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Backstory: Nastiest Blowback


Published December 29, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.

Kevin McCallum firing a Heckler & Koch rifle - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Kevin McCallum firing a Heckler & Koch rifle

This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2021.

"You are a dirtbag."

That was the entirety of the first email I received after a story I wrote about my visit to a new indoor shooting range in Waterbury, where I fired a 9mm pistol and a semiautomatic AR-15-style rifle.

In the days and weeks that followed, gun lovers across the nation pumped round after round of derision into my inbox.

"Dude, you are a f***ing PUSSY!" concluded one.

"You're a bitch. That is all," offered another, an observation I could at least appreciate for its brevity.

"I bet you wet your panties so bad it's not even funny," a third shared.

Attacks on my honesty, manhood and bladder control were unrelenting. A smattering of support trickled in from those who took pity on me for being dumb enough to draw a target on my own back. On balance, however, the response was of overwhelming disdain.

It wasn't that I'd called the Heckler & Koch rifle an AR-15, which it is. It was that I had the audacity to refer to it as "high-powered" and an "assault rifle," though I made clear that the second term is frowned upon in the firearms world as "inflammatory and imprecise."

I also knew that I was being a bit hyperbolic when I described the experience of firing the rifle for the first time as "like a meteor had struck the earth in front of me" and the "deep shock wave" it sent through my body.

Such descriptions not only rang hollow for some readers familiar with firearms but also struck them as patently, provably false. I received videos of 7-year-old girls shooting similar rifles with no ill effects. Others told tales of their 110-pound grandmothers taking down elk with far more powerful firearms, suggesting that I give one of those a try for perspective.

One commenter finished his diatribe against me with: "You don't deserve to live in the 'live free or die' state."

To which I replied, in an admittedly unprofessional manner, "That's New Hampshire, numbnuts."

One theory offered for the intensity of the reactions was that my story reminded some of a 2016 New York Daily News column. In that case, a reporter, following the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., went to a gun range and described firing an AR-15 as "horrifying" and "like a bazooka."

The experience, he wrote, gave him "a temporary form of PTSD."

I would never go that far, but I did describe how it was "unnerving" to have the magazine jam and how I was "rattled" by the power of that first blast.

Upon reflection, however, I think what really galled people was the final line of the story, which I stand by: "I'm not sure what scared me more — the power of that weapon or the fact that I could have taken one home that day."

A week after the story ran, a package arrived at the Seven Days office. The small, light cardboard box was addressed to me from a company in Texas that shall remain nameless.

I carefully opened the box, as my newsroom colleagues watched, and found two items that didn't immediately make sense together.

The first was a small plastic "holster" that looked like it was designed to carry a small cylindrical flashlight.

And the second item was cylindrical, but it wasn't a flashlight. It was a tampon.

Get it? A guy in Texas went to the trouble to send a reporter in Vermont a holster for his tampon. And I'm the dirtbag.