David Sedaris Visits a Gun Range in My Home Town

Reading The New Yorker magazine recently — or, rather, listening to it on Audible because I don’t have much time to read — I was interested to come across a story called “Active Shooter” by humorist David Sedaris.

Half-listening, my ears perked up when I heard that he had flown to Greensboro, NC and was meeting up with his sister, Lisa, who lives in Winston-Salem. My home town!

Soon enough, David and Lisa are at ProShots Range, taking a gun safety course. I used to keep a membership and ProShots and the last couple of years I have taken my Sociology of Guns class there on a field trip.

When Sedaris said he and his sister were taking the course with “Lonnie,” the former co-owner, I knew he was recounting a several year old event. When he later says he took the class before Sandy Hook, I wondered whether he and Lisa were in the same First Shots class I took at ProShots in the summer of 2012. Probably not, but still, small world.

Given that it is David Sedaris writing in The New Yorker, I worry that he is going to give a condescendingly “humorous” account of his safety class and time on the range at ProShots. Reactionary liberals have taken shots at ProShots before.

I am pleased to report that he plays this part of the story pretty straight up. He’s no Gersh Kuntzman. To be sure, he isn’t converted to being a gun nut, but he doesn’t dismiss it out of hand. Rather, he just doesn’t find guns or shooting particularly interesting.

Lonnie didn’t forget my sister’s name—on the contrary, he wore it out. “Good shot, Lisa, now do it with your left eye closed.” “What do you say, Lisa, ready to give the .38 a try?”

“Do I have to?” she asked. The fact was that she was—that both of us were—already bored.

Fair enough. Most people I take shooting for the first time don’t get bored in 10 minutes, but then again that could very well be a selection effect of the kinds of people I take shooting.

Sedaris also writes:

It’s so foreign to me, wanting to own a gun, especially the kind you’d use in a war. I don’t know why, but shooting just doesn’t appeal to me. I did it that one time with Lisa, and don’t feel the need to ever do it again.

Also fair enough. Guns and shooting aren’t for everyone. There are things in this world that are foreign to me, that I don’t understand, and that I have no interest in.

At this point, however, Sedaris does end up following the conventional liberal narrative. He shifts from his lawful, unharmful shooting experience (boring as it is) to the issue of mass shootings and gun violence. (I identify this same narrative in the work of photographer Garrett O. Hansen as well, and criticize it in my book chapter on understanding and misunderstanding America’s gun culture, published last year.)

Those who have read Sedaris or The New Yorker could write the ending of Sedaris’s story themselves, so I won’t recount it here. I will say that he does nothing to explain the connection between the people who spend time at ProShots Range and those who shoot up schools. Perhaps because the connection is tenuous.


  1. NPR several years ago replaced “A Christmas Ode” (https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1068253), which ran on Morning Edition for twenty years, with Sedaris recounting his stint as a department store “elf” photographer and interpreting “Little Lord Jesus” as performed by Billie Holiday (https://www.npr.org/2015/12/25/459850365/a-holiday-favorite-david-sedaris-santaland-diaries). The former is poignant and, while it hits all the warm Dickensian notes, it needed to be replaced since the products, technologies, and companies it references are mostly gone. The latter is cynical, depressing, and more than a little creepy.

    Back on topic, the good news is that it sounds as if Mr. Sedaris may perhaps have had his innate anti-gun tendencies at least blunted by his time in the class. I have to wonder whether the experience simply failed to match his expectations. God, I hope so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Different strokes for different folks, I guess. We look forward to the annual playing of The Santaland Diaries. And then we pull out the videotape of Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story! Watching Ralphie pine away for that Red Ryder finally educated my wife, who grew up in a culture pretty free of guns, why I might be who I am.


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