Recently, I have taken a shining to gun slinging. Not in the Lara Croft, guns blazing and tomb raiding, sense of the words, but simply learning how to overcome my fear of them. Growing up in suburban New Jersey and relocating to sprawling south Florida, the only exposure I had to gun was through film, local news reports, and my interactions with law enforcement officers. The closest I ever came to handling guns was playing video games like Duck Hunt and 007: Golden-Eye, and trust me, I was the last person on any gamer squad who could pose a threat on any type of shooter game.
With great power, comes great responsibility.
Black Widow. James. Bond. Carl Grimes. Rambo. Sarah Connor. Entertainment media makes firearms appear glamorous, powerful, and most importantly simple to use. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great action film as much as the next girl, but actually learning how to handle a gun with live rounds is quite different. There is a steep learning curve which once should be acutely aware of, and it is perfectly acceptable to ask questions. In the news, politicians and special interest groups battle over gun regulation and weekly there is a new cover story about violent acts related to gun-abuse. Domestic violence. School shootings. Cop killers. Preventable accidents. International terrorism. Negative images flood the media, instilling a fear, and frankly, I’m tired of being scared. I will not drag out my personal socio-political platforms here, but I find myself giving considerable thought on this particular topic. (I blame the mid-term elections.)
My primary decision to learn how to handle a gun is for safety. It was neither an easy one to make, and it was a very personal one. No, nothing terrible has happened to prompt this active choice to learn about fire arms. No, I do not have any intention of hunting animals or attending any sort of wilderness survival camp. I simply want to conquer my fear of them. This, along with learning archery, is on my ever-evolving bucket list, neither of which for the intention of hunting. This recent foray into shooting sports is new, but may develop into my ever growing list of hobbies. With any new experience, I want to explore and research as much as possible. I hope you won’t mind joining me on this journey, too.
Find a solid range. As I had no clue as to what to look for in a shooting range, Doc, a seasoned shooter, did his homework and found a great place for me to learn how to shoot. Personally, as a brand-spanking-new-to-shooting novice, I needed a place where I would feel not only safe, but welcomed when I walked through the door. East Orange Shooting Sports in Winter Park is an ideal gun range for anyone interested in learning how to handle a fire arm. Check out my rave review from my first visit. I cannot say enough positive things about the crew at EOSS.
When checking in for a range lane rental, the staff will ask for your signed waiver and a government issued ID. They will hang onto your license (or other form of acceptable identification) throughout the duration of your rental. It will be returned to you upon check out. A proper range will have liability waivers and posted safety regulations. Read. It All. Reading through the check lists and requirements, actually calmed me down a bit (though the range staff could still see signs of first timer distress painted all over my face). The rules aren’t mere guidelines, open for interpretation. They are hard and fast to keep everyone safe, so don’t take the safety briefing from the staff with a grain of salt. Listen. Don’t mouth off. Follow the rules.
Safety First! Must have safety items: “eyes and ears” meaning your protective eye wear (shooting glasses) and ear muffs (noise reduction not the fuzzy, winter essential). On my visits, Doc loaned me his spare pairs, but I’m starting to research ones which will fit me better. While looking at pretty photos of items online is nice, there is something more reassuring about getting properly fit for items at a professional equipment retailer. Like visiting a running specialty store to get fit for new running shoes, give a hoot and a half about your vision and hearing, and see a professional.
While EOSS had a nice selection of fire arms, ammunition, and supplies, we took a mini-road trip up to Gander Mountain in Lake Mary, FL. Talk about overwhelming. GM is like Bass Pro Shops, which I equivocate to an super outdoorsy Sports Authority, but the primary difference is the in house firing range. I hovered at Doc’s side because I had absolutely no clue where to start. We tried on some new ear muffs and found a set I really like. Unfortunately, they didn’t have floor models available of their shooting glasses, so we left without trying anything. It was a bit of a hike, but an educational experience nonetheless.
I was taught to double the ear protection by using disposable foam ear plugs in addition to the ear muffs, but I have yet to master the art of insertion. This proved frustrating when the shooter in the stall next to ours starting firing rounds to my right. The design of range headgear is to the muffle the sounds of firing weapons, so I found my attention and aim pulling toward the louder noise. If anyone has some tricks for getting a snug fit on disposable ear plugs, I’m all ears. (Yes, I went there.)
Bigger isn’t necessarily better. After two visits to the range, I’ve selected a gun which I intend on gaining proficiency with a Bersa Thunder .380. Handling guns are akin to trying on a pair of shoes or gloves, finding the perfect fit is key to comfort and confidence. A firm grip and solid placement really dictates the amount of control one has over their firearm. I white-knuckled a Ruger .357 Magnum Revolver and a Taurus PT 92 AR 9mm which have more left and less kickback than the .380. After extended use, they felt much heavier, my accuracy dipped, and I would check the safety at least twice. Most noticeably I flinched each time I pulled the trigger. After chatting with Doc, we decided that the Bersa is the best match for my shooting needs.
After we checked out, I visited the show room where one of the staff members showed us a few pieces and answered questions we had about several different brands. Like any considerable investment, I cannot stand pushy sales people, and at EOSS, the crew provided a no hassle, no judgment browsing experience. Any vendor worth their salt truly listens to the needs of their customers. While we looked at some slim-profile 9mm hand guns, I immediately decided that at this stage in my learning, I’m not comfortable with anything without a safety and I prefer a magazine that has a pinkie grip for stability. No, there aren’t any immediate plans for a gun purchase or a concealed carry permit, but there is nothing wrong with a little window shopping.
Dress the part. No, I don’t mean rocking up in micro-shorts and enough cleavage to make the Hooters Girls blush. On my first visit, I wore a short sleeved running shirt and a pair of lightweight trail pants, and after a couple of hot shell casings bounced off bare skin, I elected for a long sleeved running shirt on my next visit. With heated metal glancing off surfaces, make sure that pretty pedicure is safe in some closed toe shoes. The ladies at Girls ❤ Guns have some practical, honest, and informative advice on what to wear to the range, and more importantly why. This does include stances on jewelry, makeup, and why coverage is sexy. Also, Andy Rutledge at Gun Path also has a great (gender neutral) First Timer Guide available, complete with a step-by-step walk through.
If you have concerns about properly handling a gun, go to the range with someone who knows what they are doing and will clearly explain or sign up for a class. There is no shame in asking for instruction and assistance with something that potentially injure or kill someone if mishandled. I’m fortunate enough that I am learning from someone with knowledge and experience. Should you be in need of some tongue-in-cheek, comedic relief, I suggest you feast your eyes upon this glorious gun safety PSA. Just a gentle reminder to lock up your arsenal, Y’all. 😉