I still can’t believe that I shot a gun. Up until my recent adventure at a local shooting range, the most dangerous weapon I’d ever touched was a squirt gun, and even then I wasn’t a terribly good shot. As a kid, a squirt gun battle typically left me soaking wet, in tears and running to my mom with an empty weapon while my opponent was dry, laughing and enjoying the thrill of victory.
Growing up, I had very little knowledge of guns. I come from a pacifist Methodist family that rejected violence. My parents locked their doors and took precautions to keep us safe, but there were no guns in the house—ever.
My Grandma Mabel was a different story. After her second divorce, when she was in her mid-50s, living in a great, big, old house in South Carolina, she bought a gun for protection that she kept in her nightstand drawer right next to her bed. There had been some robberies near her neighborhood and no way was Mabel going to let anyone pilfer her jewelry box. The drawer didn’t have a lock on it, but my cousins and I knew the gun was there because she told us. “Don’t you kids EVER open that drawer or you’ll get a whooping so hard it’ll knock you into next Sunday!”
We were terrified of Grandma Mabel. No one touched that drawer.
But one summer night in the late ’70s, a prowler used a switchblade to slice his way through a screen in my grandma’s living room and crept down the hallway to my grandma’s bedroom. When he opened the door, she was sitting straight up in bed in her silk blue nightie with her pistol aimed at the shadowy figure, a nightlight giving her ample illumination before she pulled the trigger. She shot the intruder in the shoulder, and he cried out in pain and hightailed it down the hallway and through the side porch door to the street, where he fainted. Grandma Mabel called the police and the man went to the hospital and then to jail. Apparently, word got around to the other bad guys in the area, and my sharp-shooting grandmother never had a problem again. The neighborhood kids were even afraid to go by her house for trick-or-treating.
I was grateful that Grandma Mabel was alive and well, but I hated the violence and bloodshed associated with the experience.
Her daughter, my mother the liberal Democrat pacifist, didn’t buy a gun until she was around 60 and living alone in a big house here in Southwest Florida. She was unapologetic when I voiced my objections. “I don’t love guns,” she told me. “But, the security of knowing I have one and that I know how to use it comforts me. Living alone can be scary.”
Luckily, my mom never had to take hers out of the nightstand drawer, and if it gave her an extra measure of security, who was I to judge?
But then, about a year or so ago, my husband took an interest in target shooting as a hobby. Typically, Todd prefers to golf, but he has a friend who happens to be in law enforcement who enjoys target practice, so instead of the driving range, he took Todd to the shooting range, and Todd was hooked.
We talked long and hard about it. Todd took classes, studied and earned a permit. He’s very respectful of guns. He’s a very safe gun owner. And he knows that the sheer power of firearms frightens me.
I have several girlfriends who enjoy target practice—and they go with their partners, or with their gal pals, to shoot on Saturday afternoons. They’ve shown me their photos sporting big earmuffs to drown out sound and goggles to protect their eyes. They’ve told me it’s fun and empowering. Todd’s suggested that we go to the range with friends and that I should give it a try. He never pressures, but he has hinted that it might help me get over my gun phobia.
They don’t call me Ms. Adventure for nothing. So, on a recent Saturday morning my husband and I headed for a range near our home, Fowler Firearms and Gun Range. I felt comfortable in the fact that if the experience were completely dreadful, all I had to do was walk away.
Fortunately, I had an excellent—and extremely patient—instructor. Ray Grant is a Master Shooter with the United States Practical Shooting Association, and he’s been helping nervous adventurers like me for around 30 years or so. Before we walked from the lobby to the indoor range, Ray basically gave me a brief history of firearms—from the muskets of the Revolutionary War to automatic rifles of today. Ray doesn’t shoot automatic rifles, and the gun range doesn’t allow folks to use them there. “Automatic rifles have nothing to do with skill,” he said. “They’re only used for one thing, and it’s not the hobby of target shooting.”
When it was time to walk into the range, I was tentative. There was a young couple in one lane; a boyfriend teaching his girlfriend how to shoot—it was her first time, too, and she looked far more at ease than I did. In another lane, there were two young men taking turns. And in another, there was my husband shooting up a storm. With the first fire of the shot (BANG!) to my right or to my left (I can’t remember), I jumped a foot off the ground, grabbed Ray’s arm and dug my nails into his bicep like a spooked cat.
Ray led me out and back into the lobby.
He handed me a cold glass of water and talked to me about growing up on a farm in rural Indiana. He told me how, as a kid, he had a rifle and he and his family would shoot tin cans off of tree stumps. For them, it was fun. He urged me to relax.
I took a deep breath and we went back in. I flinched a little every time there was a shot, but I stopped hopping into the air and clawing people. Ray showed me how to load a .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol. He showed me how to grip it, which, oddly, reminded me of the time Todd tried to show me how to grip a putter on the golf course. Ray showed me how to stand with my left foot slightly behind my right, shoulder-width apart, and how to focus on the bullseye 5 yards in front of me. And when I was all ready to shoot, he took me out into the lobby again. He told me to, when the time came, take a deep breath in and pull the trigger as I exhaled. And he gave me another glass of cold water to drink.
By the time I went back in for the third time, I was not only ready but pretty jazzed to see if I’d be any good at this venture. And sure enough, out of nine bullets fired in one round, eight of them hit the target. Todd was beaming a bit and took a photo of me from behind. I posted it on my Facebook page with the caption “Overcoming fears.”
The reactions were interesting, and it got political pretty fast with my conservative Republican friends making comments like, “You go, girl!” while my liberal Democrat friends simply asked, “Why?”
I get it. My adventure definitely pushed my boundaries and propelled me way out of my comfort zone. Shooting won’t become a hobby for me, and I certainly didn’t find it relaxing or particularly fun. But at the end of my session Ray asked me, “So, if someone broke into your house and you were in the bedroom with a gun available, would you know what to do?”
I answered that I would and that, in fact, my Grandma Mabel would be proud.
Read more of Ms. Adventure's adventures here