Mission: Be Fearless

1 Feb

Shooting.jpg

Bang!

The noise shatters the air.

The sound of a gunshot is unmistakable. In real life, it’s much louder than in the movies.

I’m at a shooting range in an unfamiliar part of town. A client of my marketing firm learned I was in Denver and invited me to a “Ladies Shooting Event.” One part networking, one part gun safety and target practice.

I’d only ever been shooting once, with my father and Alek, in a secluded field. Our father showed us how to hold a rifle and shoot at old bottles and cans on a fence. It was fun, I guess, but I hadn’t held a gun since then. And I was afraid, because, well, to me, guns = death.

But. As an International Woman of Mystery, I felt hard-pressed to turn down this invitation to learn a new skill. Shouldn’t every aspiring action hero at least know their way around a weapon?

I thought this would be a great opportunity to see if I was cut out to be an Olivia Benson, G.I. Jane or Sarah Connor, chasing down serial rapists in dark alleys or nabbing the villain with a single, swift shot. Or maybe I’d be like Agent 99, toting a pistol in my stylish trench and looking fabulous in a beret. I listened to rap music. After all, who among us hasn’t ever secretly wished they could advise someone: tell it to my nine.

I thought about Constance Kopp. In Girl Waits With Gun, Constance never actually desires to fire a gun at someone. But by learning to shoot, she acquires a sense of security, which then translates into a new sort of confidence. She doesn’t have to shoot to kill, to feel powerful. She simply knows that she is. I thought maybe my shooting experience would go something like that.

And yet, I still felt afraid.

Sometimes, when something scares you, the only way through your fear is to face it. Sometimes the only way to defeat an enemy is to put yourself in their shoes and try to understand them better. For this reason, I decided I would go shooting.

Bang! The sound, again, is unmistakable, and it comes from the basement below.

Our training commences with brief introductions. I am surprised by the turnout – about fifteen women in attendance – with experience ranging from never having touched a gun to holding their concealed carry permit. We are given a brief rundown on firearm safety and the rules of the range. All firearms are to be considered loaded at all times. Always point firearms in a safe direction. Always keep your trigger finger off the trigger until the weapon is on target and ready to fire. Always know your target and what is behind it. Fair enough.

Then it’s time to enter the shooting area. We wind through a shop filled with guns, ammo and accessories and go downstairs to the range. They give us eye goggles, earplugs and earmuffs that resemble giant headphones. The instructors recommend doubling up on ear protection. Despite all the safety gear, I don’t feel particularly safe. The International Woman of Mystery usually feels elated when taking on a new challenge. I just feel terrified. Of what, I’m not exactly sure.

Upon entering the range, I immediately understand the function of the gear. From another part of the building I can hear the methodical blasts from an unseen shooter. With all this ear protection I can scarcely hear the conversation of women standing next to me, but I can hear the guns just fine.

It’s a sound I don’t think you ever really get used to.

The organizers have prepared three stations for us ladies, each with a different type of gun: a .9mm pistol (the lightest gun, and the “training wheels” gun for newbies), a Glock 22 (a pistol where you actually see a little blast of fire when you pull the trigger) and an AR-15 (as in, assault rifle). Boxes and boxes of ammunition sit in neat stacks on the tables.

We are instructed to break into smaller groups and pick a table. The more ambitious among us step up and begin shooting. I watch intently as each woman takes her turn. I can’t help but note that most of them start out timid, but finish grinning ear-to-ear. They exchange high fives and take selfies between turns. I wonder what provokes such elation and pride. Is it a sense of power that comes from tackling a predominately male activity? From knowing that one could, in theory, shoot to kill if duress made it necessary? Is it simply from conquering a fear, realizing that it’s not so bad?

I wonder a lot of things, and then it’s my turn. I start with the .22. It is heavier than I expect. Not at all like a toy gun. The instructor shows me how to load the magazine. How to brace the gun with both hands. Where to place my trigger finger between shots. He’s thorough in making sure we shoot safely, but I’m still shaking like a leaf when I pull that trigger. I have to close one of my eyes to focus on the target.

