FNS-9 Content Contest: The First Gun I Ever Shot

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.

comments

  1. avatar KCK says:

    The women can write!

    1. avatar LongBeach says:

      For sure. The ladies are killin’ it! How about adding another FNS-9 to the mix? Seems to be bringing out the best in TTAG’s AI.

  2. avatar DJ9 says:

    I vote this article be selected for the second prize to be awarded. Great points, well-written in a conversational style. Spread this far and wide, wherever potential new gun owners might be found; people who have lived the experience and can tell their story with feeling are all too rare.

    Well done!

    1. avatar Hobbez says:

      Seconded

    2. avatar bLACKbear says:

      +1

    3. avatar Matt in TX says:

      ” A properly maintained gun is only as dangerous as the person holding it is stupid.”

      Give that woman the pistol. I am stealing this line.

      1. avatar CA.Ben says:

        My thoughts exactly!

    4. avatar IdahoPete says:

      Gets my vote! Great story, good writing, excellent advice.

    5. avatar TR says:

      A bit late, but I add my +1 to this as well.

  3. avatar Mike says:

    “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.”

    Best. Quote. Ever

    1. avatar Greg in Allston says:

      +10, yep, that quote is right up there.

  4. avatar K. Nguyen says:

    I walked into a LGS with my brother and his girlfriend, and they were talking to one of the older guys working there about a gun they owned, a Cobra FS in .380 auto. The moment my brother referred to the Cobra as his “saturday night special”, the old man behind the counter bristled at the label and told him to never call a gun that, regardless of how “cheap” you believe it to be. Apparently, he said the term was created by gun control advocates to sensationalize the ease of acquiring cheap firearms by thugs.

    In any case, I enjoyed reading the main piece. The Ruger SR9C is a great carry choice.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      The origin of the term “Saturday Night Special” is racist in origin, and goes back to the very earliest racist roots of gun control. A “Saturday Night Special” was said to be a gun that wasn’t good for anything but a “N-word-town Saturday Night shooting.”

      The earliest efforts at gun control aimed at banning these cheap or inexpensive (there’s a difference) guns that could be used by the riff-raff and the poor. The class of people who drink their tea with their pinkies in the air have always sniffed and harrumphed at the low class people who use cheap firearms.

      You can see this attitude to this day when you see Plugs Biden advocating that women run out and buy a double gun for home defense. There’s only a couple of double guns that are remotely affordable. A pump shotgun is much more affordable than any double gun.

      1. avatar WLCE says:

        So much truth to that post dyspeptic.

        According to Bloomberg and the other ultra-wealthy, ivy-league elitist control freaks, all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

        1. avatar IdahoPete says:

          And strangely enough, it is usually the pigs [i.e., politicians] that are more equal.

  5. avatar Carry.45 says:

    Great read. Really like how you ended it.

  6. avatar Bruce says:

    Good story. And good choice of a SR9c.

  7. avatar jwm says:

    Jennings. Check. Raven. Check. Sterling. Check. RG. Check. In my impoverished younger days I owned them all. It was that, or no gun at all. I remember feeling like I had finally arrived when I bought my first new revolver that wasn’t a cheapie, a Ruger Police Service Six in .357. Prior to that my handguns had all been used. One had even been won in a barracks poker game.

    1. avatar Matt in TX says:

      I still have my RG in 22lr. I heard you could buy one for $10 in the 80’s.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        I got a used one in 80 for 15 bucks.

  8. avatar Andy says:

    Great story,you need to try writing professionally.Also great choice on the Ruger,they are my favorites.Be prepared and ready.Keep your powder dry.

  9. avatar Joseph says:

    RF, you might want to get Sarah W. to do some gun reviews. The lady has talent.

  10. avatar Cameron says:

    Potato farmer in Maine? I know up aroustic county (Maine potatoes) there’s a lot of moose but also allot of land to safely practice shooting. I miss the northeast.

    1. avatar Hobbez says:

      Aroostook county is potato country and is a wonderful place. I grew up in Maine and I sure do miss being able to target practice off my deck naked. Well, for the 3 months that it is warm enough =p No freedom like that here where I can throw a rock and hit 7 or 8 other houses.

