SHOT Show: Space Camp for Gun Nerds

Every January, the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) puts on a huge trade show open only to individuals in or affiliated with the gun industry (and only those over the age of 16, thank God).  It’s called SHOT Show and I’m currently working my way through my first one. New to this particular brand of firearm frivolity, I have spent the first couple of days thoroughly gob smacked.

First, Vegas—whiskey tango foxtrot?  The only adjective I can seem to summon about this town is stupid.  Or maybe retarded.  And I don’t necessarily mean it in a negative sense.  For example, yesterday I saw a light fixture that was designed to look like a three-dimensional spinning representation of a Russian hammer and sickle, made entirely of tiny crystals so it cast rainbows all over the walls of the restaurant it hung in.  My first thought was, “That is stupid cool!” There is no good reason for that totally retarded light to exist in the universe, but now that it does, I can admit that it is pretty rad.  And that doesn’t even begin to address the stupid icing on the retarded cake.  But that’s a whole other thing.

Anyway, here are a few observations on SHOT Show, thus far:

It’s actually a lot like space camp for gun kids, except the jocks were invited too and everyone mostly gets along.

Much like that Soviet lamp I mentioned before, there are great number of guns that basically serve no purpose other than being superfluously cool and SHOT Show displays pretty much every last one of them.

Casinos are extremely disorienting.  Gun shows are extremely disorienting.  Being lost in a gun show in a casino (not that it’s happened to me like every freaking time I try to go somewhere) is like a terrifying dream that you half don’t want to wake up from.

There’s a surprisingly high representation of young, clever, educated enthusiasts participating in the gun world in a productive, responsible way, including a growing number of women.  Having never been to SHOT Show before, I sense that it wasn’t always like it is now.  The internet community has posted a strong showing and seems to be taken seriously here in a way that is very encouraging.  And you thought YouTube was just for cute cat videos.

There’s a surprisingly low representation of scantily-clad women showcasing the merchandise, so to speak.  Not sure why they left the show hos behind this year, but I suspect it has something to do with the growing female market and an effort to cater to these new customers.

Despite the fact that trying to take in everything a show this big has to offer is totally exhausting and overwhelming, it’s absolutely impossible to walk past a display of custom AR-15s and short-barreled rifles and not touch them all.  It’s like not petting a box of newborn puppies.  It would make baby Jesus sad if you didn’t.

If you can imagine a kind of fun that entails getting repeatedly slapped in the face with magical rainbow unicorn tails from the time you wake up each morning until you fall exhaustedly into bed each night, that’s what SHOT Show feels like.  It hurts so good.

And now a photo that sums up the “work” I’ve been doing all week:

Just like petting puppies.
Just like petting puppies.

Women, Guns and Sexual Assault

I think it might finally be time to address the R- word.

I have tiptoed around it since I entered the gun owning population, partially because it is an attention-grabbing taboo that comes with its own laundry list of connotations and associations, but mostly because it is something that I have very strong feelings about.  I didn’t want to slap together some off-the-cuff rant about how I think guns will put an end to rape.  This topic deserves a more nuanced treatment.  I planned on waiting and gathering data and doing research.  But today I was reading this article and I felt like my brain was going to explode at the absurdity of the assertions the author makes.  Then I ran a quick Google search on guns and sexual violence and found this  and this and I just can’t keep quiet on the subject any longer.

Whether or not you believe guns will prevent sexual assault, the language and tone of these articles is infuriating and demeaning.  It implies that while the threat of sexual violence is very real and entirely reprehensible, if we’ve gotten ourselves into the situation that results in rape, there’s nothing to be done about it.   We should just close our eyes and wait for it to be over.  They claim that we have no viable chance of defending ourselves against a rapist and even if we do, no one will believe our sad story anyway. The fact that these articles are all written by women, for women makes them all the more galling.  This line especially made smoke come out of my ears  would a judge and jury really believe a woman who says she shot her husband in self-defense because he was trying to rape her? Furthermore, a gun won’t protect you if someone takes advantage of you while you’re too drunk to consent to sex, nor will it stop someone from slipping a date rape drug in your drink.” (Hodrick, http://www.PolicyMic.com, July 25, 2012)   It sounds an awful lot like premptive victim blaming to me. Why bother learning to defend yourself?  It’s not going to work and everyone is going to think you are a lying, boozing slut anyway.