The paper target ahead of me is already full of holes so I can’t see where my bullet goes. I fire again and then again, and a few more times. I promised myself I would at least try one round with each gun. That I would commit that much to the experience and to understanding what it means to shoot.

Between the fire blast, the kickback of the gun and the shotgun shells that fly everywhere, it’s hard to see where I’ve hit. How do I even know if I’m a good shot? I ask the instructor and he assures me that I’m doing just fine.

I don’t feel compelled to keep shooting but in the interest of completing my mission, I step up to the next table. The AR-15.

Let’s be clear. An AR-15 is an assault rifle. They’re commonly used in the military for their ability to hit a target at long range. Civilians can purchase (and shoot) semi-automatic versions. Why would a civilian need an AR-15, someone asks. “Home security,” one of the instructors answers. I think about my baseball bat and mace under my bed. I can barely imagine using either in a crisis, let alone an AR-15.

I pick up the gun and the guy instructs me again about the proper technique. It feels like the rifle from my childhood, only much heavier. I struggle to see through the scope to aim. After a few rounds the instructor asks if I want to try a different model but I’m ready for the pistols.

Compared to the other two, the .9mm feels lighter and quieter, but no less intimidating. I fire the requisite magazine but politely decline another go. The International Woman of Mystery is spent.

While waiting for the event to wrap up, I observe from the back. A stray bullet casing grazes me before falling to the floor. Curious, I reach down to grab it. It is still hot to the touch but it quickly cools. Then it is just a cold shell. Empty and benign. I put it in my pocket as a reminder.

A few days later, still carrying the shell in my coat pocket, I cup it in my palm and think about why I had been so terrified and uncomfortable.There is the obvious terror, as I mentioned earlier, of what could happen if someone doesn’t follow safety precautions or if someone goes crazy.

But there is another kind of discomfort I couldn’t articulate until now.

It’s the discomfort of conflict, which I abhor. Guns = death, but also, guns = conflict. And not just because people use them to try to settle conflict and not just because they’re an icon of military conflict. The whole topic of guns polarizes people more than almost anything in our modern society. My objective is not to start a debate. Aiming for peace and understanding is much more my forte, than making waves.

But if I really want to be a woman of the world, I’m going to have to learn to voice my opinion. So here goes.

My thoughts that have been percolating since I was at the shooting range. The thoughts I’m willing to share on this deeply controversial topic, wrought with anger, grief and insecurity are as follows:

No object in this life is worth someone else’s life. I’m disturbed that people get a thrill, even joy, from holding in their hands the power to kill someone. If you don’t know who your enemy is, maybe you shouldn’t be practicing to kill them. Packing heat shouldn’t be the only way for a woman to feel empowered. There is more than one kind of self-defense. Owning a gun doesn’t guarantee that you will act like a hero when, or even if, you are called to do so.

A few days later, still carrying the shell in my coat pocket, I cup it in my palm and think about what it means to be a hero. If being a hero means shooting the bad guy to save the day, I’m not sure I’m cut out for the job. But perhaps there’s room in this world for more than one kind of hero (or heroine).

Perhaps the International Woman of Mystery will be remarkable in her ability to fight injustice using only her intellect. To disarm any nemesis with her charm and benevolence. Maybe heroism doesn’t come from the weapon you wield, but from the heart of the hero

Or perhaps Jenny G. will just have to take up Krav Maga.

Ciao,
Jenny G.

 

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2 Responses to “Mission: Be Fearless”

  1. E. English 02/02/2016 at 9:09 AM #

    Guns=death, but Arms=protection. There’s a big difference; nevertheless, I love this post. ” I’m disturbed that people get a thrill, even joy, from holding in their hands the power to kill someone. If you don’t know who your enemy is, maybe you shouldn’t be practicing to kill them. ” <—God Speech!

    You are indeed a wonderful wordsmith! ♥

  2. BeKindToHer 02/04/2016 at 2:50 PM #

    So powerful. Wonderful read

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