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Posted on Monday, February 2, 2009 in Army wife, fears, Me

I think there’s a myth that children like to do things to scare themselves. I’m not so sure. Yes, I jumped off roofs, played chicken with cars, and listened to ghost stories, but only to prove how tough I was. It was not to scare myself. But as an adult I’m trying to do a few things that frighten me or take me out of my comfort zone. Last week I went to a professional group’s mixer and talked with people I didn’t know. But a few months ago I did something much scarier. I took a defensive handgun class.

Now I’m not a fan of guns. I recall, correctly or not, my grandmother telling me in hushed tones that she had another brother who they didn’t talk about. He had died. Her older brother had shot him when they were both little kids and if you said his name the older brother would walk out of the room. That made an impression. There were guns in my house when I was growing up. I think. I never saw them, but I did see a holster my father hand-tooled in leather. I played with cap guns. But only if we playing Big Valley and I got to be Audra who carried a little deringer. It was really more of a fashion statement than a weapon.

Then I grew up and married a gun nut. I’d be quite happy if no one was allowed to own guns. Then I welcomed this man into my bedroom and all his arms into a closet with a new lock on it. The guns make me nervous. They symbolize violence and death to me. These are scary concepts now made visible in my home.

I realized that I might, if threatened, decide to take hold of one of these weapons. (In the past I’ve tended to arm myself with pens or butter knives when investigating an unknown noise downstairs.) If I didn’t want to be holding something in my hand that scared me as much or more than an intruder, I should learn how to shoot the thing. So, for that reason, and because I wanted to scare myself by doing something out of my comfort zone, and because I knew it would make HabMoo very happy, I told him I wanted to take a class.

The first thing I had to do was go to a sheriff’s office to get some sort of credentials. I didn’t pay  much attention. I gave up a fingerprint and $10 and received a form after they ran a background check of some sort. That and a handgun, lots of ammo, magazines, eye and ear protection, and some lunch was all I needed. I let HabMoo take care of all of it except the lunch.

I was nervous driving out to the range. I had discovered that all my jeans come all the way up to the waist and a holster up that high might make it uncomfortable to draw. Which turned out to be true. I had shot a few times before, but unless I was shooting something I hated (like an old DVD player) or something that produced a few special effects (like a jug full of colored water) it didn’t really capture my interest. So ahead of me was 8 hours–yes a full day–of shooting at a paper target.

We drove up to what looked to me like an abandoned gravel pit/newly created junk yard. There were some old drums full of garbage, a couple of folding chairs, and other refuse. It didn’t really inspire confidencee. A few other vehicles drove up and it did appear that we were in the right place. And, no suprise, I was the only woman. And the toilet was basically among the small bushes and grass behind where we all parked. So far, so good. I could deal with all of this.

But I had no idea what culture I was in. What were the norms? What would be considered appropriate behavior? I put on the belt and holster and gun. It did not feel comfortable. But no one stared at that. HabMoo took my photo. Everyone was friendly and talked about nothing in particular. The instructors began and we had to introduce ourselves and our weapon. I had asked HabMoo to tell me what kind of gun I would be shooting before we got there. So the first round of questioning posed no problems. I aced it. (Don’t ask me today what I shot, however. I have no idea.) And the first part of the course was going to be lecture. Not a problem. I could calm down.

I didn’t receive any range safety information, but I did learn a lot more about what people who have carry permits worry about. We discussed how to transport your weapon, what might set off alarms in a police officer, when it might be legal to shoot, when it might not be, and why. My concerns with personal safety have always been along the lines of how to not look like an easy mark for a bad pick-up line or a purse snatching. I look inside my car before I get in it and I know how to do the testicular jerk. I’ve never worried about riots or someone entering my home with a weapon or having my family threatened.

After the lecture/discussion came some real shooting and then my nerves kicked into action. I had to load a magazine. This I need way more practice in. Or more finger muscles or something. Thankfully HabMoo brought along some little device that made it much easier for me. But I was still the last one to get loaded. And now I had a loaded gun in my holster on my hip. And so did all these other guys. I was walking along with armed men. That is scary even if I couldn’t imagine them all using me for target practice. I could trust these strange men that much.

I told myself that the only thing I had to do to make this a sucessful day was to make it through the day. I didn’t expect to be able to shoot well. I would even allow myself to take the dumb girl role if needed. (Act like the blonde stereotype and giggle at everything as if it were a joke.) And I didn’t shoot well. But I was able to press the tringger and I was able to produce holes in my target. The fact the one instructor seemed to devote himself entirely to my instruction could be seen as kind of flattering. Right?

We took breaks to reload and rest. I really needed the rest. My shoulder started hurting after maybe 20 minutes of shooting and we  had the rest of the morning and all afternoon ahead of us. The guys seemed to really be enjoying themselves. One seemed a little concerned with his abilities and equipment, but I was there so he didn’t have to worry about being the lowest common denominator. We all chatted and no one showed surprise about HabMoo and I being married. (With some regularity people first assume that I’m his mother. But I’m sure it’s uncommon for sons and mothers to attend handgun classes together outside of Texas.) They expressed their approval of the reasons why I was taking the class and I relaxed my well developed social anxiety muscles.

Then came more shooting followed by lunch in the junkyard portion of the site. I was the only person there eating a vegetarian lunch and drinking carob soy milk. I felt like a cultural envoy.

More shooting followed. It was determined that I had a terrible flinch, because I anticipated every shot and recoiled from it a bit. Well, yes. I was shooting bullets. A part of me was still recoiling just from that fact. I had twice violated range safety and received only a gentle redirecting of my gun by the instructor or the marksman next to me. If someone had slapped me for it, I would have accepted that as appropriate punishment. I was unsure of myself, still scared of the gun’s potential uses, and experiencing pain in my shoulder. For the entire afternoon I shot with blanks interspersed with regular bullets so I wouldn’t know when I’d have a live round and when I wouldn’t. To build my confidence perhaps, the instructors reminded us that it wasn’t necessary to hit the head of the target. Hitting anywhere on the body would tend to discourage an assailant. Hitting a real person with a real bullet really wasn’t what I wanted to be thinking about.

We were all assured that we would pass the final test of shooting our targets from various distances. I didn’t care if I passed or not. I just didn’t want to pass out.

I passed. I was in pain and I had the fewest holes in my target, but I passed. I was disappointed that there was no written exam. I’m sure I could have outscored someone in a written test. Certificates were handed out and we headed for home.

This was the best part of the experience. Since HabMoo and I don’t agree on issues of handguns, or many political issues, we don’t often discuss them. Now we talked all the way home. Neither of us had had an experience to change our opinions, but we’d had a shared experience. We could begin the discuss from that point. I complained about the lack of safety issues covered, and he talked what he thought of their advice on what a citizen’s reaction to the police should be following a lethal force incident. I can’t even imagine that scenario (or use that language), let alone argue what the proper reaction should be. But listening to each other was transformative. I hadn’t expected this marriage enrighment side effect.

The outcome for me? I felt proud of doing something scary and not falling into the stupid girl role. I felt that while I had married a nut, he’s a nut who is comfortable with me disagreeing with him, and I love him. And I decided that I did want to carry. I decided to carry a flashlight.

  1. I’m glad you did the class with me. It just makes you yet another notch better than all the other wives I know!

    And if you thought you were tired after that class, just wait until I take you to the 2-day tactical carbine class…

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