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“You look like you need to learn to shoot,” a helpful receptionist advised Amanda Fortini as she sat waiting to see her doctor. Evidently her discomfort and worry showed. “What the hell? What did she see? Perhaps, I thought, she was referring to the fact that I’m not physically prepossessing—delicately built, with bird-bone wrists and arms. Or maybe she’d fixated on my all-black, un-Montana wardrobe and determined I needed some toughening up. I must have been emitting pheromones of unease, I concluded, the way some people signal fear to dogs. I didn’t want to be perceived as a human orchid. I decided to learn to shoot.”

Fortini’s penned a cri de coeur for documenting the mental and emotional gymnastics she’s performed that ultimately brought her to her decision to learn to shoot and actually (gasp!) buy a gun.

The piece is titled Should I Buy a Gun?: After falling victim to a string of traumatic crimes, Amanda Fortini considers a controversial means of protection. Note to Elle’s editors: with about 11 million guns sold each year and 40% of Americans owning firearms, it’s getting a tad difficult to call owning a gun “a controversial means of protection” any more, no?

With a history of brushes with crime and violence (actual and attempted break-ins, walking in on an armed robbery) then a move to Montana where guns are rather more accepted than in her previous home bases of New York and Hollywood, Fortini takes the receptionist’s advice and signs up for Women on Target, an NRA-sponsored shooting class. With barely concealed revulsion, she describes the degrading experience:

I arrive at the range at 7 a.m. to find approximately 35 women of various ages, from twentysomething to 60-plus, sitting at the sort of long fake-wood tables on which bingo is played in church basements. (The bathrooms are labeled “Does” and “Bucks.”) Outside, at the rifle range, people are already shooting. Every time there’s a reverberating boom, a few women jump, startled. It sounds like we’re in a war zone.

Most of the women have come to this clinic so they can get a permit to carry a concealed gun for self-defense. An elderly woman tells me that she wants to stash one in her bag for shopping trips. “For the parking lot,” she says.

She ultimately manages to overcome her fear and loathing long enough to actually pull the trigger during the class’s range session.

I squint, hold my breath, and…fire.


My first thought is, I can’t believe how loud that was. I’m wearing earplugs, but you don’t just hear the firecracker noise in your ears; you feel it with your whole body.

That’s when she finds (stop me if you’ve heard this before) that she actually likes it.

My next thought is, I want to do that again! I have an immediate, exhilarated reaction. Partly it’s that what I’ve just done initially frightened me, so there’s a sense of a limit overcome. For many people I know, guns remain unreal—the accessories of fictional characters, or at least of the Other, not you and yours. Yet to fire a gun is to realize you can do it: You can operate one, understand how it works. Shooting gives me a rush that comes from a feeling of (admittedly incomplete) mastery.

And she seems to find the act of shooting almost therapeutic, allowing her to escape the chronic anxiety over her safety that brought her to shooting in the first place.

…the sensory experience of target shooting—readying your stance, controlling your breath, focusing on the target—is so absorbing that I can’t indulge my free-floating worries. I can’t have a self-conscious intellectual reaction when firing a gun. It’s almost meditative.

As I shoot, I again experience the strange, paradoxical sense of an act that’s familiar and unfamiliar at once. I’ve seen Clint do this; I’ve seen Arnold do this; I’ve seen Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton do it. Shooting a gun is like smoking a cigarette or drinking espresso in a café in Paris or having sex on a Caribbean beach: You’ve watched it so many times on-screen that you experience your own actions as an echo. It’s impossible not to feel like a cliché.

Ultimately, Fortini takes the leap and gets herself a gun. But her relationship with it remains…complicated.

A revolver now rests on my nightstand. It’s small and sleek and black, a Ruger LCR. Weighing 13.5 ounces and no bigger than a half-sandwich, it’s easily slipped into a purse. I’ve tucked it not quite out of sight, among books I hope to read but maybe never will. Several weeks after buying it, I’m still wary, superstitious. I know the chamber is empty, yet I open it every so often to check.

Wait, what? The same woman who cowered behind the counter in her kitchen at 4:00 a.m. as a drunk tried to break down her door doesn’t keep her home defense gun loaded? Well, no. No she doesn’t. Because even after completing the class, she doesn’t feel “qualified or prepared.”

Because, let’s face it, if I really could fathom pulling the trigger on an intruder or a looming attacker—on another human being—I’d keep the gun loaded. When you hear floorboards creaking as he creeps toward your bedroom, it’s unlikely you’ll have the time, not to mention the presence of mind, to fumble with ammunition. To quote the teacher of a subsequent class I took: “When you’re in trouble is not the time to start loading. It could cost you your life.”

