I’m having an exciting day and I can’t keep it to myself.

This morning I decided to take the Smith & Wesson M&P9 to the range to practice some drills I’ve been working on.  The SigO has been telling me for months that if I want to improve my stance and grip, I should do dry fire exercises at home.  (Dry firing is when you pull the trigger on an unloaded -and triple safety-checked- gun in order to practice marksmanship fundimentals)  As per usual, he was right.  I have been working on some new skills at home, like speed reloads, for the past couple of days and I was really itching to get out on the range and see if the hard work was going to pay off.  I think it did, but we took a video so you can judge for yourself.

I felt pretty good about the way it went, and I got to test out some of the gear I’ve been helping to make for the PHLster project, which is the semi-accidental business my husband started in our house a few months ago.  In the beginning he was trying to make himself a holster, being the kind of DIY fellow that he is. And then he started recording his progress and putting it up on YouTube as a way to reach out to other like-minded folks for a kind of tips and tricks sharing co-op.  What ended up happening was that people saw the cool things he was making and started asking if they could pay him to make them some of that sweet gear.  Being a general amenable guy, he agreed and now we have a small business.  Crazy, right?   One of the most satisfying things about making holsters I’ve found is that you get to make something, put it through its paces and then take that data back into the workshop to inform your next project.  For example, the single magazine carrier that I use in the video is a popular product, but as you can see, after I empty the second mag, I reach for another one.  Maybe I will have to start using the double mag carrier, with the second magazine angled forward for easier reload.  So many projects, so little time!

Another reason we recorded this is that it’s nice to have little mile markers as you progress through a journey, so I’m going to try to do one of these little shooting videos every so often.  I can share what I’m working on with all of you, and I’ll also have a visual record of my progress.

As if that wasn’t enough to make this day awesome, I got home to find that the mail man had left me this!

Hooray!  If you don’t know about this absolutely stunning book yet, please check it out.  It’s called Chicks with Guns by Lindsay McCrum and it’s full of gorgeous photos of, you guessed it, women and girls with their firearms.  It leans heavily toward hunting rifles and shot guns, as opposed to hand guns or other self-defense type weapons.  The great thing about the book though, is that it shows all kinds of women with the guns that are part of their lives.  One of the main reasons that I was initially turned off to gun ownership is that I couldn’t find anyone like me in the gun community. It seemed mostly for men, and more specifically for cops and military personnel.  It’s hard to feel included in an activity when you have trouble relating to the other participants.  This book, along with some websites I’ve recently found, has really encouraged my belief that all kinds of people are participating in the gun world in all different capacities.  Which is great, because one of the best things about shooting is sharing the experience with other people, and building the kind of community that you want to be a part of.

Low Expectations and The Curse of the Pink Gun

So, simultaneously, the best and worst things about being a female shooter are the low expectations everyone has of you.

It’s nice not to feel pressured to perform like an action hero, right out of the gate.  The first couple of times I went to the range, I wasn’t even really concerned with hitting the bullseye.  I was totally preoccupied with the novelty of shooting a gun and just trying to make sure my shots weren’t going into the ceiling.  People were generally encouraging and enthusiastic about me learning how to shoot.  Then, the advice started.  Some of it was extremely helpful.  Since my husband is the one who taught me how to shoot, we occasionally catch each other’s bad habits.  It’s refreshing to get outside perspectives.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as someone reminding me to lean forward.  At first, it’s natural to try and put as much distance between your face and the gun as possible. Leaning into the stance, though, like you’re going to start running, really helps manage the recoil.  Also, keeping your arms straight and strong gives you more control and doesn’t allow the gun to reciprocate as much when you shoot.  If people notice these things and give me tips to improve, I really appreciate it.

However, if your advice is, “Don’t put your finger over the barrel of the gun when you’re shooting,” I begin to think you fancy me an idiot.  This is untrue.  I ask a lot of questions because I am interested, not because I am slow.  I am also consistently surprised when people address questions or comments about me to my husband, i.e., “You should really get her shooting more often” or “Have you thought of getting her a more compact gun?” as though I am a pet or a child.  In fact, women and children are often treated as relative equals in the gun world, despite the overwhelming proof that women shoot just as well, if not better than men.

I have noticed that the type of person who gives  me the first kind of advice is likely to be someone who is a shooting enthusiast, probably younger and usually wanting to open up a dialogue and have positive interaction.  The second type of advice is usually from someone who is older, crankier and totally confused about why I am at the range and not out shopping or doing other, more womanly type things. This antiquated mindset can be extremely frustrating.

Also, people often attribute all of my success at the range to my husband, who is an NRA certified instructor (and TOTALLY AWESOME, to boot).  While he did teach me a lot of the techniques I use, we also learned a lot of it together, and I think he would agree, that I’ve taught him a few things too.  We have been having a really excellant adventure for the past year as we’ve gotten into guns together and our preferences and knowledge have expanded.  Part of what makes the whole thing fun is that it’s a team building exercise for us.  We go shooting together to have a good time, but also to reinforce our mindset of being team-mates first and foremost.  On our team, while each of us has our own individual strengths, we are equals.  We encourage each other.  I don’t rag on him for being a meathead and he doesn’t patronize me for being a girl.