Then there’s this neat, little package of condescending problem-solving: “Guns are not the solution. Education is. There are ways to protect yourself: don’t walk at night alone on campus, don’t run at night on campus with earbuds in, when going to a party or bar only accept drinks that you have seen made with your own eyes, try to stay in well-lit, people-filled areas, don’t wear your hair in a ponytail because it is easier to grab, be observant of your environment to see if you’re being followed in any way, always listen to your gut if your instinct is telling you something is wrong, and if given the chance, take a self-defense class”  (Alvarez, http://www.twodaymag.com, August 4, 2011) Oh! Just don’t wear a ponytail! Perfect!  We will all be so educated and happy, in well-lit, people-filled areas sipping drinks that we have meticulous observed the production of, listening to our guts (but not our earbuds! Dear no!) with our hair down.  It will be utopian.  There will be no guns there, for they are not for us ladyfolks.  Maybe we can have mace, or a bat or a knife.   We definitely should take a self-defense class.  But a gun won’t do us a lick of good.  In fact, Alvarez goes on to say, guns can only create more problems.”  Well, I’m so glad she told me.  I’ve had my gun for almost two years now.  When should I expect the problems to begin?

I hope that by now we all know that guns don’t do anything on their own.  They don’t prevent or cause anything to happen.  Yet a palpable fear of firearms exists in our collective subconscious.  We demonize guns even as we fetishize them as an icon of violence.  There is a perception that a gun will turn a sane man, or woman, into a crazed, trigger-happy criminal, or that a gun is a gross over-reaction to the threat of rape.  I contend that the gun is a great equalizer.  Why do only criminals, police and nut-cases get to have guns?  Do we, the potential victims, not get access to these same implements, so that we might properly defend ourselves?  In fact, might we have these tools so we no longer have to be victims?  Maybe we can take some action in preserving our own safety instead of just staying in well-lit areas and hoping for the best.

Most importantly, the act of shooting and owning a gun has a profound impact on the way most women see themselves and the world around them.   Shooting a gun is empowering, energizing, stress-relieving and confidence-building.  In my experience, women who shoot walk taller and apologize less.  They are also sensitive, caring and protective of their loved ones.  Women who carry guns have already decided that their lives and their bodies are valuable enough to protect.  Carrying a gun, and training to defend oneself with it, is a huge responsibility, not to be taken lightly.  It requires a vast amount of situational awareness, mental fortitude, education and commitment. In fact, gun ownership fosters just the kind of attitude and awareness that Ms. Alvarez suggests is the solution for preventing sexual assaults.  And that might be enough.  You might not ever need to pull the gun out.  But at least you have it and you know how to use it, if you do.

I’ve never been under the illusion that a gun is some kind of magical talisman that can be carried to ward off menacing attackers.  No amount of training, nor tools, nor mindset can deter all violence, all of the time.  The best we can hope for is a chance—an opportunity to run, a chance to call out for help, a moment to draw our weapon and fire a shot.  Why not employ all the tools at our disposal, and acquire as many skills, and as much knowledge as is available in order to improve that chance?

Get educated.  Investigate all of the resources you have access to.  And PLEASE don’t believe anyone who tells you that you don’t have a chance of defending yourself.

Bag Lady

If I was a rapper, I would say that today I am “ballin outta control”.  Sadly, I am not a rapper so I’ll just say that I’m having an awesome day.