“Every time I look at the gun, it scares me,” I tell my boyfriend, as I eye its insolent blackness, leering at me from the shelf next to my bed.

“It’s a gun,” he says. “It should.”

It’s hard to fathom why she lets the Ruger take up precious night stand space if she’s not going to load it. Maybe she’ll have time to throw it at an attacker if, God forbid, she ever really needs it.

[h/t Ira Wilsker]

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  1. Hopefully she gets more comfortable soon. It’s clear she needs some more range time and some more training, especially some discussion about the realities of self defense. When it comes down to it, who does she want it to be: her or the attacker? Because that’s often the choice.

  2. Nothing is more dangerous than an unloaded gun. Today, she’s checking every time for an unloaded gun. What about in a year? IMO if you treat every gun as if it’s loaded, then every gun is always loaded. One of the reasons I don’t own any Glocks is I have to treat it as unloaded by pulling the trigger on an empty chamber in order to clean it. Seems like a serious design flaw to me.

    • Agree completely about having to pull the trigger and it’s one of the reasons why I prefer the XDm over the XD.

      As for the author, she’s going to have to develop a level of comfort with the gun or she’s never going to become proficient. Hopefully she’ll relax a little and her attitude will shift from fear to respect.

    • Do you never conduct dry-fire practice? Unloading your weapon and pulling the trigger on an empty chamber is just another opportunity to work on the fundamentals. Point it in a safe direction, align the sights, and squeeze the trigger… then get to disassembly and cleaning.

      • If “all guns are loaded all the time” and “never clean a loaded gun” are both true, then it follows that one can never clean a gun because all guns are loaded all the time. Right?

        So unless guns aren’t supposed to be cleaned, which will surprise the sh!t out of Hoppes, then one of the above “rules” is wrong. Which is why the NRA does not recognize Cooper’s rule.

        The rule, which Cooper himself had to and did back down from, should have been: “All guns are dangerous all the time.” Now that would actually make sense.

        • I’ve most often seen Rule One stated as “All guns are always loaded, and even if they are not, treat then as if they are.” This is a statement that acknowledges that guns aren’t actually loaded at all times, and the first part of the statement is hyperbole for emphasis.

          People have shot themselves disassembling their Glocks. Is it their fault? Yes. Did Glock have to build the pistol so you need to pull the trigger to disassemble it? No. The design introduces an unnecessary step that sometimes leads people to make a very painful mistake.

        • CarlosT, Cooper’s original rule was “all guns are loaded all the time.” Period. End of sentence. He fought the change to “and even if they aren’t, treat them as if they are” for twenty years and finally backed down because even he could see that his “rule” was wrong. Let’s cut the guy some slack, though. Gunsight was a “hot range” where all guns actually were loaded all the time.

          Even the rule as amended is wrong. If I always treat a gun as if it is loaded, I’m back to the paradox. I can never treat a gun like it’s loaded and still clean it. Which is why the NRA does not honor Cooper’s rule.

        • I agree with Ralph. All guns are always loaded is just the most convenient way of saying that you should treat all guns as if they are loaded.

    • Honestly, while I somewhat understand your concern, to me it reeks of the same lack of self-confidence that causes people to voluntarily carry unloaded guns.

      Of all the pistols I have disassembled, the XD is my favorite (lock slide, flip lever, release slide, pull trigger, and you can do it three times in the time it took you to read this). It is, by far, the simplest takedown procedure for a pistol I have ever seen, and incorporates the fewest moving parts.

      The pistols I like the least, are ones where I have to lock back the slide and fiddle with filthy components in opening to disassemble. More moving parts = more potential for failure = lower potential reliability.

      • The XDm process is almost identical (lock slide, flip level, release slide) and incorporates only one additional part as far as I know (a transfer bar, which releases the sear, so you don’t have to pull the trigger to do so).

        One step eliminated, one that has led to negligent discharges before. Yes, yes, the people who shot themselves were idiots for not clearing their guns before cleaning them, but why should you have to pull the trigger just to clean the gun?

      • How is the XD “lock slide, flip lever, release slide, pull trigger”

        Better than Sig “lock slide, flip lever, release slide”?

    • Not to tempt fate, but I consider myself one of the safest gun owners I know. I have a dedicated place in the house where I dry fire. It is in the basement, pointed at a sheetrock wall behind which is a poured concrete foundation. If, Glock forbid, I ever did have a ND the bullet would penetrate the sheetrock, fragment against the wall and (hopefully) be contained therein.

