in reporting and documentaries these days. I am a person who owns several guns myself, and some people cannot understand that “it is FUN” to just go out and SHOOT sometimes. Guns don’t have to be bad, it is just what the person does with it that matters. THANKS for an awesome documentary!!!!!

  3. Jim Heydon
    July 17, 2013, 10:29 pm

    Title:Secret America Armed & Undercover, that was great the two of you where right on.
    Now could you two go Undercover on the gunning running

    ATF’s Fast and Furious scandal
    A federal operation dubbed Fast and Furious allowed weapons from the U.S. to pass into the hands of suspected gun smugglers so the arms could be traced to the higher echelons of Mexican drug cartels. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which ran the operation, has lost track of hundreds of firearms, many of which have been linked to crimes, including the fatal shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

  4. Brad
    July 18, 2013, 1:40 am

    ” Put aside the country’s high rate of gun violence and you still have thousands of people who are killed each year in accidents involving guns.”

    Gee, why am I not surprised you are in error by a factor of 10? Accidental deaths from firearms are only 1/10 as common as you claim.

    How about that! 9/10 of the problem you claimed has been solved, and all it took was some googling. Guess we don’t need mandatory safety training after all.

  5. James Hughes
    July 18, 2013, 5:55 pm

    I have to agree with Brad on the numbers of accidental deaths reported. I believe one of the notes was stating a certain large number of accidental deaths of children. The CHILDREN they are counting are “everyone the age of 18 and under”.

  6. John
    July 19, 2013, 4:09 am

    It was about what I expected. There were numerous factual errors. While the program highlighted how “easy” it was to buy these guns – from a private person – it didn’t emphasize that private purchases have never been regulated. Most criminals either buy their guns on the street or steal them. They don’t get them from dealers. Back ground checks don’t prevent straw purchases because the straw purchaser is specifically chosen because they CAN pass a background check. The Mexican drug cartels get most of their arms from Central and South America – or else they steal them from the Mexican Army – not the US. The .50cal rifle can penetrate steel and cinder block walls – so can many commercial hunting loads. Also – the military uses ARMOR PIERCING ammo which is ILLEGAL on the civilian market. The P-90 uses armor piercing rounds which are ONLY for sale to the military or police. The civilian 5.7mm round in NOT AP. What the journalist bought was NOT an AK-47 or M-16/M-4 – she bought civilian CLONES of those rifles. They were not fully automatic and the ammo they shoot is LESS powerful than many hunting rounds used. Many gun shows across the country DO require background checks – something she omitted. Also – .50 cal rifles cost THOUSANDS of dollars and thus are out of reach of most gun owners. The ones the military uses cost $10K+. Finally – the Brady Ban of 1994-2004 did NOT ban AR-15 and AK-47 clones. They were widely for sale during that timeframe minus a few “cosmetic” changes. Over all – the program was misrepresentative of the real firearm situation in the US.