For the past few months, I have been working on constructing small bags for concealed carry with varying levels of success.  In the last 24 hours however, I’ve completed two that I think are pretty good examples of what I am going for.

My goals in this project are to make a bag that is versatile (that is, can be carried in multiple kinds of outfits, all year round and is compatible with various models of pistols and/or holsters), stylish and comfortable.  Too much?  I figured it was best to set the bar high and see what I could achieve, rather than compromise right out of the gate.  My ideal bag meets all of the criteria above and that’s what I wanted, so that’s what I aimed for (Yeah, I’m making shooting puns.  I can’t help myself).  Overall, it has been pretty slow going.  I haven’t been able to find a sewing pattern that is close enough to what I want to actually be useful, so I’ve been making it all up as a go, which is alternately thrilling and exasperating.  My motivation for the project is constant though, since I hate having to leave my gun at home.  More so now that we are in the hot summer months and I can’t wear the PHLster skeleton holster that I love.  (Why, you ask?  One word: chafing).

The two models of bags I am working on now are based on a kind of fanny pack platform.  They utilize a belt or a strap to fasten around the user’s waist, and then a pouch that conceals the holstered gun within.  The result: you look like you’re wearing a stylish accessory and no one suspects you are packing the heat.  Win/win.

Here are a few photos to give you an idea of how they turned out:

You can see that in the smaller, rectangular bag, the user would have to supply their own sturdy gun belt.  I like this design, however it is limited to outfits that can be worn with a belt.  I’ve found this to be difficult in a skirt or a dress.  The other option is a little more versatile since it has a built-in strap that can function as a belt or a shoulder strap.  I very much like to carry bags in a cross-body configuration, so I designed this one to be able to be easily convertible between a belt bag and a cross-body bag.  The external pocket on the back opens on two sides, allowing easy access to your firearm.  I am currently using a piece of paracord that is sewn into the bag to hold my holster in place.

I am planning on doing a follow-up post, so I can show you how they look while in use and discuss the pros and cons of the designs.  Please let me know if you have any suggestions for improvements.

Also, special thanks to Philly Art Girl for the totally awesome Luger belt buckle FTW.

You Never Forget the First Time

Monica shootsLast week I had the opportunity to take a brand new shooter to the range.   It was a surprising, terrifying, frustrating, exhilarating, transformative experience, unlike any other.  It also highlighted for me the aspects I like best about shooting and the attitudes I like least in the community.

I am a very “ducks in a row” kind of person.  Up until quite recently, I did not feel like  I was knowledgeable or competent enough to teach someone else to shoot.  Before I stepped into that role, I wanted to make sure that I could adequately explain and demonstrate all of the fundamentals of safe marksmanship, and I just wasn’t sure I was there yet.  But then I went through the NRA basic pistol class, which reinforced a lot of the skills and knowledge that I already had.  And I also began really committing to going to the range once a week and working on the basics.  These things paid off and I finally started to feel like I was in a place where I could share my love of shooting with a beginner.

On the day of the lesson,  my lovely friend was enthusiastic and eager to shoot a gun for the first time.  She definitely brought her “teachable attitude”.  We were also joined by another friend who is curious, but not quite ready to pull the trigger.  I got us targets, ammo, eyes and ears and  we set up in the lane.  As I opened my mouth to start the instruction, I realized the enormity of what I was about to try to explain.  My friend had read a few articles about gun safety online, but other than that she was entirely uninitiated.  I had thought about what I was going to say, but once we were actually there I was suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of information I felt like she absolutely NEEDED to know, and also empathetic to the anxiety and trepidation she must have been feeling.  I didn’t want to bombard her with instruction, but I wanted to make sure she knew enough to be safe and have a little fun.  So, we went over the safety rules first, which she had already memorized. (I told you she brought her A game).  Then we did grip, stance and trigger pull.  She was hitting her target almost instantly (like a boss).  Excitement quickly replaced our anxieties.  My friend seemed genuinely,  pleasantly surprised at what the experience of shooting a gun is actually like.  She  says that it is both easier and harder than she thought it would be.  I feel the same way about teaching her how to shoot.  Our other friend, who was observing, says she would like to give it a try the next time we go.  They both expressed enthusiasm about the prospect of a monthly Ladies’ Night at the range and an interest in becoming proficient shooters.  I couldn’t ask for more.  I can only hope that any other teaching experiences I have in the future are with people who are as open-minded and willing to learn as these girls.

