This post is a personal recounting of my own experience in facing and overcoming fear(s) of firearms. It is written from my (mature woman’s) viewpoint and experience, and gives a glimpse at how I have, and continue to, go through the process of recognizing what it is I fear, what “ghosts” from my past influence my approach to firearms, and the need for continuing examination of new fears arising, and continuing my education about firearms.
The experience with firearms and learning targeting skills for the woman of my generation begins in a different manner than that of the typical American kids of today. When we were children, the availability of games to learn targeting skills was limited pretty much to throwing balls, darts, playing pool and pinball, and maybe shooting a small bow and arrow or ping pong ball launcher.
During the 50s and 60s, girls who participated or hung around those activities were mostly”tomboys” or were there to be around a “special” guy, or guys. My experience is a mixture of both “tomboy” and “girlie girl” – I was a middle child with two brothers who REALLY liked anything that went boom, and I liked hanging around those guys I found to be “special” as well.
Today’s kids have so many targeting specific “games” and “equipment” available – air rifles, paintball, laser guns and rifles, high powered water guns and cannons, along with a slew of video and computer games, from small screens to large screens, from handhelds and phones to large screen Wii that involves using the muscles along with targeting skills.
However, it has been my experience personally and from being around mature women in the classes, that dedication to learning to aim and shoot is often more indicative of becoming a good or great shooter than simple exposure to targeting sports earlier in life. The “fear factor” might be slightly more prevalent in the “late learner”, but we don’t mind, as a group, taking the time to master a new skill. We didn’t grow up with “instant gratification” being one of the hallmarks of our lives.
So, on to a brief summary of my acquaintance and types of fears I have experienced with various firearms:
I have shared that I came from a military family. My dad was a rifle instructor, and shooting rifles was part of my youth. Fear did not play much of a role in shooting the 22 rifle mostly because my dad taught me well and made me feel safe, and I knew he would make sure the environment of the range would also be safe for me and all of “his kids.”
I was given appropriate safety instruction, knew how to load, unload and check any of the target rifles I picked up to make sure it was “clear,” always pointed it in a safe direction and never played around with it. It was only to be shot at a range. Period. If I saw anyone misusing a 22 rifle, I was taught to move to cover, and report them immediately to an authority.
Other than occasional target practice, I haven’t had an occasion to shoot a 22 rifle in many years.
As an adult, I made the transition to a shotgun fairly seamlessly, and admit to liking the 20 gauge over the 12 gauge because the “punch” from the 12 gauge recoil can be painful! However, I have learned to take the “beating” if I am presented with a chance at high flying ducks and geese because the effective range of the 12 gauge is much longer than the 20 gauge!
The shotguns I used have a regulation-limited three shells loaded while hunting, and the range of effectivity, even with higher rated loads doesn’t exceed much past 50 yards. Initially, this gave me a “feeling” that shotguns are pretty “safe” and controllable. I didn’t experience “Primitive” fear when shooting them, other than flinching when anticipating the recoil and knowing I would sport a bruise if I didn’t hold the shotgun up against my shoulder correctly.
My early training with the 22 rifle gave me a good foundation in gun safety, but the longer I hunted ducks, geese and grouse, the more impact stories about people accidentally shooting and being shot by hunting partners had on me. Carrying around a loaded shotgun became very scary to me for awhile.
Truth is, my early feelings of comfort about 22 rifles and shotguns was not based on logic. I had generalized my feeling of “safety” from the highly controlled and safe environment I had experienced with my dad, and “spread it” to other rifles and then shotguns in general. But without proper education in how to handle a firearm in a field situation, fear crept in. A fearful person handling a firearm is an accident waiting to happen.
Both the 22 rifle and shotguns are capable of being lethal. The shotgun has enormous stopping power at a short range, is fairly simple to work, and especially with a longer barrel, can be most effective when aimed properly.
My ignorance, while initially blissful, was problematic. I studied about various pellet composition, shapes, sizes, shell lengths, powder charges, spread of the pellets and so on. By seeking education and gaining experience in the safe way to carry and work the shotgun, I have developed more of an understanding and proficiency, and thereby lessened my fear of being out in the field with a shotgun.
High Powered Hunting Rifles
I have already shared that a large dose of Primitive Fear arose in me the first time and for many subsequent times I handled and shot a high power rifle. They are louder, have a large recoil, and are a very serious firearm to shoot.
I had no experience shooting high powered rifles. Just carrying an unloaded one around made me very nervous and fearful, although I put on the “brave face.” Off I went to “sight in the rifle” that first year, and I am fairly certain my husband was unaware that the shotgun hunting we had done did not translate into deer hunting with any sense of comfort for me.