      1. avatar Cameron says:

        I have no idea how I managed to spell that as wrong as I did.

      2. avatar Derrick says:

        Does that at least include slippers and a single sock? Just to keep the chill off of course.

  11. avatar Jeff says:

    Not much to say. Great article. I just wanted to comment on the part about giant moose bursting out onto the road. I saw my first moose in north eastern Washington several years back, close to the Idaho/Canada border, in much the same way…

    We were driving into the mountains to get an early start on the day of deer hunting. Driving alongside a frosty bog, suddenly the trees on the side of the road parted a handful of yards in front of us, and what looked like an oversized horse with antlers emerged, nearly lost its footing at the sight of the truck, and began running directly in front of us. Clouds of frost and small chunks of ice shook from its back as it lumbered forward. It tried to look back, stumbled and fell, and stood back up. By this point we had stopped, and the moose stood directly in front of us, taller by far than the roofline of the Chevy 4×4, then slowly began to trot back into the trees.

    Up until that point I never had any idea how huge an adult male moose really was.

    1. avatar Bob says:

      I took a friend to a body shop in Bangor, Maine several years ago. In the back was a black station wagon with the center of the front of the roof pushed back about two feet, and all of the roof was pushed back about a foot. All of the windows were broken, and you couldn’t open any of the doors. However, there was not a single mark on all the rest of the station wagon. I asked what kind of accident the car had been in. They told me that it came around a corner at night on a back road and ‘tail-gated’ a moose. The bumper knocked the legs out from under him, and his butt slammed into the center of the windshield. The driver was in the hospital.

      I’ll never forget that story, because it is just so Maine-iac.

      1. avatar moscowag74 says:

        Moose are scary creatures. I live in north central Idaho and they are abundant. We’ve had the junior high locked down because a moose was on the grounds. My wife and daughter have been hiking on a popular open trail in the city limits and surprised a cow and a calf in the brush. I’ve seen them at the county fairgrounds, and I’ve seen them in the wild. Just never know what their mood is.

  12. avatar APBTFan says:

    Absolutely, unequivocally the BEST entry to date. Chock full of solid truisms and humor.

    Tell your better half not to sweat the Jennings. I bought a Sundance (?) .25 Auto much like the Jennings when I was 16 and, being a very enthusiastic new handloader, actually bought dies to reload for the thing. That was 25 years ago but I recall the thing was reliable.

  13. avatar Wmc85 says:

    My wife had a Raven MP in .25 ACP when we got married. I bought her a Taurus Ultralight in .38 and traded her Raven for 3 boxes of .38 Special.

  14. avatar Mediocrates says:

    Yippers. The gals are putting us to shame. I still have my J-22. She’s in mint condition. And really nice choice in the SR9C. You’ve come a long way, baby!

  15. avatar Greg in Allston says:

    Great piece of writing Sarah and thank you for sharing this with us.

    You may or may not be aware of the recent dust up at Ms. magazine with a woman named Heidi Yewman and her so-called series “My Month with a Gun” which was first published on June 12th. It really caused quite a stir. Since it first came out, neither Ms. nor the Huffington Post have published the second part of the series as I write this. Your essay here would be an outstanding, and I mean really, truly outstanding counterpoint to the piece put up by Ms. Yewman. There’s little chance that either publication would print it because it clearly doesn’t support their biased narrative, but what the heck, give it a go. Nothing ventured, nothing won.

  16. avatar Clay says:

    Very well written! Welcome to the gun club Sarah!!

  17. avatar miserylovescompany says:

    The first gun I ever shot, like so many other kids, was a .22 – in this case a Marlin/Glenfield 60.

    Everybody’s upbringing is different. At the risk of branding myself as a stereotypical OFWG redneck type, my attitudes towards firearms were that of a kid’s natural curiosity changing to a pragmatic balance between respect, and fear.

    Face it, a little fear is always a good thing. It keeps you alive. It keeps you from doing something dumb, like running full tilt across busy streets in front of fast-moving traffic. Fear is an essential component of self-preservation.

