Hitting the target: My first experience at firing a handgun

As part of the documentary VeraCity: The Gun Chase, reporter Cristina Howorun meets with JR Cox, who owns a gun range in Toronto to discuss the process of obtaining a gun license and learns how to properly shoot a gun for the first time.

By Cristina Howorun

As part of an original Citytv documentary, VeraCity: The Gun Chase, reporter Cristina Howorun examines the causes behind and source of Toronto’s gun problem and the impact the violence has on victims and their families. In this first person account of what it takes to acquire a gun license in Canada, she also experiences what its like to fire a gun for the first time.


I’d never picked up a gun before, at least not a real one. I shot a BB gun at a target range at a Caribbean resort once, but that hardly counts. Nobody in my immediate family has ever shot a gun, and in my large and extended family, its never really come up. There may be some hunters in my family, but its not part of any conversation I’ve ever had. And the veterans that returned from service didn’t come back with guns. I didn’t grow up in a culture of firearms, and I was fortunate enough to grow up in the suburbs, relatively isolated from street violence.

Guns aren’t part of my life.

But last fall, I set out to try my hand at the trigger as part of Veracity: The Gun Chase, a documentary I was working on. This was a foreign concept to my mom and her friends – why would I want a gun? Why would I want to fire one?

I wanted to have at least some level of experience with a topic I was covering and investigating so extensively, and I wanted to see what it took to get a gun legally.

Last fall, I enrolled in a three-day course. In a classroom with about 10 other students, we spent hours learning about firearm theory. The only guns we used were modified so they no longer worked and were for learning purposes only; learning how to properly load and unload a gun, how to safely carry a gun, how to properly store a gun.

I felt like I was back in high school, writing extensive notes about the history of guns, the parts of guns, safety protocols, the rules of gun use and ownership. Taking tests – written and practical – and being required to earn over 80 per cent before passing the course (which I did, I scored over 90 per cent).

But even after passing the tests, you can’t apply for a licence. I had to wait about six weeks for the official results to come back so I could fill out the Possession and Acquisition Licence Form, and submit to criminal record checks, reference checks, and answer a myriad of questions about my mental health, job and relationship status. The RCMP will check out all that, and when they are done, I’ll get my licence.

And once I do, I’ll be on their radar.

RELATED: Getting a gun has never been easier for criminals in Toronto

My name will go through their computer system every single day. If I’m arrested, they’ll know. If I’m a victim of a crime, they’ll know. If I’m a witness to a crime, they’ll know. And they’ll decide if they have to come and retrieve any guns from my home, if I own one.

Until then, I can’t own a gun – or shoot one – without a PAL holder supervising me.

And that happened last fall too.

JR Cox is the president of “The Edge Group” and owns Target Shooting, just outside of Stouffville. He took me to his range to show me how its done. Here’s what I learned – shooting a stationary object is hard. Really hard. And guns, they are heavier than you may think.

I had just finished my safety courses, so all that info was still very fresh in my mind, and I knew that an unloaded gun wasn’t going to hurt anybody – at least not in this context – but I was still frightened picking it up.

Remember, I’d never held a real-life functioning gun before, so once I had it loaded, holding it was a little scary. I was worried about all the potential things that could go wrong but then I remembered that I was following the rules, was in a controlled environment, and under the watchful eye of a seasoned marksman.

I nervously picked it up, and under JR’s guidance, adjusted my posture and stance. I took a deep breath, set my sights on the target and pulled the trigger.

It was powerful. I felt the kickback, I heard the noise. And I hit the target – not the bullseye, but the target.

I’m not going to lie but shooting at a target is FUN. It requires patience and skill, but I can see why 2.2 million Canadians do this for sport. At some point, even with cameras, and my crew and JR beside me, it felt like it was just me, the gun and the target. I’m proud to say I hit a bull’s eye in my first three shots (just don’t ask how close the target was).

Holding that gun, I not only felt the weight of the hardware but the responsibility that goes with it. In the right hands it’s a tool, it’s a piece of sports equipment (target shooting is an Olympic event, and Canadians fare really well) and it’s a way of life (think hunters in the north or rural parts of Canada).

But in wrong hands, it’s a weapon.

I imagine that’s why it takes so long to go through the process of getting a licence. Pre-COVID , people were waiting five-to-six months. Now, those delays are even longer.

I’m not in a rush for my licence to arrive. Gun ranges in Ontario are closed right now because of the pandemic, and I don’t think I’ll ever purchase a gun. Its an expensive sport; there’s the membership fee for the range, the gun itself and the ammunition, the proper storage capabilities and the time spent at the range to actually become a good marksman. Shooting is more expensive than golf, and I have no interest in hunting.

I wouldn’t be able to use it for self-defence either. Just because I have a licence doesn’t mean I can legally carry a gun in my purse or glovebox. It would always have to be locked up – the bullets too – and kept at home or the range. And if I was the victim of a home invasion, I’d have to get to the gun safe, unlock the gun, unlock the ammo, and load the gun before confronting the intruder. I wouldn’t have a chance.

So even though I’ve taken the courses, and applied for my licence, my home is likely to remain gun free.

But when the world reopens, don’t be surprised if you see me on the range.


VeraCity: The Gun Chase premieres Tuesday, April 27, at 10 p.m. ET / 9 p.m. CT, only on Citytv. Click here to watch the trailer.

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