By Sarah W.
My fiancé asked me NOT to write that because it was HIS Jennings J-22 and he swears he can hear the collective snickering of everyone reading this echoing in his ears. ‘Why?’ I ask. He gets an antsy look on his face and explains it isn’t that the Jennings is a terrible gun, it just… isn’t something that people admit to owning. He says it was a ‘Saturday Night Special’, and he bought it when he was young, and it was really cheap. He even gets a little pink in the cheeks, like I just busted him with a dirty magazine. It’s cute, but I just don’t get it. As far as I’m concerned, that little gun was the first gun that I wasn’t afraid of, and what opened me to whole new world . . .
I would never term myself as hoplaphobic before that Jennings, but I would say that I had a very bad view of guns, with good reason. Something that I don’t think is ever really addressed in gun articles is that some people can develop real phobias regarding people with guns.
When I was 16 someone I didn’t know was shot in front of me while I was hanging out with some friends from school, and it was terrifying. It came out to be over drugs – not a big surprise in the neighborhood where I was living – and they never officially caught the guy who did it.
I had never been exposed to guns in the real world before that. From that moment on, guns to me meant someone could come up and kill you very suddenly, you could not run away in time, and they could get away with it. Worse than a guy in a hockey mask chasing you through the woods at summer camp, because that guy has a KNIFE and as long as you can outrun him, there’s a chance you can get away. But with a GUN, he can get you up close or far away. Your only hope is to run serpentine and hope he’s a bad shot, and in my mind’s scary summer camp, that is less likely to happen.
I can NOT be the only person who thinks that is a terrifying idea. I know I’m not. But sometimes I think the people who share that fear with me don’t think about what they’re really afraid of – not the guns exactly, more the PEOPLE with the guns. It’s more like a reaction to a bad spider bite. Of COURSE you try and avoid spiders when you see them. And the average person doesn’t go looking for them. But when one slips into your shoe one day and gives you the most God-awful bite on your toe, you learn to be extra cautious around them, keep an eye out for them, and steer clear of them when one comes near you. It was suddenly the same with guns. I realized that a lot of people around me had them – usually the people who sold a lot of drugs or lived in the parts of town that had heavy drug traffic.
When my fiancé and I moved in together, we never talked about guns. When I discovered his little Jennings sitting in a locked wooden box in our closet awhile after we were living together, we talked about guns a LOT.
I couldn’t understand how someone like him could own a gun. Growing up where I did in Central Florida, guns weren’t about protection and safety, they were about intimidation, control, and fear. A person with a gun was a person to be frightened of, obeyed, and avoided altogether, if possible.
But Calvin wasn’t raised that way. And so he seemed to think my fear of guns, while strange to him, was adorable and made every accommodation (read: crazy request) to make sure I felt “safe” in the new home we shared by storing the gun away and cleaning it while I was gone. He treated me like a spooked horse. He never pushed, he never ridiculed my fear beyond gentle teasing, and he let me move along at my own pace. And now, as a competent gun owner and decent shot, I can’t thank him enough.
As cool as Calvin was to downplay guns around me, our first Christmas together involved a lot of guns. His family invited us up to Maine and I was very unnerved to see all the weapons and ammo around me. Calvin has a very big family, and everyone was interested in what everyone else was doing. He comes from generations of potato farmers. He has a lot of family in various branches of the military. And they all have rifles. And handguns. And bows. And fishing poles. All the things that people who like to be outdoors have. AND IT TERRIFIED ME.
We went to 3 different houses and they all had hunting trophies and guns to show Calvin since he hadn’t been home in a few years. Deer antlers in full velvet. A Henry Golden Boy for a favorite grandson. Pictures of family fishing trips. Updates on all the kids and grandkids while the adults showed pictures of hunting trips. And then me – sitting in the corner, trying to make myself as small as possible, looking around at the trophies and guns and thinking how amazing that the little kids running around on the floor were being so brave around the guns. It seems silly now, that at such a great family gathering I was thinking about how the adults didn’t care the kids were around the guns, and the kids were so brave. But I was wrong.
Those kids weren’t ‘acting brave’ around the guns. It wasn’t an act. The people around them were responsible gun owners. They were hunters, farmers and former and current military personnel. They were people who used guns for work and recreation. Real people, with real lives, who loved their kids enough to take the time to teach them to be safe.
Every kid in that room knew that if they had permission to touch a gun, they needed to check that the gun wasn’t loaded, even if it had just been handed to them by someone they knew, even if their parent handed it to them. They knew if they didn’t, someone could get hurt. They knew never to aim at someone, even if the safety was on – again, because someone could get hurt.
They weren’t pretending to be brave around the guns, like I was, because they had been shown that a properly maintained gun was only as dangerous as the person holding it was stupid. They knew the gun wasn’t going to spontaneously fire and take out the room because they had been educated on how a gun worked, and I hadn’t. Sitting there in that chair I realized that at some point I had gone from being afraid of stupid people with guns to being afraid of EVERYONE with a gun. And that made me sad. These were smart, kind people. At no point did I feel unsafe with them. As far as I could tell they took every reasonable precaution with their firearms and the environment stayed relaxed and comfortable. The only dangerous thing around the firearms was…me.
And that was a serious kick in the head. My fear of people with guns had caused me to stay “safe” and steer clear of them all together. That included any education about what to do if I found one or, Heaven forbid, actually needed to use one. A lack of education about ANYTHING can lead to danger – if you didn’t look up what a Black Widow spider was and learn how dangerous it could be, how would you know to go to the hospital right away after it crawled out of your shoe post toe nibble? You wouldn’t. And the lack of knowledge could kill you.
It occurred to me up there that if a wild rampaging moose stormed into the house, knocked everyone in the room down, and it was up to me to pick up a nearby gun and save them…I was probably going to shoot myself in the foot and take out a skylight. (Interesting side note – there are HUGE MOOSE in Maine. And they pop out from the side of the road like freakin’ deer that can crush your whole Geo Metro by falling on it.)
After that, it became apparent to me that even if I didn’t want to own a gun myself I should at least be able to be safe around a gun. My fiancé showed me some basics, (read: cleaning) and eventually enrolled us in a pistol safety course provided by the local gun club.
It was fun! I met other people who hadn’t owned a gun before and it was very much no pressure. The instructor mentioned that he wished more people would do what we were doing – just teach people to be SAFE around guns, not push guns onto them and try to make them feel stupid if they don’t want one. Guns are NOT for everyone. Just like dogs – some people take to them, some people tolerate them, and some people just don’t care for them. But there’s no excuse for any of those people to be unsafe or stupid around a dog, their own or someone else’s.
In April of 2013 I bought my first handgun that I intend to use as my carry weapon – a Ruger SR9c. It’s super cute and all mine. Recent ankle fusion surgery means I will have to change my shooting stance a little, but Calvin and I are now members of the gun club where I took my first safety course. The people there seem really cool about letting newbies take their time at club shoots and I look forward to limping through my first one soon.
If someone in your life seems overly afraid of guns, I can’t suggest taking them to a pistol safety course enough. Even if they just sit there and see other people learning too. Sometimes just basic knowledge of something can make it seem less frightening. Black Widow spiders are scary. They are black and have a little red hourglass on their abdomen. Daring Jumping Spiders are not scary. They are little fuzzy spiders usually found in your garden or that corner of your bathroom you don’t usually see until you are sitting down and unable to run away. See? Just that small bit of information should make you breathe a little easier.
If you take nothing else from this article, please remember – Moose live in Maine and will pop out of the woods and destroy your car. They are huge. Totally bigger than horses. And you cannot swerve to avoid them because they are too huge to miss.