Eight years ago my husband brought me along to an outdoor range in southern California because I insisted that I wanted to go. I just wanted to watch and see for myself what all this excitement about shooting was. I had no judgments, no concerns, just curiosity. I can still remember the cool breeze on my face, the clean smell of being out in the desert, and the little dust devils in the distance. It was so nice to be outside on such a beautiful day. My husband handed me some ear plugs to put in. I’d never used any before. As I did what he said and squished the spongy material to make it fit in my ears I remember thinking “This is it? It probably won’t be as loud as I thought.” As the others got the firearms and ammo ready, I watched. It was all so fascinating. When the first shot was fired, it was loud. But it looked so powerful, it looked empowering. Every “bang” startled me a little bit, but I was captivated. My husband could tell that I was intrigued. He asked if I wanted to try. I stepped up to the table, caught sight of a pistol, and the tears began. “Put it away,” I said. I went back to the car and waited for everyone else to be done. Four years passed until we spoke of firearms again.
I’m not really sure what happened that day. As a scientist I pride myself on being rational and pragmatic. How did a piece of metal and polymer evoke such an emotional response? It wasn’t logical. It wasn’t rational. I grew up without any exposure to firearms. My only conception of a firearm was built through where I saw it most – on television and in the news. The news always spoke of death when they talked about guns. Television shows always showed bad people doing bad things with firearms. So that is what my understanding of guns was: bad and scary. And that was a perception that had built up over eighteen years of conscious and subconscious sensory experiences. So when that piece of metal was presented to me, all the emotion I had built up from before surfaced through an overwhelming feeling: fear. I was scared -- no, I was terrified. And I was not in a place where I could deal with such immense amounts of fear. I wanted nothing to do with guns. Four years passed.
My husband continued his passion for firearms and, for a long time, I ignored it. Not only did I not want to experience overwhelming fear of a seemingly inanimate object, but I didn’t want to admit to him, or myself, that I was so scared. After a while, I began listening to some interesting points he would make with respect to correlations between crime and firearms. And, slowly, my scientific and rational mind allowed me to comprehend firearms – at least as an abstract idea. The more I learned about the logic, rational, and statistics in favor of firearms, the more I began to challenge my emotional insecurities. For about two years we talked about guns. In my mind, I had finally figured out that they were something I wanted to be in my life. I would follow along when he went to the range. Every now and then he could get me to hold a firearm. But while doing so, I counted down the time until I could put it away. I was still terrified. But now it was a war between my logical and emotional brain. I never felt comfortable. I never felt empowered. I felt like I was faking it – and I was. At this point, it had been almost six years.
I was so tired of pretending. I was so sick of my emotions. I felt powerless to pieces of metal. There was so much internal conflict that I fought with for the next two years. I knew I wanted to like firearms. I knew they were good for me. I knew how they worked – and even integrated their mechanics when teaching my science courses. I knew that I was responsible. I knew gun safety. But I didn’t know why every single time I picked up a gun, I felt a wave of terror. After two years, why was I still scared? About this time I found myself taking very late night classes and walking around in not-so-fantastic areas by myself at night. I started to feel nervous for my safety. I started to wonder what would happen if…. a bad guy wanted to hurt me. The thought made my head spin. I found myself in a logical predicament. I could either be scared of the bad people in the world or I could be scared of the tools I have available to defend myself with. While, by no means, was I suddenly “cured” of my fear of firearms, it was this moment that I built up the drive to overcome my fear and turn firearms into an object of empowerment for myself. I decided to begin doing research on firearms and shooting. And then I hit a wall – almost every source I found was directed towards males. There was something very “macho” about so many of the websites I found. But macho was furthest from what I needed. I needed a place to help me feel empowered, that helped me find what I needed while maintaining and strengthening my identity. I hated going into stores and being told “You have to change your wardrobe completely to protect yourself.” But while fighting against an overwhelming sense of fear of firearms, changing my identity was not an option. I yearned for a place that would help me STAY myself while integrating firearms into my identity – not change it. And that’s when Armed in Heels was born.
But, notice, that was not the end of my journey for overcoming fear of firearms. Armed in Heels was just the beginning. I began talking to other female shooters online. Many of them were instructors. I began to see a world of women who were empowered and feminine through firearms. Gracie, of Packing Pretty, provided insights that I identified with so closely. I read Julie Golob’s book “SHOOT” and followed Julie on social media. Instructors and shooters, like these two, helped me understand what the identity of a female shooter could be. Remember, I had no exposure to this world before. I began to see myself through their experiences and women like them became my role models. As I continued to network, I was able to meet men and women within the firearms community who showed nothing by warmth and genuine assistance. These interactions helped me most as they allowed me to slowly replace fear with belonging and ambiguity with role models. I began going to range more frequently with my husband. I picked out and purchased my first firearm. It wasn’t until this point that I was ready to begin formally training.
Late last year, almost eight years after my initial “incident”, I took my first firearms course. Walking in, I felt empowered. I was excited and thought that I had overcome my struggles. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I walked up to the line at my first ever defensive handgun class (for getting my CCW) and that’s when I felt them. The emotions came back. I was scared. I was insecure. I stood there confused and overwhelmed as my logical and irrational minds went to battle again. But I did not want to give in. I knew that I was more than capable of operating my firearm. For goodness sake, I own Armed in Heels. That class was incredibly uncomfortable. I made incredibly odd mistakes all day that I knew much better than to make. I forgot how to count to ten and fired too many shots when the instructor told me to. I forgot to push the magazine in all the way and had it drop on the line in front of the class. I was so anxious that my groupings were the worst I have ever seen them. I consistently lost ammo on the ground when racking the slide back. I felt judged and I felt sad. But by the end of the day, I didn’t feel scared. I felt proud of myself for finishing my course. I felt empowered that I didn’t let the fear overcome my drive.
Here I sit three months later to tell you my story. Can I say that I have completely conquered my fear? No. Because even when I think I have, it might always come back like it did during my course. But what I have done is prove to myself that I am in control. And just as I am in control of my firearm, so are others of theirs. I tell my story because I know there are women like me. We grew up away from firearms. We are strong, empowered females who may be scared. It is not because we are ignorant. It is not because we are dumb. It is not because we don’t understand how a gun works. While others may have had the opportunity to grow up with guns, we did not. Instead, we developed conceptions through our perceptions – which were likely the news and media. Husbands always ask us “How do I get my wife into guns?” There is not one right answer. For me, it took a lot of soul searching and dealing with intense, irrational emotion. My husband was incredibly patient. He never pushed. He never judged. He let me go at my own pace. He offered assistance when I asked and knew me well enough to back off when I became emotional. He listened when I had concerns. He did not try to “fix” me. I trusted him to help me along. At the end of the day, he knew that it was an emotional struggle and respected me as I worked through it. Now I will continue my training to increase my proficiency with firearms. But those things are just logistics – it all began with emotions.