A Woman’s Journey Towards Firearms Acceptance, by The Little Woman

I am a novice enthusiast. I will no doubt get concepts, practices or terminology wrong, in spite of a fair amount of research.  Forgive this please…..

I blithely lived out 51 years of life with a gun phobia. I have no idea why they scared me so, but scare me they did, and so I spent the bulk of my life with a generalized “guns must be bad because I’m afraid of them; they hurt and kill people” mindset.  My darling husband wasn’t really into shooting, when we married and since. He had an old .22 rifle that  he traded for in 1976 that was used maybe once every 2-3 years to shoot at a “varmint“, and I remember 2 or 3 occasions of going out plinking with someone’s handgun, that I wouldn‘t (couldn’t!) participate in: that was as far as our household ever got with firearms. And of course with my phobia I was always insistent that the .22 stay in the garage, or the shed, or the barn. No dangerous guns in my house, no sir.

Then came March of 2008. My “awakening“, my “becoming aware”. It started with Chris Martenson’s Crash Course, wandered into SurvivalBlog, and soon I was on my way toward becoming a full fledged prepper. So with my reading, and my believing of what was is coming down the pike in terms of our sustainability and survivability, firearms became a subject I was going to have to address. The simplistic liberal teachings I had always believed, that “guns kill people”, therefore “less guns means less killing“, were teachings that I soon realized I needed to really think through. Was it just my phobia? Was I being rational with my gun bias? What did statistics say? Why do people keep guns in their households? What is this 2nd Amendment stuff I keep reading about, and why might it be important? How does one’s personal morality fit with gun ownership? So I started reading and I started thinking. It seems silly and redundant for me to go into all of what I learned/came to realize (preaching to the choir here, I know!), and would take too long; suffice it to say that I came to see that the use of firearms in defending oneself and one’s family against thieves and killers, or unconstitutional governments or gangs, is not an immoral choice. I came to see the truth in the saying (paraphrasing here) “when guns are illegal, only criminals will own guns”, and I came to see that guns can save a life in more-than-equal measure to taking one. Ultimately, embracing preparedness finally did what nothing else could do for me: I saw the need for not only having guns in the house, but for learning how to use and care for them myself.

How did I start? was deathly afraid of the things.  My first step was having my husband bring the .22 into the house. I looked at it and I lived with it, every day. It was never shot, but just having it in the house was a necessary first step for my phobic self. After a few weeks I felt ready (gingerly, very very gingerly) to handle the rifle, to have my husband explain to me how it worked, what it ate for fuel, what safe handling of the thing meant. I kept telling/reminding myself that I was committed to learning about firearms, committed to getting over this phobia. This would be a recurring thought-process throughout my entire journey: “mind over matter”. It became easier as time went by, as I discovered that shooting can actually be fun. But early on it was a struggle. I had to work through safe use of firearms = handling = familiarity = beginning acceptance. Handling and learning about the gun helped immensely.

After a few months I felt ready for some back-pasture plinking. Not so scary anymore, actually kind of fun. Familiarity with the gun was working. Feeling safer and more competent with what I was doing was working. But it was time to take things to the next level, a level I couldn’t achieve with my husband. So sorry, but husbands as a rule are not good gun-trainers with gun-newbie wives. They are not as concerned with safe practices as we are, and they have the “I’ve always done it this way so this is the way you do it” –  mentality. (Gotta love ‘em, but don’t always have to learn to shoot with ‘em.) And of course in my case, I have a husband who hans’t done a whole lot of shooting himself. It was a classic case of the blind leading the blind.

How to start some gun-education for me? I thought about seeking out area gun ranges or clubs to find professional training, but found none closer than 25 miles away, my work schedule was problematic, and really I still felt too intimidated with my lack of gun knowledge to try them for starter training. I don’t even know what gun(s) I should learn to shoot! What now? Hallelujah – Women On Target (WOT) days to the rescue! I don’t remember how we found out about them…..online?  (My journey towards firearms has been in conjunction with a woman friend), but we did indeed find out about this wonderful resource. WOT days, sponsored by the NRA, are an absolutely excellent resource for women wanting to learn about firearms. A full day of shooting, with caring and patient instructors, in all manner of firearms, with a fine lunch and an affordable price – this is a day not to be missed. The workshops are short and low-key, suitable for novices and more experienced shooters alike. They are set up to just allow women the experience of shooting a variety of guns with no performance pressure under safe and comfortable conditions.  Newbies are welcomed and coddled, and the instructors at all of the workshops I attended just wanted you to be successful at some manner of shooting. They went out of their way to make us feel comfortable and safe and competent. And the women-only camaraderie makes the day way fun, everyone supports and cheers achievements, and there’s great swag at the end of the day too!