me and Monica

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine and gunpowder.  As a group of young women alone at the range, we definitely attracted a fair amount of attention.   I usually go to the range with my husband, and I am generally left to my own devices.  Most of the employees know I am safe and competent.  Turns out though, that a group of women shooting alone inspires a lot of Advice Fairy/Fun Shark behavior.  This usually entails a dude stepping in to repeat the instruction I have just given, but in a louder voice while puffing up his chest and displaying his biceps.  Peacocking, one might say.  As a new teacher, I do appreciate help and a more experienced perspective, but I didn’t see anyone stepping in to help the girls who were there with their boyfriends or husbands.  There was a noticeable difference between the reactions our little posse garnered versus how I am treated when I am with male friends.  It felt as though we, as “unsupervised”  ladies, were deemed less competent.  On top of all that, I have a sneaking suspicion that the RSO was dying to ask me for my friend’s number.  Sigh.  I thought that’s what Match.com was for.

Fueled by both my exhilaration at my friend’s success and my irritation at being underestimated, I immediately went home and emailed a friend about getting my NRA Instructor credentials.  I’ve been thinking about it for a while and this experience tipped the scales.  Lately, I’ve noticed increasing numbers of ladies getting involved in firearms, however I have not seen an increase in female instructors.  I think it is time for me to step up and put my money where my mouth is.  I want to see a change in certain perceptions and preconceived ideas in the gun community, and this is a chance to be that change.  Also, I can blog my behind off about it and that will be fun for all of us.

If you have tips about teaching or getting instructor training, please let me know in the comments.  I would be grateful for any feedback.

A Whole New World

You may have noticed that the site looks a little different.  There are some new categories at the top of the page that aren’t directly related to guns.  When I started RebeccaGuns, I didn’t have any intentions of turning it into a “lifestyle” blog.  I was primarily interested in documenting my experiences with firearms and the gun community.

However, as time has passed, I’ve noticed the effect that shooting has had on my attitude and approach to all kinds of things.  I think this is a phenomenon that deserves closer inspection.  So, I’m opening the blog up a little bit to include some other things that I like to do, and things that shooting has inspired and enabled me to do.  I’m hoping that the result is two fold– motivating me to do more awesome things to blog about and inspiring you guys to do all the cool things you want to do.

Expect photos, videos, guest posts by other awesome ladies,  delicious recipes (involving booze and bacon, most likely) and DIY projects.

Also, I know you all have the song from Aladdin stuck in your head now and I’m not sorry for that at all.

Catching Flies; Honey vs. Vinegar

Inspired by Fate of Destinee’s YouTube video about gender inequality in the gun world, I have decided to indulge in my own rant today.  My rant doesn’t have anything to do with being a woman, but it has everything to do with stereotyping and passing snap judgements on others.

