It’s been three days since we went, but Stomper, Sleepy Panda, Lady Jaye and I made a trip to the shooting range. Sleepy Panda had never fired a firearm before, and it had been awhile for Stomper — and I think she may have just fired long guns. They arrived at around lunchtime, and we had a quick bite and then discussed firearm mechanics, and firearm/range safety. I was impressed by the level of questions they were asking, and the introductory lecture I normally give was stretched out by another hour or so because of the good dialog. We discussed home defense strategies and legal issues, like the force continuum. Both ladies live in Maryland, so personal carry/protection is not really an option, but we talked about Virginia’s carry laws and the various inconsistencies associated with those laws.
The most impressive thing about Saturday wasn’t the questions, or the attentiveness the ladies displayed, or their respect of the weapons and the range. It was how learning about firearms, and then firing them in a safe, controlled environment, brought about very marked changes in their confidence and demeanor. I’ve put this entry off because it has been hard for me to tell this tale effectively without disclosing too much about the private personalities of my friends. I don’t want to paint them in a stilted light wherein they were victims waiting to happen before going to the range and then instant champions of gender advancement afterwards. However, I was so impressed by their actions that I’m willing to try to tell their story a fourth time. I hope I do it justice.
Let’s face it, most people think guns are for boys. The shooting industry is one of the last bastions of gentleman sexism. Shooting males want to encourage women to defend themselves and want them to own or at least shoot guns. Despite the willingness to educate women on how to handle, fire, and clean a firearm, there is still a lot of gender bias around. The most prolific example is how male shooters counsel women on handgun purchases. If you’re over the age of 40 and/or were raised in the South, you are most likely to tell a woman her first gun needs to be a revolver. The reason sounds honest and well-meaning at first blush: revolvers are easier to maintain and more simple than a semi-automatic pistol. That’s considerate, isn’t it? After hearing the same bullshit for fifteen or so years, I’ve decided it’s condescending at best. The flip side to the revolver recommendation is this: women are unable to keep a complex firearm in proper working condition and aren’t intelligent enough to address a mechanical failure should it occur. The old guy with the hillbilly beard doesn’t sound so nice now, does he?
You’ll find the same type of left-handed advice when it comes to shotguns. I believe that shotguns are great home defense weapons. A lot of other shooters feel the same way. Where we differ is on the power of the shotgun ammunition that is appropriate for women. Remember grandpa hillbilly, the guy suggesting a revolver? He’ll also suggest a 410 or 20 gauge shotgun, instead of the more powerful 12 gauge. “Women can’t handle the recoil.” “A 12 gauge will knock a woman on her ass.” “Lady shooters may be more suited to the 410 than the 12 gauge.” These are actual comments I’ve heard from other male gunowners, some presumptuous, some downright sexist. DrFaulken’s translation: “Me strong man. You weak woman. You not handle big boomstick.”
Here’s the reality: my nineteen year old niece, who might weigh a hundred pounds soaking wet, was able to put nine rounds on target with my Mossberg 590, and then ask for another turn behind the trigger. Lady Jaye’s mother, who is in her 50s, fired the 590 without complaint. I’ve had women of all shapes, ages, sizes, and physical condition shoot my rough-handling, military-grade shotgun. None of them were knocked on their asses or complained that it was too much for them to handle.
On top of all that, there is a lot of social pressure on women against shooting firearms. Women are nurturers. Women are healers. Women are sensitive. Women don’t share the same level of violent impulses as men.
All of that being said, Sleepy Panda and Stomper approached firearms with a willingness to learn and an open mind. Once we got to the range, they were both a little nervous but wanted to give shooting a try. I know Sleepy Panda from work and some social interaction, where she is always good-natured, kind, and a little shy. I knew her for about two years before I got her to give me a hug, and even then it was the A-frame safety hug. Not at the range. She walked right up and blasted the target nine times with my Mossberg. Like all the ladies before her, she turned around with a smile on her face, and not a grimace.
My friends aren’t pushovers, but I noticed something tangible taking place as we shot 150 rounds of .40 and 9mm and a box and a half of 12 gauge shells. They were breaking down the gender barriers erected by an ignorant society. They became more confident with their shooting. They relaxed. And they became very accurate for first-time shooters.
My absolute favorite part of the day was watching Stomper overcome her uneasiness. Her accuracy was all over the place, but she had good shooting potential. I knew she was over-thinking everything. The tension in her shoulders kept her from putting her shots where she wanted them. She had a death grip on the two pistols we were shooting (my Glock 27 and the Springfield Armory xD in 9mm, for those keeping track). I would tell her to relax, and her next shot or two would be better — then they’d start wandering again. I asked her to shoot with her strong hand only, placing her left hand on her hip. She stood perpendicular to the target, in what I like to call “Pistolero stance.” I find this helps shooters concentrate on smooth trigger pull and forces them to put a more appropriate amount of tension on the grip. Most importantly, it makes them focus.
Stomper steadied herself, took aim, and pulled the trigger … and clipped the edge of the X in the center of the bulls-eye. An almost perfect shot. She fired another round, then another, then another, discharging eight bullets before putting the gun down. She shot her most tight, accurate group of the day and stopped because she was so excited. We were all excited for her, and after a little celebration she finished off her remaining four rounds, also tight and precise. “That was fun,” she said with a smile, and I knew that she started to overcome the biggest mental barriers to shooting.
If they want to continue with their marksmanship, I know that Stomper and Sleepy Panda will both make fine shooters. They are welcome to come shoot with us any time.