Northwoods class helps writer conquer her firearm fear
The first time I ever shot a gun, I thought I blew my shoulder off. I was in my early 20s, and a couple of guy friends decided to do a little black powder shooting. Happily satisfied to sit on the sidelines watching, (and covering my ears due to the loud bangs these guns make) I was a little taken aback when one buddy offered me a chance to fire his behemoth gun.
Not wanting to appear girly, and yet very much apprehensive, I took the long, heavy weapon, heaved it to my shoulder, aimed and fired. The back kick knocked me off my feet, and for three weeks after I had a huge, ugly black and blue bruise on my shoulder. I vehemently swore off guns forever.
Since that day any conversations involving calibers, actions, rifles, rim fire versus center fire, ammo, shotguns, pistols, .22 versus .38, etc. etc. were immediately turned off in my brain. My basic premise was that guns and I don’t mix, so why learn about them. Period.
That mindset is a dangerous one, and I knew it, but even living in the Northwoods culture of weaponry, which seems to me is mainly hunting, I was not interested in learning the skill of shooting. I couldn’t admit, even to myself, that what I was feeling was fear.
When I wrote a story about Wisconsin’s concealed-carry law last year for the Star Journal, my fear turned to curiosity. I put a little more thought into how I felt about guns, and came to the conclusion that I had deprived myself by not learning more about this skill. While I wasn’t so much interested in the hunting aspect of shooting, the self defense aspect made sense to me, especially in the world we live in today.
However, even with that admission, I did not actively seek out someone to help me learn about guns and shooting. Instead, I casually mentioned it to my friend, Dianne Jacobson, who is a shooting enthusiast, highly trained not only in the hunting aspect of guns, but also in handgun training. (She’s also the Director of Oneida County’s Department on Aging.) In fact, Dianne and her husband, Scott, are National Rifle Association (NRA) instructors, and they were looking to put a class together that would educate pupils about handguns. And since they were certified to teach this class, participants would leave with the qualifications and education that would satisfy the state’s requirement to carry a concealed weapon.
Dianne thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me, and I agreed. And so last Saturday afternoon I found myself sitting in a classroom at the Crescent Lake Bible Camp, learning about the safety and responsibilities of handgun use. I have to admit, my apprehension returned full force.
There were four other students in this class besides myself, all women, who brought a wide range of experience and reasons why they were sitting there beside me. One woman had four boys who were interested in guns, and her husband had encouraged her to take the class; one young woman was training to become an EMT, and had always wanted to learn more about handguns; one woman had hunted all her life and just wanted the certification in case she decided to apply for a concealed weapon carry certificate; and another lady just wanted to become more familiar with her own handgun, and the laws and rules that apply to this responsibility.
To help teach us about that particular responsibility was Tim Vocke, who is a reserve judge in Wisconsin, and has seen firsthand the legal ins and outs of handgun use in self-defense situations over the course of his career.
Three of the women in the class had brought their ownhandguns, but myself and the young EMT did not have one. Scott and Dianne were gracious enough to let us “borrow” one of theirs so we could learn the parts and the correct way to handle a gun.
I was assigned a single action .22 revolver, and it immediately appealed to me because it looked exactly like a gun a cowboy would tote. But as I slipped my fingers around the stumpy wooden stock, my heart skipped a beat, and its solid heaviness felt ominous and foreboding. Would I be able to actually shoot this thing? Maybe I was taking on more than I could handle, but I knew my friends, Dianne and Scott, would guide me through it no matter what and so I persevered.
And I was fascinated with the entire classroom part of the course. I am proud to say that I now know the difference between rim fire ammo and center fire; between single action guns and double action; how a semi-automatic gun works, what a caliber is and a whole host of other information that had always eluded me because of my pig-headed notion that I didn’t really need this knowledge.
Vocke’s talk was also fascinating, and he made all of us think about the responsibilities of owning, and using a handgun as deadly force. There are a lot of moral issues here, and one that particularly tweaked my curiosity was when he explained about a woman he knew who told him she had a license to carry a concealed weapon, but would only use it to “wound” an attacker.
“Wrong mind set,” said Tim. “If you get in a situation where deadly force is warranted, would you rather be tried by 12 (jurors) or carried by six (pallbearers)? I’ll take the jury every time.”
And then it was time to head to the shooting range. Now I would know what I was made of. Again, the instructors briefly took us over the safety aspects of shooting. Our first rounds would be shot from a sitting position, while our hands were balanced on small sand bags. I did not volunteer to be the first, and as I watched two of my classmates fire away, I started to think of all kinds of excuses to get out of there.
But there was no escape, and finally I was ushered to the table, and the cowboy gun was set before me. “Load it up,” said Scott. I hesitantly opened the cylinder and started slipping in the small golden bullets. The lady sitting next to me started firing, and I jumped every time she did. My heart was pounding, and I gave Scott a scared look. But he calmly told me “You can do this,” and with that I relaxed, took aim and fired.
Our targets were paper plates tacked to cardboard, and that first shot was almost a bullseye. “Very good,” said Dianne encouragingly. “Try again.” I did, and with each shot I felt my confidence grow. For the next round we were allowed to stand, and I felt even more comfortable doing that. Then I decided to try shooting with my right hand (I’m left handed) and that even went well. All my shots were within the perimeter of the paper plate. Dianne and Scott both made the comment that maybe I was one of those rare “naturals.”
Then we each got an official certificate, and as I look at it even today, I feel a sense of pride. I overcame my fear and did something way out of my comfort zone, which is always a positive thing. But will I continue shooting? You bet, especially because practice makes perfect, and that alone will drive me to learn even more. I know I’ll be a frequent shooter at the range with my friends Scott and Dianne.
However I also know I’ll never be a black powder enthusiast. I don’t think my shoulder, or my pride, could take it.