      I am 100% confident of my ability to make sure a chamber is clear before I dry fire. I simply can’t buy into the every gun is always loaded and can’t even be dry fired premise. Yes, every gun is loaded, until it isn’t.

      • And how many of the people who have had negligent discharges were sure the gun was unloaded?

        From what I can tell, they teach dry fire at Gunsite, and as far as I can tell, Cooper was in favor of it. I’ve seen video of him dry firing a 1911 to demonstrate the surprise break. The bit about “All guns are always loaded” is a bit of hyperbole for emphasis, just as one might say something like “there are a billion good arguments against gun control.” All guns aren’t literally always loaded, just like there aren’t literally a billion arguments, but the point is that we shouldn’t treat them casually.

        • Yes, every gun is loaded, until it isn’t. Van.

          we shouldn’t treat them casually. CarlosT.

          Both of you are right. Which is why I think the rule should be “guns are dangerous objects and you will always treat them as such.” Explaining how to neuter a gun so as to make it not dangerous is part of a detailed process, not a simplistic rule. Anyone who cannot clean a gun safely cannot be trusted just because he or she knows the “four rules.”

          The 3 NRA Rules are far more sensible. The muzzle discipline and trigger discipline rules are the same as Cooper’s. The NRA’s third rule is ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use. Then there is a process for “clearing” the gun. There is an exception to the rule for the self-defense guns that we carry.

        • The rules I’ve seen on the NRA site don’t make that exception clear, and honestly the NRA page rambles on quite a bit. Cooper’s first rule, while hyperbolic, gets the point across and most people get the point. And honestly, I think the “keep the guns unloaded” thing confuses more than it helps, because like I said, it doesn’t mention anything about carry or home defense guns. I’ve had anti-gun people quote the NRA safety rules back at me as an argument for why I wouldn’t be able to deploy my guns quickly enough, because I’d have to load them first.

    • The inability to visually verify the absence of a round in the chamber after removing the magazine seems like a serious design flaw to me. Are you afraid that a cartridge might magically materialize in the chamber, or do you trust your own eyes so little that you can’t be sure if you saw a shiny brass circle or an empty black tube?
      All guns are assumed to be loaded UNTIL POSITIVELY PROVEN OTHERWISE; the idea that you have to treat all guns as if they are loaded all the time is absurd, dangerous, and just plain stupid, because obviously guns CAN be unloaded. Otherwise we wouldn’t have to reload. 😛

      Apologies for being so blunt with someone I have not met, but the idea that you are unable to confidently clear and verify that a weapon is safe is terribly worrisome.

  3. Because even after completing the class, she doesn’t feel “qualified or prepared.”

    You laugh, but my wife is the same way. Got her CHL but hasn’t carried yet because she still lacks confidence. We’re working on it, though. I think a “Draw and Fire from Concealment” class ought to do the trick, plus range time, range time, range time.

    Nothing is more dangerous than an unloaded gun. Today, she’s checking every time for an unloaded gun. What about in a year?

    I disagree – that’s what drills are for. It becomes part of how you pick the weapon up, how you hand it off, how you strip it down. The problem here is it doesn’t sound like she has anyone drilling her, nor is she drilling herself.*

    *Okay, that sounded wrong.

  4. My wife was in the same boat. For the first few weeks after receiving her carry permit she refused to do so. For a few weeks after that she carried but without a round chambered in the pistol. Following that she spent about a month with a round chambered and the safety on,

    These days? If she isn’t armed it’s because she has entered a ‘gun-free zone’ and no where else.

    • Yes, but I had a husband who was supportive (sometimes pushy) about it. Not a boyfriend who also sounds a bit scared of a loaded gun. I hope she finds someone at the range who can help mentor her and be supportive to her about carrying and having the loaded gun around.

      I didn’t start out with a fear of a loaded gun. I just didn’t like a loaded gun being that close to me! Now it feels funny not to have my CC gun with me at all times.

      • Yes, the story is that the boyfriend says the gun SHOULD scare her. Now there is a difference between a healthy fear, and an unhealthy fear. She’s still in the unhealthy fear area, and with advice like that (phrased that way) she’ll remain there.

        She does need for familiarity, so I would recommend and suggest more range time, and perhaps for the boyfriend too. To get to the healthy respect and fear level.