We shot all manner of guns: different high-powered rifles, various sizes/calibers of handguns, shotguns, black-powder rifles, and archery was included too. It is an opportunity to figure out just what kind of gun you/a woman is most comfortable with. I initially thought that while I had my bit of background with a .22 rifle, I needed to learn to shoot a handgun, as a handgun is obviously the best choice for women. I wanted to learn what was the best handgun for me. Well, surprise. After my first two WOT days (I have since attended a third), I realized that I am a shotgun woman. Can’t explain it, there is no reason for it, but out of all the shooting I did, the shotgun was the gun for me. It was the fun factor. Both workshops used both semi-autos and pumps, and I immediately gravitated to a pump action shotgun as a firearm I could actually have fun with. It was a defining moment. (A confession: pumping that action is downright sexy.) I had found a firearm that “spoke to me”, and therefore one that I was interested in learning about and becoming competent with. This, it seems to me, is where a newbie interest starts, with finding a firearm that has the fun factor.  My friend who has attended all the workshops with me is starting to become a high-powered rifle aficionado, against all odds. She, like me, had started this learning process thinking that a handgun was what she wanted to focus on, but her exposure to target rifles convinced her otherwise (and I see venison in my future as a result of her unexpected affinity for the hunting rifles. The woman is uncannily accurate for a newbie!) . Bottom line: a WOT day can start the process toward learning what firearm is the one a woman naturally gravitates to. The one she can have an interest in and wants to earn competence in. The one that has some fun factor. And that is the gun that the newbie woman should focus on, whatever it may be.

Because let’s face it, a modern life is a busy life. Full-time jobs, children and grandchildren, homemaking and caretaking: adding a new hobby/learning-experience can be a hard thing to fit into the day. So even though learning a firearm is serious business, finding one that she finds fun to shoot means that she will find/make the time to practice and learn. I think this is such an important point that it cannot be overstated: you have got to find a firearm that your woman can have fun with, before she can or will commit to learning and training.

As for me, deciding that I wanted to learn to shoot a shotgun ended up being the way around the last vestiges of my phobia, with it becoming something I so enjoyed doing. Yes, I should become familiar and proficient with handguns, and rifles, and other tools of self defense. But I have to start somewhere, and since I realized that I am never going to be a true gun freak, it made sense for me to focus my energies on the one gun I truly enjoy shooting. I must have my own shotgun. I want to learn about and become familiar with and practice with and become competent with my very own one gun. I looked around for recommendations. After extensive internet research and lots of  local “good ol boy” questioning,  I decided that the Remington 870 Youth Express 20 gauge pump action was the gun for me. Ease of use, affordability and reliability were all criteria that the Remington seemed to offer. And my research told me that a 20 gauge shotgun makes a decent home defense weapon.

And they were right. Oh, she’s a honey! I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying shooting this gun. I’m not yet terribly proficient in target-shooting (though I ain‘t half-bad, either) but I am at this point quite competent in proper shouldering and follow through (no bruises!), quick loading and safe carrying. My accuracy will improve as I practice more out in the pasture with the cheap manual clay-thrower we got for me, We are able to get out for practice about twice a month. I’m so far sticking to 2 ¾” field loads in it; later I want to branch out to practice with buckshot, which load I understand is more suitable for home defense – I will have to learn to switch out the choke tube. And we last month installed a sling on my shotgun, so that I could/can now tote my gun cross country or in the field easily, if a situation would require it. Perhaps later I could even be responsible for putting some meat on the table!

My gun phobia is all but gone. (I am, however, left with a very healthy respect for safe practices. I joke to my husband that there are none so safe with a gun as the formerly gun phobic. We know that all guns are always loaded, and always know exactly where that barrel is pointed.) And my beginner training continues. My friend and I this fall attended a three-day Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW) weekend that my state holds – another remarkable learning opportunity for women.  Three days of  3 and 4-hour workshops in all sorts of outdoor skills, with lodging and meals – it’s a kind of “summer camp for women“. I of course signed up for all of the beginner shotgun workshops, and learned so much more about my shooting stance, and sighting, and the classroom instruction on how a shotgun actually works was fascinating (go figure: that I could come to enjoy a classroom lecture on how a shotgun works!) I came away with a new appreciation, and new tools, for learning how to use my shotgun.  My goals for the coming year are to attend an Appleseed Weekend and a Hunter’s Safety Course.  Both seem basic and must-do in my newbie quest toward firearm learning, safety and competence. I have also now found a “mentor”, a friend of my husband who will help me learn disassembly, cleaning, and choke tube switching of my shotgun. And I am looking again at the gun clubs within driving distance, that I dream of perhaps setting up some more-professional one-on-one training for me. I’m learning all of this slowly but surely.

So, there is my little story. I understand that I am nowhere near ready to repel a home invasion, or to be asked to join the 673rd Shotgun Infantry Fighting Rebels (Hey, I can see it happening). Still, I am starting to feel empowered, and competent, and oh so much more self-sufficient. (And I’m having a lot of fun too!) It is a wonderful thing, this feeling of knowing that whatever may come in the months and years ahead that I am better prepared to defend myself, my family, my homestead. And my feelings of empowerment are something that I think any gun shy or gun phobic woman can come to embrace, with proper and patient exposure and instruction.

(An aside: At this point in time [December 2011], I really hope to be given the time to get more proficient with my gun, before I have a true need for it. I worry more and more that such time is running out. I wish that I had started earlier.)

In summary:

(1) Try to get her involved! Think of ways to get your newbie woman to see the wisdom of having shooting skills. Think of ways to expose her to firearms. Exposure can grow into acceptance. Acceptance can grow into enthusiasm.
(2) Consider WOT and BOW. See above, and Google for information on programs in your state.  Women-only workshops can help take the fear, the mystique, and the performance pressure out of shooting, and allow her to find the “fun factor”.
(3) Find the firearm she considers fun. It doesn’t matter which one or type, if she can find the fun in shooting it she will be more likely to want to learn. Any start is a good start toward learning shooting skills.

God bless, happy shooting, and may we never need to raise our guns in fear or anger.