One problem I encountered was how we sighted in the rifles with just a few rounds. That was mostly because with a scope I found it very easy to be on target. I never felt it was “fun” to shoot these powerful firearms, so shooting more than five rounds was unusual as time progressed. Then off to the field we’d go. Successful hunting usually meant one round to one deer that would be brought home, all seemed well. But I did not take the time to learn enough to feel safe and proficient in their handling until many years down the road.
It has only been the last few years that I have actually begun to feel that I am handling these rifles safely, and have become more comfortable as I have listened and learned and begun to develop a sense of proficiency
For me, handguns are another issue entirely. I had zero experience with them until I was in my 20s, when, as I shared – I was held up at gun point on two separate occasions while working a night job at a service station.
Up until that point I had only heard negative things about “guns” – accidental shootings, gang related “drive bys” and the dark and seamy side guns played in the news and the movies. The “good guys” and “cowboys” from the past century all had fabulous training in weapons of all kinds, and those in that category included the police and soldiers.
I “knew” that handguns were dangerous and unpredictable. I also knew one shot usually led to instant death. You can’t “recall” a bullet once it is fired. And so on. Society did not want people like me to gain more understanding. Guns were to be avoided. They were an instrument used to dominate, intimidate, and unless in the hands of the police or military, good only for killing other human beings.
Then in my 30s, a Taurus 9mm was put in my hands by my ex – without any instruction. I was expected to shoot it accurately by the “ex” who was a correctional officer, and had been through academy training, I was pretty much “scared stiff.” I failed miserably at hitting the target and hated every minute of it. I did learn how to clean it after shooting, so the exercise was not totally without merit. Up until the day we divorced I never shot a handgun again.
I avoided handguns as much as possible even after I remarried – until I encountered a situation I have already shared. My husband always carried a high caliber pistol when we are out “in the wild” and I was left alone with the clear signs of moose in the immediate area. Moose inspire more anxiety to fly fishermen than bears as a general rule, and I was in a position of feeling more fear of being without appropriate protection (a gun) than the fear I had of handguns.
I have also shared that I again experienced having a bigger fear of being unprotected without a handgun than the fear of carrying a gun when I was stranded in the icy, dark of winter years later. By that time I knew more about handguns, had overcome my fear of HANDGUNS in general, and was becoming proficient with many different pistols at the range and in classes. But I was still fearful of carrying a loaded gun with me as I went about my business in an uncontrolled or field environment. Very similar to my fear of high powered hunting rifles. My comfort zone was limited to highly controlled situations. “Out in the World” was a different matter.
I could intellectually KNOW that I should carry a firearm for self defense, but the myriad of situations in which actually using that firearm – in defense from an animal or a human – brought a near choking sense of panic in the beginning. It has subsided now to a lower anxiety level as I have begun to carry a loaded handgun, but I still have a long way to go.
At the very core of overcoming FEAR has got to be the DESIRE to overcome. Unfortunately that desire is usually driven by something that is more fearful than the original object of fear. But the desire and willingness to gain an education about the subject has got to be there.
Then comes mustering the courage to face your fears. It will come. It’s not magical. If you have a negative experience or societal training in your past that you must overcome you must now gain NEW experience and NEW training to accomplish your goals.
I have read that when we can’t cope with an emotion, we bury or “stuff” it safely away until at some point an event occurs that brings that emotion back to the surface. It will have the same intensity as the day we “stuffed” it, and we’ll experience the same tinges of emotion – the terror, horror, and fear – as the day we last encountered it.
If we are not prepared to handle and work through the emotions, we will once again bury it. Sometimes the response is to take that emotion and apply it negatively, as in prejudice, hatred, and generating even MORE fear to the point of being phobic. Sometimes we try to overcome the fear by using it to control others. When we approach it negatively, we aren’t handling the root cause of the problem. It just adds tends to add more fuel to the emotion and perpetuates itself.
Eventually, when we are able face that fear, and take positive steps to learn the cause or how to work through the fear, we can we begin to grow past that point and the irrational fears begin to fade away. While danger is a reality and present in many parts of our lives, doors open, new thoughts and connections become available to us, and we have the opportunity to make decisions, take action and become empowered.
There are many stories of former “anti gun” people who have become gun owners and enjoy shooting sports and have developed new feelings of confidence and more proficient at self defense. But they had to face their fear for that to happen.
I would encourage any woman who is struggling with a decision about owning and carrying a firearm to look at their past history of emotions and training and identify where Primitive Fear and Generalized Fear have taken over the role of rational examination and bring those instances to the light of day as they work their way through this very personal decision.
Happy and Safe shooting – Peggy