Let me start off by telling you a little story.  This is a story about Twitter.  When I first created a Twitter account for RebeccaGuns, I was so excited to find all of the cool gun people I could follow.  There were so many of them!  And they were all into guns!  I thought I had found the happiest place ever.  And I would say, by and large, I have overwhelmingly positive interactions with other gun people on the interwebz. However, I started to notice that some days my Twitter feed was full of posts that just seem designed to put other groups of people down.  Now I’m not talking about other groups of people like the The Charles Manson Liberation Society or Proud Pedophiles of America.   I’m just talking about other groups that may practice a different religion, subscribe to an alternate political point of view or have been born some other race.  When I read these posts, I was angry.  I still am.  I’m angry because this is not an accurate representation of the gun community, and frankly, it’s often just hate mongering.  I have thought about breaking up with Twitter, so I don’t have to be so angry.  But, the thing is, there are a lot of people out there who post really interesting, informative content about firearms which I very much enjoy reading.  So instead, I just click “Unfollow” and I don’t have to be exposed to the haters hatin’ anymore.  Problem solved.  If only there were such a thing in real life.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  If you are into being a Republican or a Democrat, or believing in Jesus Christ or the Prophet Muhammad, I think that is excellent.  It’s good to be passionate about the things you believe in.  But there is absolutely no reason to use your gun related social media platforms to bash opposing points of view.

Let me suggest that it might behoove us all to remember why we own guns in the first place.  My understanding is that we are a community of people who believe that all of our citizens have the right to defend themselves and their families, regardless of race, politics, sexual orientation or religion.  And this right is what keeps us free.  If we belittle and blame others who don’t agree with all of the same things we believe, we are undermining the very spirit of the principals that allow us to own guns in the first place.

Pejorative statements about “others” erode solidarity within the community, as well as paint us in a pretty unflattering light to the rest of the world.  I believe that the more folks we can get involved in the shooting sports, and interested in concealed carry, the safer our country will be, both from criminals and those in power who seek to exploit and manipulate the masses.  And from my vantage point, it seems like we are well on the way to having a diverse and rapidly expanding firearms community.  So NOW IS THE TIME to leave behind all of those antiquated ideas about which political party or religion is most worthy of gun ownership.  Because we all are.  Every last able-bodied, sound-minded one of us is entitled by the Constitution to the right to bear arms.  The more of us there are, the harder it will be for Congress or the President to push us around.

So let’s open our arms to the liberals, vegans, Muslims, Jews, blacks, Latinos, gays, women, etc, etc.  Because this is how we grow.  This is how we evolve.  This is how we make sure that our country doesn’t fall apart around us.  If we are too busy quibbling amongst ourselves over superficial differences, we will miss this opportunity to strengthen our numbers and come together as a group who welcomes all freedom-loving individuals.

The Interview Project

This is the first installment in a project that I’ve been wanting to start since I first got into guns.  At the beginning, I found it very hard to make friends in the gun community, mostly because there just weren’t very many other girls to make friends with.  I also struggled with talking to my existing friends and family about guns, as it can be a tricky topic to bring up around non-shooters.  So, I came up with the idea of interviewing other young women who are into guns and shooting, both as a way to broaden popular perception of female gun owners and also, selfishly, as a way for me to get to make more gun-loving lady-friends.  And I finally found someone to interview!

So, this week I’m talking to Valerie who I met at the local range with her lovely husband and her lovely collection of badass guns.   We bonded over a mutual love of cooking, eating and 1911s.  Check out the Sig P238 she’s wearing while making dinner in the photo below.  Yeah, girl.

Image

RebeccaGuns: Tell me a little about yourself…

Valerie: I am originally from Northern California but I have spent most of my life here on the east coast. I currently live in Philadelphia with my husband and three dogs and I work for a Center City law firm. These days my life outside of work consists of going to school, training for the Broad Street Run, going to the shooting range at least twice a week and most importantly spending time with friends and family. I also have an intense passion for food and try to cook as often as my ridiculous schedule allows me to. Consequently, I have recently discovered Pure Barre, Lithe Method, and Body Logic to counteract the results of my love for cooking.

RG:  How did you first become interested in learning to shoot?

V:  My father used to take me shooting when I was little but I was so young that I can barely remember how old I was when it started. It wasn’t until this time last year that I actually picked up a gun and became serious about learning to shoot.

RG:  Did you enjoy going to the gun range right away or did it take you some time to warm up to it?

