“What’s up for you guys today,” my sis asks.

Rocket-man and I are in the car when she calls.  She’s just checking in for the day.  Her voice is a bit more cheerful than usual as her husband has just returned from overseas business travel.  Sis is enjoying a beautiful late-autumn day with her family.

“Well, we’re on our way to the gun range,” I say.  “I’m finally going to learn how to shoot.”

Silence.  Very long silence.

Sis does not like guns.  I completely understand.  I am not even going to try to change her mind.

Finally sis says, “Um….well Okay then.” She’s not angry at all….just wary beyond belief….understandably so.

Believe me sis, I am just as nervous around guns and the subject of guns as you are.  In fact, intense fear is probably more accurate.

Which is why I need to address it.

So…today was the day to take advise from a fellow named Dale…..

“If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” ~ Dale Carnegie

My ex-husband is an avid collector of firearms.  He grew up on a working ranch and learned to handle a rifle as a boy.  Life on the farm meant that he often had to scare off coyotes bent on destroying precious bread and butter livestock.  During our 17-year union, he was über cautious and the firearms were under lock and key.  I’d gripe about his gun passion mostly because it seemed to be a money pit to me.  And yes, I was mighty uncomfortable with firearms and small children under the same roof.  There were just a few occasions where I’d muster up the nerve to attempt to get comfortable around a firearm when we’d visit the family farm.  However, the kick of his .357 magnum or even a .22 rifle–plus, more importantly, my inability to hit the damn coffee cans–was enough to steer me clear of learning to shoot.

In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure why I’ve decided to revisit the subject.  I cannot say that it has anything to do with the raging debates on gun control in our country.  Becoming more comfortable with a firearm really has been on the back burner of my mind for some years now.  As the world seems to be growing more dangerous by the minute I feel compelled to not sit idly by without trying to educate myself. I pray I’ll never be in a situation where I’d have to use a gun.  But if it happened, I certainly want to be able to defend myself.  Recently, when reading a message board on the subject one guy commented said that he was extremely frustrated that his wife had a “totally irrational fear of guns.”  Apparently, she adamantly refused to learn how to operate a firearm.  I will admit that guys’ statement annoyed me.  He could have provided even a smidgen of validation of his wife’s feelings instead of chastising her.  Personally,  I don’t think it’s irrational to fear guns.  The bullet from a gun can kill a person for God’s sake!

I’m fairly certain that learning to handle a firearm is not going to endear me to some folks.  I’m Okay with that.  I completely understand.  Everyone has a right to his or her opinion on this issue.   I’m not out to change anyone’s mind about gun ownership.  How I’d love to be Pollyanna about world peace happening with the snap of the finger making lethal weapons of all kinds completely unnecessary.  And wouldn’t it be terrific if religious fanatics bent on death and destruction would suddenly have mind-bending epiphanies that turned their hearts inside out from being hate-mongers to emissaries of  love, peace and acceptance?

Don’t think that’s ever gonna happen.  But wouldn’t it be lovely?

The reality is that there are many lethal weapons out there besides guns and the bad guys are going to obtain them and use them by whatever method possible.   The 9-11 terrorists used box cutters and airplanes flown into buildings to kill people.  Knives, axes, pipe bombs/explosives, and in the case of the Oklahoma City bombing….fertilizer… can also be added to the list.  And the most horrific of all–chemicals/gas–used in the 1995 Tokyo subway attacks… and in the extermination of some six million Jews.  I sincerely wish there could be a rational discussion of gun ownership with measures that don’t completely strip the second amendment rights from good, honest people in this country.  People like me… who simply want to be able to protect themselves and their loved ones should the need arise….and I fervently hope it never arises.  And, aside from that, my only other agenda is to learn something new. At this writing, I am certainly not expecting mastery here.  But for me, it’s helping to keep the juices in the brain and veins flowing.  Variety is the spice of life after all.

So, in that vein….

When we arrived at the shooting range, I stayed by the car while Rocket-man went inside to get initial registration information as we were first time visitors to the outdoor range.  For a few minutes I watched a young woman skeet shooting at one end of the range. She was with an instructor.  She exuded such an air of confidence as she held the rifle up to her right shoulder. I was very impressed that she managed to clip two clay pigeons as they shot through the air in rapid succession.

Once we had completed registration and went over basic safety rules of the range we were ready to begin.  I was disappointed that the designated pistol range area was rather dingy with a gazillion shell casings littering the ground as well as bird poop on the tables and wood benches.  I was expecting a nice, clean room with Plexiglas partitions….you know, like the kind you see on television.   There where several people already shooting.  I’ll admit they were scary-looking fellas.  NopeThis isn’t a place I’d want to come to by myself.  One guy had four front teeth missing, oily hair, with an equally oily, scraggly full beard.  His clothes were tattered; he looked like he belonged in a homeless shelter, not a pistol range.   And, here I was, sporting sparkly diamond studs and silver bangles on my wrists, dressed in my smart-looking fuchsia North Face® jacket with a lovely scarf.  I clearly looked out of place.

I’d cautioned Rocket-man before we even left the house:  Please be patient and please don’t get irritated if I ask a question over and over.  Thankfully, he was perfect.   When the range was cold (i.e., no one firing) he set up a target 25 feet away for me.  He then showed me how to load the magazine of a .22 pistol and a 9mm.  I practiced this for several minutes before doing anything else, trying to get the feel of loading and emptying the magazine.  I felt like I was all thumbs and arthritic hands weren’t helping the situation.  The magazine’s spring mechanism on the 9mm was so tight that I was having a devil of a time inserting a round.  It was frustrating and I almost gave up at one point.  I laughed telling Rocket-man that I could just visualize a home invasion scenario:  “Um, excuse me…pretty-please..Mr. (or Miss as the case may be) would-be attacker.  Can you please indulge me with an extra minute or two while a load my weapon? My hands are a bit arthritic.”  Keep in mind that The Poodle would not be of any help in this situation.  He’d be sitting politely in the corner waiting patiently for a way to exit the situation.

With the .22 loaded I was ready to give it whirl.

Well…it’s now or never…

First Timer!

First Timer!

As you can see I actually hit the target!  Not bad for a first timer, if I say so myself.  I was pleased beyond belief that I was able to hit it!  I’ll admit that I didn’t do as well with the 9mm.  Out of 12 rounds I only hit the target three times, once barely in the black.  It was a good deal louder than I expected (even with ear protection) which caused my heart rate to go up.  Who knew that shooting practice could be an aerobic sport?  It also had more kick, hence any attempt at a semblance of accuracy was out the window.  My forever friend Miss Sue later commented: “Great job! All you need to do is hit a mass.”  Mission accomplished.

I was amazingly tired after only 45 minutes of range time.

“Ready to load another clip?” asked Rocket-man.

“No. I’m sorry. I can’t believe I am so tired.” I replied.  “My hands are shaking and sore;  now I’m not even hitting the target.  All that concentration wore me out.”  Also, I felt like I was wasting precious ammo.  I think Rocket-man was a bit disappointed.  He clearly wanted to keep going.  I assured him that I had a blast (because I did).  As serious as shooting practice truly is, it also was really quite fun.  Rocket-man smiled like a little kid in a candy store when I said let’s make a date for practice again next week.

As we headed out of the pistol range Rocket-man said: “To celebrate your first time, I think a trip to Starbucks is in order.”

Ah yes. I’m fairly certain a latte and a sweet treat will perk me right up.

And it did.

Bliss.