    The catch is that fear and respect must always be kept in the proper proportions. Say about 95% respect and 5% fear.

    I ride a sportbike (ZRX1100) – a large, powerful and fast machine that’s plenty capable of turning you into road pizza if you don’t respect it enough. That 5% of fear is what keeps me smooth on the throttle and brakes, etc. Or paying CLOSE attention to what you’re doing when operating a chainsaw or other inherently dangerous power tool.

    One of the shortcomings of youth is that they tend to forget that little 5% and it becomes something else – usually recklessness. Thus ER’s have a steady supply of the fruits of their behaviors – car wrecks, shootings, various sporting injuries (been there, done that – busted my leg and ankle in 5 places doing something dumb) and what not.

    I can’t speak to the cultural differences in this young lady’s upbringing, but she makes a good point that it’s important to respect other people’s emotions, even if they seem misplaced, in a constructive manner. The results just might surprise you.

  18. avatar Aaron J says:

    Greg is right on the money with his comment: This piece by Sarah is the PERFECT rebuttal to Heidi’s ridiculous essay. Here’s a quick comparison of the two….

    Case #1 – Heidi fears guns. Heidi decides to crusade against guns so that no one can have them and misinformation will abound. Then Heidi irresponsibly gets a gun just to prove a point and carries it into public, terrified beyond reason. This is Heidi’s miserable life.

    Case #2 – Sarah fears guns. Sarah takes a moment to examine WHY she feels that way (this is called introspection. It is really impressive and rare in humans). Sarah studies those who own guns in a responsible way and comes to the perfectly reasonable conclusion that SHE was wrong in her old way of thinking. Sarah then grows as an individual and becomes a gun owner herself. Sarah lives in what’s called the real world, and she excels at it. Go Sarah.

    Jessi J. (winner of FNS #1) did an incredible job of shredding Heidi’s preposterous “logic” line by line in a TTAG feature on Friday. Sarah’s entry to the contest provides even more firepower to the cacophony of dissent against Ms. Yewman’s wretched writing. Mr. Farago and other powers-that-be, you would do yourselves and the rest of us a favor by promptly adding both of these brilliant and insightful women to your writing staff so that they may continue to dazzle us with the written word.

  19. avatar Jessi J says:

    Excellent. Well written, well done. Can we be friends? 🙂

  20. avatar Syntax says:

    This article is GREAT!! This is the best article I have read on the subject, hands down, PERIOD!!! Blown away!!

  21. avatar 2hotel9 says:

    Very nice write up. Need to get more of this out into the public discourse.

    And tell your ole man to lose the shame! One of my EDC pieces is a Beretta Bearcat .22LR. At CQC distances it is highly effective with the proper load.

  22. avatar BDub says:

    That does it – TTAG needs to get some permanent female columnists. I have really enjoying hearing their perspectives.

  23. avatar CA.Ben says:

    I’m not going to lie, I skip through most of the “proving gun control wrong” type entries. They all contain great information, and great writing for the most part, but they all contain mostly the same information, cliches, examples, and arguments. You can only read that stuff so many times before the preaching to the choir becomes boring.

    But this was incredible. Sarah proved that you don’t need to write a full on persuasive essay to debunk gun control, and that a personal life story is so much more compelling, and entertaining. Not to mention, the “a properly maintained gun was only as dangerous as the person holding it was stupid.” quote is pure gold. I truly enjoyed reading this whole article, more than most of the articles in recent memory.

    Don’t give her the pistol. Give her a matched pair.

  24. avatar zml says:

    I have a Jennings J-22. Found it in my father things after he passed on. It did have some issues. Did some research on the net and found that some of the original parts had been re engineered. So for $29.00 I sent for new springs, ejector,and firing pin.
    It takes about 1 1/2 minutes to break it down. Put in the new parts and have had no problems in about 150 rds. It does like to be kept very clean and lubed. This pistol was never meant to have a lot of rds through it. Its a get the” hell out dodge” piece. 7yds about 6-8″

  25. avatar toms shoes says:

    At this time it sounds like BlogEngine is the best blogging platform out there right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you’re using on your blog?

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