I will readily admit that there are some things that are hard for a lot of women, in terms of manipulating and shooting guns.  I couldn’t rack a slide for about a month.  A lot of guns have grips and controls that are too big and too hard to actuate for my hands.  But, you know what?  Guns are like shoes.  They aren’t all comfortable for everyone, and they come in a lot of different sizes and shapes.  You have to try them and find out which one you like.  There’s no shame in not wanting to carry a Desert Eagle around in your purse.  On the flip side, that doesn’t mean you have to get one of those (really obnoxious and entirely offensive) pink plastic guns.  In case you don’t know, I’m talking about this.  In all seriousness, if you really like that thing, and that’s the caliber and model of gun that fits your needs best, get it.  But don’t just get the pink gun cause you’re a girl and some dude is trying to sell it to you.  There are some really amazing, beautiful guns in the world that will meet your requirements without looking like they belong in your kid’s toy chest or your make-up drawer.  And they can be fun to shoot, easy to carry and good to look at.  Plus, you get the added bonus of knowing that you picked out what you wanted based on your own criteria, instead of just deferring to The Girl Gun.

To me, shooting is about deciding what I am interested in, what I want to get out of it and then pursuing those things.  The idea that women aren’t strong enough, physically or emotionally to handle guns is detrimental only if we believe it.  There is plenty of evidence that you can go as far as you want in the world of firearms or your life in general, if you don’t let other people set expectations for you.

Hello guns!

I like guns.  I like to shoot them, I like to buy them, I like to clean them, I like to learn all about them, I just like them.  And I’m just as surprised about that as you are.   If you had told me even six months ago that I would feel strongly enough about firearms to write a blog about them, I would have called you a spectacular idiot.  Well, maybe I wouldn’t have called you names to your face, but I wouldn’t have believed you.

To say I was a reluctant shooter is generous.  I grew up in a very rural area where all of the boys (and some of the girls) went deer hunting like it was a religion.  They talked incessantly about rifles and pistols and crossbows and deer spotting and tree stands and a million other things that I thought were boring and redneck. The minute I could, I was happy to move to a city where people talked about books and music and films, happy to leave all of that testosterone-fueled gun talk behind me.  After a few years in an urban setting however, I realized that guns are still a big part of the cultural dialogue, just in a very different role.  In the city, only bad people and cops have guns.  The cops protect us from the bad people and we all just try to stay out of the way while that’s happening.

That mindset worked for a little while, until one night on our way home from a friend’s house, my husband and I were robbed at gunpoint.  Having a gun pointed at you or someone you love is a difficult experience to describe, but I think you can probably imagine how it might disrupt the continuity of one’s life.  See, you think this is the point in the story where I decide to embrace guns, arm myself and bring about some kind of righteous vigilante justice.  Sadly, no, that did not happen.  In fact, the whole thing made me dislike guns even more.  I convinced myself that it was good that we didn’t have a gun, because that would have just made the situation worse and likely have gotten us both shot.  My husband talked about buying every kind of weapon from a battle axe to a ninja throwing stars, but ultimately, we just moved to a different part of the city.  As difficult as it was to find closure on the mugging, I was unwilling to give up my ideas about what guns and gun ownership meant, despite my husband’s growing interest in firearms.

The thing is, my husband is really smart.  He doesn’t usually do dumb, redneck things.  So, I was eventually persuaded to accompany him to the range.  I hated it.   Gun ranges are noisy, intimidating places that are full of dudes who really like to TELL YOU THINGS.  I didn’t understand the etiquette or the jargon and I was way outside of my comfort zone.  I kept going back though, and eventually I moved from hating it, to being very frustrated that I couldn’t make the bullets go where I wanted them to go.  I like to do things right the first time and then every time, and I especially don’t like making a hash of something in front of other people. But there  is something really unique about firing a gun.  The focus and attention that it requires and the the rush of adrenaline that it produces are an addictive mix.  The more I focused on the experience of shooting and mastering safe gun-handling procedures, the more I started to like it.  Funny thing is, once you open yourself up to the possibility that you, the liberal, well-educated, thoughtful, kind, sensible shoe-wearing, Whole Foods-shopper, you, could maybe, possibly, enjoy shooting a gun, the world really transforms around you.  Like for realz.

I’ve always thought I was the kind of person who challenged my own preconceived notions, but with guns, it was difficult to even identify what the preconceived notions were.  It’s so deeply embedded in our culture that guns are BAD and they kill people, that we take it for granted, like the sky is blue and the ocean is wet.  The message is reinforced over and over again in the news and in movies and on TV, that guns are the source of violence. But an object cannot inherently be bad.  An object just is.  I thought for a long time that guns were for foolish, cocky boys or dangerous, angry criminals.  I thought they made bad situations worse.  I thought I had no choice but to just hope I wouldn’t be a victim. But when I allowed myself to be interested in guns and not worried about what my friends or family would think, I found that the confidence and empowerment I felt and the DIY, take-charge-of-your-own-shit mindset that comes with shooting fit really well into the trajectory of my life.

Oddly, the thing I fought the hardest to dislike fell right into my life in a very organic, seamless way.  I’m alert and careful and cautious and non-violent.  I don’t want to hurt anyone, but more than that, I don’t want anyone to hurt me or the people I love.  I’m eager to step up and take more responsibility for my own safety, and I’m an enthusiastic supporter of others doing the same, especially women.  Open yourself up to the possibilities.  Put aside what others say you should think about guns, and find out what you really do think about them.  I think you’ll be surprised at what you find.