This past year I was invited to join a charity based women’s group. Once a month a member of the group is responsible for organizing a fun, something-out-of-the-ordinary group event. That member also picks a charity/fundraiser for the group to support each month. We learn something new and also do a community service at the same time. It’s a win-win.
For the month of November, the group event was a beginner’s gun safety class that included time in the firing range with instructors, learning how to use several different types of hand guns. Considering the recent world events, hot-button topics around gun control and politics, this seemed like a very timely activity.
I grew up in rural Michigan, for the most part, and firearms are common in many households. Most of my male friends and family members from back home are hunters and I was not raised to fear guns. Respect them, yes, but fear them…no. Despite growing up around guns, I myself never actually fired one before. I had no interest in learning how to shoot as a teenager. I was more interested in scoring NKOTB tickets and curling my hair. And I just took it for granted that if shit went down, someone around me would know how to handle the situation.
Now, as an adult living with my family is southern California, my perspective has changed somewhat. I do not own a gun, nor have I ever owned a gun. Neither has my husband. But it’s something we’ve been talking about. The world is changing, and Dan and I both agree that we can’t afford to be ignorant about what it might take to protect our home and family. Every day I turn on the news and listen to stories about home invasions, burglaries, sexual assaults and murder in the LA area. Granted, LA is a very large, densely populated city, which could explain the seemingly high crime rate, but violent crime is a regular occurrence here, nonetheless. Although my neighborhood and community is typically very safe and family friendly, that can’t be my excuse for being uneducated and unprepared in a time of crisis. So when the opportunity to participate in this gun class came up, I jumped at it. The group also agreed to allow our husbands to participate in this event, so Dan and one other husband joined us for the class.
I will admit that when I first heard the group was organizing this event I got super excited. I thought it would be so badass! I hoped I would be good at it! Don’t most of us secretly imagine ourselves as some supreme badass super-hero at some point? Even if it’s completely unrealistic? Have you ever imagined yourself as the hero or heroine in your favorite action movie or book? Well, I have, and all my favorite heroines know how to kick-ass and take names. I admire men and women who know how to handle themselves, intellectually as well as physically, and I will be honest and say that I was looking for a little validation that there might be some steel beneath the magnolia. Plus, no one wants to look like a candy-ass at a firing range!
But surprisingly, excitement is not what I felt during the class. The class was taught by the manager of the firing range and it was very informative and safety oriented. It was also very sobering. To hold that cold, hard steel in my hands and know that it’s an instrument to both protect myself but also hurt another person left me feeling very heavy. I could feel the weight of that responsibility across my entire body, not just in my hands. And this was just while I was practicing how to load a semi-automatic hand gun with fake bullets. It was a bit terrifying to realize that once I got into that range, if I screwed up, someone could get hurt.
When the time came to move into the firing range, I was so nervous. Even with head-gear on, it was incredibly loud and the smell of gun powder was thick in the air. I became very uncomfortable with the idea of shooting in mixed company. I didn’t know any of these other people sharing the range with our group. What if one of them lost their shit, turned around and just open fired? There was one squirrelly little man who made most of us nervous. He was using a wicked looking rifle with high-caliber ammunition. He kept hopping around with this delighted smile on his face while squeezing off rapid fire shots at his target. Even the staff at the range had to keep asking him to slow his roll. A staff member would come over the speaker system and say, “Hey Rambo, settle down in there. No more than one round per second.” Really? Because that’s a lot of fucking rounds!!!
As for our group, we had three bays with two handguns situated at each bay. We also had two instructors assisting us and providing verbal directions. The first gun I used was a Beretta, and the first shot I fired was not at all what I expected. It wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t exciting. It was stressful. It was much harder than I thought it would be, and it took a great deal of physical and mental concentration. While the kick-back wasn’t too bad, I found my entire body tensing with each shot. I had to take deep breaths to calm myself in order to line up my shot accurately and the shells kept flying back and bouncing off the side of my head and shoulder. After loading my second weapon, my shoulders and arms began to ache from the strain. At the second bay, I used a Glock 17 for my target practice and I found it to be more comfortable than the Beretta. My aim improved significantly, and one of the instructors kept narrating the anatomical injuries of the target with each shot I took. This definitely added some levity to the moment and helped me to relax. The more I relaxed, the better I did.
“Oh, bulls eye! That’s a kill shot baby!”
“Left lung! He’s a goner!”
“You got him in the throat! That’ll do it!”
When I was done he said, “Everyone one of those is a kill shot, honey. You did good.”
Although there were six different hand guns for us to try, I found I had hit my physical limit after three. So much for my secret super-hero status! I do regret not taking my turn with the 357 Revolver, as everyone else said this one was much easier to use. Overall, the night turned out well and we had a great time, but I find myself to be completely conflicted over it. I wanted to do well, and I did. I wanted to like it, and I didn’t. I’ve been trying to tell myself that’s a good thing.
The San Bernardino shooting took place two days after my gun class, and two hours away from where I live. The world is changing. And realizing how much we might have to change with it breaks my heart a little more each day.
PS–this is not meant to be a political post of any kind. I am not advocating for or against gun control. I’m simply sharing my experience with you. And because I hate ending this post on such a somber note, I’ll leave you with this….