        I say healthy fear, as in knowing that it can be dangerous to handle, and if one’s careless someone undeserving is going to get hurt. IOW: I should fear pointing the gun at my own head with it loaded, I should respect that it can remove brain matter in such a way, I will no longer live. What I should not fear is that it can stop someone who needs to be stopped before serious harm comes to me, my family, or those around me (or after they start to minimize the damage.) THAT is healthy fear. Unhealthy fear has it as “if I even touch the firearm, someone’s going to get hurt, especially me.”

  5. At least she went to the range, waited three months to take the class and then actually took the class. She actually braved a gun store with all the back-counter snark and bought a handgun.

    Me personally, I would have gotten her a Glock, M&P or XD, assuming she could rack the slide unassisted. Much easier to do that to get a pistol into action than open the cylinder, wrestle cartridges into five chambers, close the cylinder and get a firing grip. Not to mention that a 13.5oz. revolver can be a handful, I have a S&W 638-2 that is heavier than an LCR but is far less pleasant to shoot than a .357 SIG from a full-size Glock.

    Since the rule is “All guns are loaded”, they might as well be loaded and useful. I hope she will come to this conclusion after more familiarity, but I’d cut her some slack. She’s leaving the Dark Side and coming into the Light on this issue…and writing about it in Elle. Getting PAID to write about it in Elle, where Elle readers will read it and find out that shooting a handgun may not be the soul-staining sin that the poor denizens of the blue coastal enclaves have been led to believe.

    Like Tim McNabb said, “+1”.

  6. Once their cherry gets popped they are never the same. Seen this SO many times with new gun operators. They get hooked. I converted a Vegan Liberal Pacifist Hippy Anti-War type into a man who spent 3 hours googling guns, shooting, etc. He actually told me he was surprised then internet had so much information on it. Duh.
    Show them the realistic side of firearms and the myths disappear/

  7. Not that she would read this, but my advice to her regarding the keeping of the LCR empty would be to simply fill up all but one chamber, and keep the live chamber empty (Condition 3). If trouble comes in the night, she merely needs to pull the trigger once and then she is good to go.

    Small steps are required, and hopefully that would help to mitigate her fear of keeping a loaded handgun in the nightstand.

  8. This is a good place to recommend offering to take a friend/acquaintance to the range for some additional practice, if you know someone in Amanda Fortini’s situation. And I recommend using a .22LR pistol for the range sessions – make them fun, non-threatening, and successful. Use some steel knock-over targets if you have them, or one of those self-repairing plinking targets. This is someone who is starting on the road to being a self-reliant, “sovereign citizen” who will NOT expect the gummint to protect/save her. That is definitely something to encourage, not make fun of.

  9. “Maybe she’ll have time to throw it at an attacker if, God forbid, she ever really needs it.”
    Shoulda got a 1911 if that’s her plan. [rimshot]

  10. As a child, from age 10 years-old or so, I hunted regularly on my own. I had the shooting merit badges from Boy Scouting. I served two years in the Army Reserve and 12 years active-duty in the Army. Yet, when I got my handgun carry permit (as it is called in this state) a couple of years ago, I did not feel confident enough in my skills to carry until I went out to Front Sight in Nevada and got 40 hours of professional instruction. Now, I carry all the time. Training is necessary. Get it from whatever source is available to you.

  11. We should be welcoming her into the fold, not lambasting her for compiling her experiences into a story that will reach and resonate with hundreds of thousands of young women.

    • Actually, I don’t see how the comments here could be characterized as “lambasting”. Some of them are mildly critical, but none of them are particularly harsh. I don’t think we do those new to shooting or self defense any favors by holding back honest criticism of mistaken beliefs that hold them back from truly learning to protect themselves. Someone who is so afraid of her gun that she refuses to make it ready to serve its purpose needs to work past that psychological barrier.

  12. It’s the smell of the gunpowder.
    Long after the muzzle flash or the boom,even the push from recoil…
    lingers the aroma.

    If only there was a bacon flavor.

  13. My Daughters are the exact opposite of this woman. I really think they might be more adversarial than comparable males in a gunfight.

  14. My daughter is working through the same dilemma. She knows how to shoot, and how to safely handle a firearm. She got a new pistol for Christmas, but between her anti-gun Vegan roomate (who she doesn’t want to find out she has a gun in the house) and her fear/excitement of having her own gun, she has kept it in a locked container hidden in the back of her closet, unloaded–and with the safety on. (I must admit I got a real laugh about this last part.) But I am pretty sure that this “nervousness” wiil vanish with time and with shooting.

  15. Speaking of gun safety rules, rule number one for gun-cleaning is incorrect – “Make sure the gun is unloaded.” It should be rule number two.

    Rule number one SHOULD be “Load another gun.”


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