When I married my husband in October 2003, I also married his firearms. For the first few months of cohabitation, I knew there was a pistol lurking in my husband’s bedside drawer, but I didn’t have a clue how to use it. It seemed strange that there was something in my bedroom which could actually kill someone, and I didn’t even know what it looked like.
It took a while, but I eventually decided that this was my home, and if there was going to be a weapon sharing my bedroom, I either needed to know how to use it or we had to get rid of it. What good was a pistol for “home protection” if I didn’t even know how to use it? If someone broke into our house while my husband was home, we were all set. But if I was caught home alone, there may as well have been a butter knife in that drawer.
Knowing my husband’s interest in guns (he had a Sig Sauer P239 in 9mm, a Marlin Camp 9 rifle, and a Remington 870 shotgun at the time), it didn’t seem fair for me to demand he get rid of them. I knew he liked target shooting when I met him and I really didn’t want to be one of “those wives”—who ritualistically start stripping their husbands of all their dirty pleasures only months after the honeymoon. I started to think about how “couples that play together stay together” (a saying which undoubtedly refers to other bedroom activities, but I decided could apply to that mysterious weapon hiding out in the nightstand). Maybe shooting could be something we enjoy together? Going to the range is certainly cheaper than other hobbies, like golfing.
I tossed around the idea of joining my husband at the range, and finally expressed interest in 2005. The first time we went to the range, I was a jumpy freakbag. I expected the ear protection to block out all sound and quickly learned I was mistaken. My husband went through a target pretty quickly while I cringed every three seconds from a safe distance. When he turned and motioned me over, my hands were all sweaty and I had almost changed my mind completely. I didn’t want to shoot. I didn’t want to play together. I didn’t want that thing in my house! However, knowing how disappointed he would be that I’d come all this way only to chicken out, I listened patiently to my husband explain how to load the clip, how to handle the gun safely, etc.—thinking in the back of my mind that I probably still wasn’t going to do it. Once he’d explained things a little, I figured I might as well just try it—I’d bothered to pick out the perfect “going to the range outfit” and everything. With some gentle prodding, we ended up going through about 20 rounds together, with his hands over mine. Toward the end, I shot some on my own, finishing the rest of the ammo in the box. The recoil wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated and I found a death grip wasn’t necessary to prevent me from losing control.
The next few times we went to the shooting range, we shared a lane. It didn’t take long for me to get bored with this arrangement. My husband had established from the beginning that I had to do everything on my own. He would give pointers and constructive criticism, but he wasn’t going to hand me a loaded gun and reload it when I was empty. As I became confident enough to handle the pistol and shoot on my own, I didn’t really want or need him looking over my shoulder, and I didn’t like waiting for my turn. Surprisingly, I had actually started to feel like a warrior. The looks I got from other men at the range made me feel sort of sexy. Some seemed surprised to see a young woman in their midst, and it made me feel strong…like I could handle my own...like I didn’t need anyone but myself for protection. My husband also made me feel good about it. He seemed proud that he had the kind of wife who he could take to the range (and who wouldn’t accidentally mow down the other patrons).
Like most things, when I get into them, I get into them. Buying my own gun followed quickly. What was the point of getting separate lanes if we still had to share a gun? I wanted my own gun, that fit in my smaller hand, that I could be comfortable with, that could live in my nightstand. My husband had bought himself a new gun, a Sig 225, and we learned after a few trips to the range that I was shooting better with it than he and that I was far more comfortable with it than the Sig 239. I got a permit to purchase and then transferred the pistol to my name right away. I bought a shooter bag and my own ear protection. Eventually, I bought some nice, rose-colored eye protection, too. I might be shooting the hell out of the head and crotch area of my unfortunate target, but I could still look like Paris Hilton doing it.
Buying a gun and knowing how to shoot it isn’t enough. If someone is going to have the responsibility of a weapon, the gun owner needs to assess pretty quickly if he or she is willing to use a gun for protection—fortunately, this was not a difficult leap for me. When I think about it now, I’m surprised I hadn’t looked into self-defense sooner. In college, a man was convicted of stalking me. Shortly after that, my parents were car-jacked at gunpoint while on vacation. Seems silly that I, of all people, had not considered personal protection! More recently, my sister/brother-in-laws’ home was broken into (luckily while they were not home), and while my father-in-law was cashing a check at his bank, a man brandishing a pistol robbed it.
Our family has had our share of bad luck, and those nights when my husband works late get pretty uncomfortable, despite our home alarm system. My husband has his CCW and it seems like a logical step for me toward ultimate self-protection. I recently mentioned that I had completed the CCW training course and only needed to finish the paperwork (required for concealed carry in Michigan) to my father-in-law, and he asked me why I would want to carry a gun. I mumbled something about self-protection and needing it when I travel for work, but I was privately wondering why he would ask me this. I wonder if he asked my husband that question when he started carrying? I suspect he did not. I suppose it’s more socially acceptable for a man to carry a gun. Maybe he couldn’t understand why a nice girl like me would want to go grocery shopping while she was packing? Maybe he thinks it’s an insult to my husband’s ability to protect me?
I’ve discussed my new interest in guns with a few of my girlfriends as well. Some of their husbands also have pistols for home protection, but none of the women know how to shoot. One friend doesn’t even know where her husband keeps his gun. Some home protection! She has a new baby, and I told her that she has a responsibility now to know where that gun is in her home and how to use it, if only to unload or secure it. Knowing how to handle the weapon doesn’t mean she ever has to use it. (I lightened our conversation by telling her about some funny incidents at the range, including the time when a hot shell went down my shirt and sent me into what probably looked like a frantic Mexican hat dance. Needless to say, I mostly wear turtle necks and long sleeves to the range now.) We also talked about the idea of actually using a gun to protect ourselves. My friend would never have thought of such things before, but now that she is a parent, she thinks she could shoot someone if it was to defend the life of her child. She now plans to learn to use her husband’s gun. Once she knows how to handle it, she will have to make her own decision about her willingness to use it.
Regardless of any social stigma, I don’t think it’s a silly idea to want to protect myself, and I don’t think I would have a problem using my gun if it came down to it. True, taking the heart out of a paper target is a far cry from pointing it at a stranger and pulling the trigger. But if it is a choice between losing my own life (or that of a loved one) and taking another’s life, I think I could make the decision to unload and live with it. I might not like the idea of shooting a real live bad guy in the chest, but it’s a lot more appealing than the idea of throwing that butter knife at him.