I placed the ear muffs over my head, somewhat haphazardly, stumbling onto a small dial on the right side.

“What’s this knob for?” I asked.

“Sensitivity for the microphone,” he replied from the other side of the turnout, “so we can to talk to each other. Or hear footsteps. It amplifies quiet noises.”

He’d tacked up the paper target to a redwood at the bend in the road, and I stood around for a moment baffled by how they worked, forest green half dome cones of inverted silence. Once I’d adjusted them to fit snugly, I heard my own breath, my footsteps on the ground, like listening to a nature podcast. Attenuated to the lower decibels. And his voice, forty-five feet away, as if we were on the telephone.

After my second turn on the range, I turned and posed a weak hypothesis, after the two days of attempting to invite him to sit for a meditation (of any length) that the attention you needed to be a good marksman approached something like a meditation. Steady breathing focused your attention on the very exact moment, the weight of the instrument, your grip, and stance, and the exact moment of pulling the trigger — not anticipation before, not the recoil after, just exactly where you pointed the damn thing in the moment. Weak, but the headphones strengthened the argument.

His gunfire echoed down the valley, beautifully, in fact, like distant thunder, amplified by the ear muffs in a secondary manner after they had muffled and diminished the concentrated force of entropy directly in front of us as the rifle bullet accelerated to three thousand, two hundred and fifty-one feet per second. Supersonic.

Treat every gun like it’s hot, he said, even when the chamber is empty and you can see everything hollow and removed from where the violence begins. No, not the trigger. No, not the person pulling the trigger. Somewhere much further back in the chain of events. He didn’t say that metaphorical part, exactly, but we kept talking about it.

It was the easiest weapon to fire, the most accurate. That seemed like part of the whole problem. Because I liked how accurate and easily it presented its sharp objects onto the target, even at long distances from which I couldn’t even see if I was hitting the paper at all. It shouldn’t be that easy. It fired too fast, though. Not just rapidly. It created a velocity for nothing but wrecking humanity. Few things should outspeed crying.

I didn’t want one, but I saw why so many did. It had a certain slick aesthetic beauty, an engineering that created nothing but broken skeletons and profit and trauma. I’m not certain any human should seek out an instrument so well-tuned to the dampening the chords of implementing death.

But what I did want, with more desperation the further I echo away from that afternoon valley and the test firing in the temporary gun range on a hill, was a transcendental version of those electronic ear muffs that lifted the quiet and dulled the loud. The quiet voice inside could really use some assisted listening.

Because what silent idea was creeping up behind me, or trying to sneak away?

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