Two years ago I decided I wanted to learn to shoot a gun for two reasons. It was on my bucket list and I wanted to overcome my fear of guns. Little did I know how much it would change my life or that I was part of a national trend.
According to the National Sporting Goods Association, nearly 47% more women are shooting today compared with 10 years ago and 23% of all women in the US own a gun. Now here’s the most interesting statistic to me. In Texas, the fastest growing group of concealed handgun license owners is…African-American women.
I’m not going to speculate on the reasons. Texas State Rep. Stefani Carter (R) covers some of them in her recent article in USA Today. I am not going to go into whether or not women should own a gun for self-defense since Clutch Magazine and Madame Noire did that a few months ago. Nor will I go into the sociological significance of black women owning guns and its possible effect on black men. J. Victoria Sanders touched on that in her article in Bitch Magazine. Instead, I’ll tell you how it changed my life and is allowing me to do the same for other women. I can sum up in two words – NEW-FOUND CONFIDENCE.
The one thing most women know about guns is that it can kill and maim. It screams danger. We’ve watched thousands of hours of television and movies. So you can imagine how nervous many women are (and I was) to pick up such a thing. But we face our fears and reach forward gingerly picking it up cautiously in case it might explode in our hands. (We didn’t know better.)
By the end of the class we not only know the parts of a gun, but we know that the proper word for what goes into a gun is a cartridge. The bullet is found at the tip of the cartridge, so you buy a box of ammo, not a box of bullets. We find out that the gorgeous CIA agent Jason Bourne and a lot of other people in those detective shows and spy movies are holding the gun wrong. At this point, we can have an intelligent conversation about the type of gun we are holding, the difference between a revolver and a semi-automatic (both are called pistols), we understand how to safely load and unload a gun, we know what kind of ammo to buy for the gun we are using and we have learned the etiquette of a gun range. Next step – actually shooting a gun.
If you think holding a gun is intimidating trying going to a gun range. It is, bar none, one of the last bastions of testosterone. A woman walks onto a range and if a man isn’t facing down range and shooting, he is looking at her wondering what the heck she is doing there. A majority of men assume a woman has no clue what she is doing at a range so they will both stop and watch to see if she makes a fool of herself or else give unrequited advice. Then there are the very loud noises of gunfire. It is not unusual to flinch a lot the first time. And depending on the ventilation at the range, the smell of gunpowder may be heavy. Some people have described their first time at the range as sensory overload.
In my case, I picked up the gun, fired a shot…and fell in love. The feeling of holding power in my hands was amazing. I had a smile a mile wide after that first shot. (Had an even more orgasmic-like response the first time I fired a shotgun). The fact that I was hitting my target dead-on made me feel even better. At the end of the session my instructor told me I was a natural. I was hooked. In one day I had faced my fear, picked up a gun, learned how to safely hold it, gone into a very male dominion, fired a gun and ended up being as good as, and in some cases a better shot than some of the men there. I was a badass. I could conquer the next challenge that came my way.
Fast forward over a year and a half later and I am now an instructor who teaches mainly women. I’m part of a group that consists of women teaching women how to shoot. Our founder got tired of seeing men teaching women how to shoot and the woman ending up in tears at the range with everyone thinking, “she’s a woman, she just can’t shoot”.
I became an instructor because I found something I was good at. I love teaching women because I want them to face their fears and find out that they can be good at this too. They are not helpless. I love, love, love their reaction after their first shot because it’s usually a big smile. I’ve had one woman ask me to hold her for her first few shots because she was so scared her hands were trembling. I’ve had another woman burst into tears after the first shot. But when I am done, every woman leaves with a smile on her face. They leave with a newfound confidence and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve seen some women’s demeanor, personality and even the way they comport themselves change as they stick with the sport and come out week after week.
These women are not just able to shoot at a piece of paper at a range but if needed, they can protect themselves. In my classes I discuss what to consider if they want to use a gun for protection and I help them to think it through. When they are done they may get a certificate from me, but I want them to understand the responsibility they are signing up for in carrying a gun or even keeping a gun in the home. I like to think that this confidence can also serve as protection. I find it interesting that one of the suggestions given to women to protect themselves from rape is to always walk like they mean business keeping their head up and NOT to act like they are timid or vulnerable.
As a single woman I’ve also found the response of men to be dichotomy. On one hand there are men who think a woman’s place is NOT on the range; on the other hand there are a lot of men who find a woman who can handle a gun downright sexy. Maybe they think we’re secret Bond-girls like Halle Berry. Or maybe men find confidence sexy. I wouldn’t say my dating life has improved since I learned to shoot but on the occasions that I have met potential dates, I’ve found men usually get a large smile on their face when I tell them I shoot, and these are men who do not shoot. Go figure. (By the way, when it comes to accuracy, women are statistically better shots than men.)
This new activity has opened up a whole new world to me allowing me to meet some phenomenal women. Some come to class because they are coming out of an abusive relationship and want to be able to protect themselves going forward. It isn’t unusual to meet at least one student who has a restraining order against someone. Abused women are usually the most in need of self-confidence. I consider it a good class when they leave with both the skill to protect themselves physically and the self-confidence to face the challenges ahead of them. The age of a woman is not a restriction. I’ve taught women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. The end result is still the same: A smile and self-confidence.
I know there are those people who are opposed to guns and its use for many reasons. Both pro-guns and anti-gun groups have their numbers to support their arguments. I am not looking to convince anyone to subscribe to a specific platform. I just wanted to explain why this black woman knows how to use a gun. Hopefully I’ll never have to use it for anything other than target shooting at the range.
Millicent is a NRA-certified basic pistol instructor. You can contact her here.