With efforts underway to make carrying a concealed weapon legal in the District, I wanted to know what kind of training you'd need to do so safely. George Lyon, who is among those leading the charge, offered to give me a primer.
"Let's see if I can make a ragged hole," he said during our recent get-together at the National Rifle Association shooting range in Fairfax County. Using a Glock 31 semiautomatic handgun, Lyon proceeded to put three shots in the same spot on a paper-plate target 21 feet away.
"From that distance, it can take someone about 1.5 seconds to reach you," he said. "That's about how much time you have to decide whether to shoot or not."
Lyon, who lives in Northwest Washington, looks more like a bookworm than a gunslinger. But the 57-year-old communications lawyer is quick on the draw, and he's dead-on accurate with a variety of firearms - including the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle that he registered before the District banned them.
He was one of the plaintiffs in the 2008 Supreme Court case that loosened restrictions on gun ownership in the District, and now he's party to a lawsuit seeking the right to carry a gun on the streets.
He might not have to wait for a court decision. A bill introduced in Congress last week would further weaken D.C. gun laws by repealing the ban on semiautomatics such as the AR-15, make it easier to purchase and register guns and "ensure that firearms may be transported and carried for legitimate purposes."
"I compare carrying a gun with wearing a seat belt," Lyon told me. "You don't buckle up expecting to be in a car accident. But if you get into one, the seat belt gives you a better chance of survival."
Now it was my turn to face off with the paper plate.
After attaching a holster and ammo clips to my belt, Lyon handed me a Glock 26 subcompact - one of eight firearms he owns and his likely choice to carry concealed.
If that plate had been somebody's head, the ragged hole that Lyon made would have been located between the eyes. One of my shots took off what could have been a piece of ear.
While admiring my handiwork, I heard Lyon yell through the din of gunfire from the other shooting stalls: "Finger off the trigger!"
Finger off the trigger until you're ready to fire: such a simple, basic rule of gun safety, and yet so easy to forget.
As I began to holster the firearm, Lyon yelled, "Stop!" That darn finger again. Holstering a gun with a finger on the trigger is how people shoot themselves in the foot, he explained.
During the practice session, we discussed myriad critical issues relating to the use of firearms for self-defense: situational awareness, mental fitness, threat assessment, when to shoot, when to run, tactical reloading, malfunction repair under fire, scanning for innocent bystanders, not scaring off witnesses who can testify that you acted properly, what to do with your gun when police show up and on and on.
Most states don't require gun owners to have any meaningful training. The District, which still has among the strictest rules for gun ownership in the country, requires only four hours of classroom instruction and one hour on the shooting range.
"I certainly have my concerns about that," said Lyon, who has spent more than 300 hours shooting and attended some of the best firearms training schools in the country. "I would prefer that the city institute a scheme that requires adequate training to issue a concealed or open-carry permit."
That's easier said than done.
I'd been so mesmerized by the kick of the gun, the flash from the barrel, ejected shell casings flying everywhere, the smell of gun smoke and the adrenaline rush from nicking that paper plate that I didn't realize my finger was still curled through the trigger guard, unaware if only for a moment that the pistol was primed for an accidental discharge.
But a moment is all it takes for a tragedy to occur. Who knows what else I'd forget while walking the streets with a gun on my hip?
"Give me another couple of hours on the range with you, and I'll have you to the point where you'll feel comfortable carrying a gun," Lyon said.
As knowledgeable and patient as Lyon was, however, I knew it would take longer than that. A whole lot longer.