A few weeks ago, I fired an AR-15 and a handgun, each for the first time.
AR-15s are just about the most notorious weapons in the raging gun control debate. Despite the fact that the Orlando shooter did not even use an AR-15, for some reason, in the aftermath of the brutal shooting, all of a sudden everyone was debating AR-15s and whether or not the average American should be allowed to use them.
One preposterous story that surfaced was that of a journalist who claimed to experience temporary PTSD after firing an AR. This meme was mirrored with that of a 7-year-old girl learning to fire one with her father, who calmly and dutifully listened to his instructions and fired off a few rounds to her father’s praise.
Despite knowing full well how ridiculous it is for a grown man to claim temporary PTSD after firing an AR-15, I was still anxious to fire one myself. Perhaps, despite recent paradigm shifts I’ve experienced regarding guns and the Second Amendment, I was still affected by years of indoctrination that guns are animate objects that randomly jump out of closets and shoot people.
I also startle easy. My husband laughs at me constantly for gasping if he drops something or talks to me when I didn’t know he was in the room. People have always thought it was funny how easily I jump or start at sudden loud noises.
As my husband and I prepared for our gun range date, which we chose to do when his parents where in town to watch the kids, I mentally prepped myself all morning. But still, when my husband first started firing off rounds, my stomach knotted up from the loud noises and the obvious force of the weapon. It is so commonly visually associated with terrorism and war, it was quite a sight to see one live.
When it got to be my turn to try it out, it was definitely really intense. But, lo and behold, I was not, in fact, instantly stricken with a case of temporary PTSD. In fact, I was actually pleasantly surprised that the recoil was nothing like a shotgun, the only gun I had ever fired up until this point. It didn’t hurt my shoulder and it didn’t make my whole body reverberate. It was mostly just loud, and obviously quite powerful, but otherwise it seemed…controlled.
My husband got me used to the mechanism of the weapon, worked with me on my stance and aim, and I slowly got more used to it. Slowly, the shots stopped making such an impression on me. I tried out the handgun, and we worked more carefully on my stance and posture, my breathing, and when I squeezed the trigger. I went through loading it, chambering a round, getting in stance, aiming and firing, over and over and over. At first, my aim was terrible because I would anticipate the shot and tense up, pulling the gun down and to the right. My husband had me practice aiming and squeezing the trigger without it loaded a few times, and eventually I got more relaxed and stopped tensing up.
And you know what? I actually began to enjoy it, as well as memorize the procedure for handling the weapon safely. I began to develop the confidence that it wasn’t going to fire unless I pulled the trigger, but I also developed the vigilance to always treat it as if it was loaded and never aim it at something I wasn’t willing to destroy, one of the principle rules of gun safety. I realized that it wasn’t something that acted on its own, but a tool, a manufactured object with a function and a purpose that I had control over.
After getting to know the handgun and my own physical relationship with its function and mechanisms, I went back to the AR and found myself much more comfortable with it. It wasn’t so different from the small handgun, despite looking much scarier and, as Dana Loesch would say, “shootier”. Despite all the fancy-looking components all over it, it functioned in pretty much the same way, and required the same precaution and procedure. It wasn’t going to go off on it’s own, I was in control. If I was smart, followed basic safety rules and had the confidence that I could handle it properly, it was something I could use and feel comfortable with.
When we had first arrived at the range, I had a moment of fear, surrounded by sporadic, belly-shaking gun shots and feeling nervous and unsure, I kept thinking “it would be so easy for something to go wrong and me to just get shot and killed”. In a small room with several loaded guns and fallible men capable of error, it seemed so scary at first. But at that moment it occurred to me: every time I pull out of my driveway and turn on to the road, I am taking the same risk-statistically, a bigger risk-by entering out onto a road where any driver could be on their phone, texting, drunk or simply a crappy driver. It only takes one second of not watching the road to cause a potentially fatal car accident. And yet every day, millions of drivers take that leap of faith and go out onto the road, trusting the other drivers and themselves to operate their vehicles in a sensible way.
The reason it is so easy to convince people that guns are terrifying, inherently evil animate objects is because people are not familiar with them. If there was a massive anti-automobile campaign in this country, it would be very easy to paint cars as evil instruments of death and destruction (in fact, look at climate change guilt and propaganda-but that’s another blog post). People are killed by cars at much higher rates than they are killed by guns, but both guns and cars do kill people. But. Not. By. Themselves. There is always an irresponsible or murderous person behind the wheel or pulling the trigger.
At the end of the day, when people are killed, deliberately or because of irresponsibility, it is because of humans, not the tools we created in and of themselves. Knives kill people, blunt objects kill people, hot cars kill small children, and on and on.
Weapons are used to hurt people. Now, this can be to hurt people with malicious intent or in self-defense. I believe anyone who would call 911 if someone was breaking into their home has no place denying the average person the right to defend themselves with a firearm. If you rely on an armed officer to protect you from a criminal, then you believe guns should be used for self-defense and protection.
Police officers receive training just as anyone who owns and intends to use a gun should make sure to have. But this is not impossible. In a mere hour and half, I went from starting at every shot I heard to confidently firing two weapons commonly considered too dangerous to keep in one’s home. I learned how to tell when they are dangerous and when they are safe, and how to control that state. I learned how to fire them and how to safely handle them. I stopped jumping at the sound of them being fired.
I learned their power and, most importantly, I learned the power I had over them. Ultimately, it is our actions that we are responsible for, and not the actions of others. Yes, horrendous crimes have been committed using firearms, but in my opinion, this is all the more reason to own them and be familiar with them ourselves. Gun control only limits guns to criminals. Criminals don’t obey the law-how much more responsible are they going to be with the firearms? Murder is already illegal-how is making guns illegal going to prevent it? But that is a topic for another day. Today I just want to say, if you’re nervous about firearms, if you think they should be banned, perhaps you should take the time to learn how they really function. Perhaps you should listen to people who are comfortable with them and know how to use them safely. Perhaps you should appreciate that you already rely on firearms to protect you each and every day. And maybe you can come to learn, as I learned today, the myth-shattering effect of learning how to use a gun.