V:  Because of my upbringing, I took to shooting quite naturally despite years of not even touching guns. My husband and I talked about buying a gun for home defense for quite some time, and I was a little nervous about the idea of it. Once we finally decided to purchase one, any reservations I may have had vanished the moment I held one again (I still think I sound like a depraved lunatic when I try to describe the feeling I get from gun shopping).

RG:  What do you see as the challenges women face in successfully incorporating themselves into the gun world?

V:  Unfortunately, someone along the way decided that shooting was a “man thing” and it caught on. I personally think it is pure nonsense, but I still encounter people (men) at gun shows and shooting ranges that choose to perpetuate this outdated viewpoint. There is also the challenge of living in a city where the majority of the population is anti-gun. At one point, when I was younger and more susceptible to societal pressures, I was against owning a gun because I was going along with what I thought was “right” rather than being true to myself. Over time I have grown to accept that people are going to judge me no matter what I do. Furthermore, I am always going to face opposition from both the sexist old men at gun shows as well as my gun hating friends. The best I can do is to respect everyone’s right to have their own opinion and hope that people have the decency to do the same for me.

RG:  How many guns do you currently have in your collection?

V:  At this time, I have three handguns that are mine (not my husband’s): a Sig 1911 compact stainless (.45), a Sig SP2022 (.40 S&W), and a Ruger LCP that has become the stepchild of our collection because I only carry it when I can’t carry the p238 or my 1911. We collectively have six handguns, an AR and a Remington 870. I love to shoot all of them.

My favorite gun is my beloved 1911. The officer sized frame fits my hand perfectly and so far it’s been pretty reliable. It’s accurate and just plain fun to shoot. The 4.25” barrel doesn’t allow me to carry regularly, but I make it work whenever I can because it is the gun I with which I am most comfortable and proficient.

RG:  What is at the top of your gun wish list right now?

V:  Lately, I have been shopping around for a rifle. I don’t have a great deal of experience with them so I am not sure exactly what to look for. I don’t hunt, nor do I care to – I simply want it for target practice and expand my skill set.

RG:  Do you find that having an interest in firearms impacts or informs any other part of your life?

V: If anything, it has given me a heightened sense of awareness in terms of my personal safety and surroundings. In my opinion, owning and carrying a gun comes with the added responsibilities of understanding the fundamentals of gun safety and maintaining a certain level of proficiency.

RG:  Do you concealed carry on a regular basis?

V:  Whether or not I carry depends on where I happen to go that day since there are certain places that I am not legally permitted to do so. When I do, I use whatever works. It helps to have a collection of holsters. I especially like my custom kydex holsters (PHLster). I avoid using my purse because it is not attached to me. If I ever use a bag, it is a bag that is specifically meant for concealed carry; it is on me at all times and either attached in some way or slung across my body so as not to be easily taken by the local purse-snatchers that are so common in my neighborhood. I recently ordered the Tactical Messenger Bag (Fox Tactical) to use while walking around the city or walking the dogs at night.

RG:  What are your favorite firearms-related resources on the web?

V: There are a lot of great resources out there for people interested in guns. The most important research any potential gun-owner can do is to study the firearms code for their state of residence (Uniform Firearms Act for PA residents:http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/CT/HTM/18/00.061..HTM). Also, check your city’s code for statutes related to firearms.

In terms of resources specifically geared toward women, I have spent time on cornered-cat.com, girlsguidetoguns.com, and rebeccaguns of course! I am always looking for more to add to the list.

RG:  If you had a time machine and could visit any time, and shoot any gun with anyone, where would you go and what would you do?

V:  I always had an interest in the individual stories of female Red Army sharpshooters from WWII, especially Lyudmila Pavlichenko.

RG:  That’s awesome!  Thank you so much for your time, Valerie!

I hope you guys enjoyed reading about Valerie and her experiences in the gun world.  If you or a lady you know is interested in being interviewed, or you have some suggestions for the interview project, please comment below or email me at phlster617@gmail.com.