The City Critic is a new, bi-weekly City Paper feature where we send a staff writer out into Charleston to experience one of the everyday things that makes the Holy City what it is.
In my 15-minute conversation with Alex Perkins, it seems like every fifth word out of his mouth is "safety." That makes sense, considering the guy runs a shooting range. "You can't focus enough on safety," he tells me. "You can't overemphasize safety. Everything else will be OK as long as you're being safe."
Quickshot Charleston opened in September, after soundproofing a former mattress store on Sam Rittenburg Boulevard next door to a check cashing place. The neighbors haven't complained about noise since Quickshot officially opened; the construction process was louder than the racket made by the guns.
Perkins has lived in Charleston on and off for about 10 years, but in the last few, he's commuted back and forth between Atlanta, where his brother Tyler opened the original Quickshot. Perkins enjoys shooting, but he assures me he's not a gun nut. "I think it's an under-served market," he says. "Half the households in America own at least one gun and there's just not a lot of places to go to be proficient. I think if you do own one, you ought to be proficient on using it and stay up on safety and everything."
Perkins is a revolver man — he likes them for their simplicity. I notice a holstered something or other hanging from the back of his pants when he turns around. "We're from the South and that's just sort of what you do. And as I got older and I think as my brother got older, we sort of went off and got into them on our own accord." Their sister, an NRA-certified pistol instructor, may one day teach a women's-only class at Quickshot. And mom — she bakes cookies, and they're crazy about them out in Atlanta. If people show up and there aren't any cookies, they get mad, and that's probably not something you want your shooting range customers to be. Charleston Quickshotters have to settle for the box of Krispy Kreme in the clean white lobby, since mom doesn't live here.
The Quickshot experience is not an especially private one: There's a range master on duty keeping an eye on the shooters, and two cameras in the range keep Perkins or whoever else is at the counter abreast of what's going on. Plus there's a big, voyeuristic window in the lobby.
If you're not already sufficiently supplied, you can rent guns (from a lowly .22 to a machine gun), ear muffs, and eye protection. You can bring your own ammo, but if you use one of Quickshot's guns, you have to use their ammo as well. And you'll have to buy a target unless you provide your own. A paper plate would suffice.
People do rent the machine guns, sometimes just to say they've done it, Perkins thinks.
I've never shot, touched, or even seen a gun that could fire off anything more than BBs that wasn't in a museum or used as some other sort of showpiece. I let Perkins select a weapon for me, placing it in pieces in the same kind of metal shopping basket that you'd carry around a grocery store filled with less dangerous loot. I'm a firearm virgin, and like any beginner, Perkins isn't going to send me into the range without some sort of guidance.
He pairs me with Frank DiNardo, a gun instructor from central casting if there ever was one, a gruff paternal figure with a military and police agency background. As we make our way through the heavy doors that lead to the range, I jump at the first shots I hear. Even with the ear protection, the bangs are startling, and I'm so rattled from the first few cracks that DiNardo reminds me that I'll need to get used to it. I keep fiddling with my earmuffs because I don't think they're fitting correctly and I really, really don't want to go deaf. I could easily envision myself, at the very least, leaving with a flesh wound, but I was hoping to keep my ear drums intact.
DiNardo takes me to lane two with a .22 and patiently shows me how to load the magazine and pop it into the gun. It's not a particularly sexy weapon, but it's light on recoil and therefore necessary for my inexperience. Quickshot provides 30-minute private lessons for a price. I get the abbreviated version: Keep the gun downrange. Keep your finger off the trigger when the magazine is in and never casually on the trigger guard. Put your fingers over your fingers and your thumb over your thumb. Bring your arms up in an awkward stance that will start to feel really uncomfortable after a few minutes. Make sure the safety is on, for crissakes, until you're ready.
And before I think I'm ready DiNardo's telling me to take the safety off. Shit just got real.
I take aim and the trigger goes off with the tiniest amount of pressure from my finger. DiNardo shouts at me after every shot, assertively supportive. Pop. "Lower." Pop. "To the right." Pop. "You've got it." Pop. "Again." Pop. "Again." And on and on until there's nothing left and the magazine is spent, and then it's lock and load once again. Each time, the buzz from shooting makes me forget how to load the magazine and DiNardo has to show me all over again. Little wisps of gun powder cloud the air after every shot. The bullets themselves aren't as scary as their spent shells, exploding from the barrel and constantly threatening to poke my eyes out, safety glasses be damned.
When the adrenaline has cleared and I look at my target, I realize I'm not that bad at this. I've managed to hit each bullseye I aim for. "It's sort of like golf," Perkins explains. "When you hit a really good shot in golf, it's very satisfying. When you hit it right in the middle of the bullseye, it's very satisfying. And it's tough to do over and over, so it sort of gets you hooked and you want to practice and get better and better." Granted, the target wasn't that far away from me, maybe five feet or so. DiNardo is impressed, or at least he pretends to be.
Quickshot Charleston is located at 1869 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. Call (843) 225-2868 or visit quickshotshootingrange.com.