Jeff Gonzales [Not Shown]: Overcoming Fear During Training

Jon Wayne Taylor and Michal Idan training

Fear is important to our survival. I wouldn’t be here today writing this blog if our species hadn’t developed a fear response that allowed humans to survive a wide range of threats. Threats we continue to face. Threats you face during firearms training? Maybe so . . .

Fear is Normal

New students taking a shooting class are often frightened.

Some are scared because they’re holding a [potentially] deadly weapon. What if I screw up and shoot myself? What if I screw up and shoot someone else? Equally, some students are afraid someone else will violate a safety rule and injure them

That kind of fear is a close cousin to fear generated by performance anxiety. Screwing-up with a gun might not be injurious, but it could be embarrassing. Loss of face or social status is a deep-seated concern for a lot of people.

Both of those types of fear are normal and natural. Both of those fears tend to dissipate once a student realizes that the head instructor is a professional who puts students’ safety first. Someone who encourages students of all skill levels with patience and positive reinforcement.

[Note: if your instructor or instructors don’t meet that standard, if you feel your safety is compromised, act on your rational fear and remove yourself from the class.]

The student gradually realizes they aren’t going to die, kill anyone and/or make a fool of themselves.

Gauge your fear, relax your breathing!

Fear comes in various strengths, from “mild anxiety” to a full-fledged “panic attack” — which is nothing more than a normal fight, flight or freeze response to a stimulus that isn’t dangerous.

If you’re experiencing mild anxiety before or during a class, again, it will ease over time. And if it doesn’t, well, a small amount of fear helps keep you sharp. As long as you can concentrate and perform the required tasks safely, it’s really a question of feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

If, however, you’re experiencing a full-on fight, flight or freeze response before or during a firearms training class, you’ll experience a number of [literally] alarming physical reactions: rapid, shallow breathing; rapid heartbeat, dilated pupils, trembling, crying, an inability to concentrate, tunnel vision and more.

First, recognize that all of these “symptoms” are designed to save your life. Rapid breathing oxygenates your body, rapid heartbeat spreads the oxygen to the muscles, adrenalin gives you strength, crying alerts your pack to danger and recruits their aid, and so on.

The easiest way to combat an inappropriate survival response: focus your mind on your breathing and force yourself to breathe slowly. Control your breathing and your body will eventually get the message: stand down.

If your fight, flight or freeze symptoms don’t ease, take a break from the class, go someplace quiet, control your breathing and quiet your mind with positive thoughts. Take your time. And don’t worry: everyone knows how you feel.

Understand your fear; explore it, embrace it, conquer it! 

Whether your anxious or downright scared before or during a firearms training class, ask yourself what am I afraid of? Then don’t be afraid to ask the instructor to directly address your fear.

If you’re afraid the gun will jump out of your hands, ask the instructor “how do I stop the gun from jumping out of my hand?” If you’re worried about shooting the gun by mistake, ask the instructor “how do I stop myself from shooting the gun by mistake?”

It’s as simple as that. As long as you check your ego at the door (there are no stupid questions).

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you “there’s nothing to be afraid of.” In my experience, students who recognize their fears, put their ego aside and address their concerns with their instructor become competent and safe shooters.

Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned unapologetically to the world at large. Currently he is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin. Learn more about his passion and what he does at


  1. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

    Who’s the old man?

    1. avatar ACP_arms says:

      Jon Wayne Taylor of TTAG.

      1. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

        In that case JWT isn’t doing himself any favors standing so close to that prepossessing lass. In comparison, such a svelte creature could make modern wine appear vintage.

  2. avatar Mas Cool Arrow says:

    There’s a man in the photo?

    1. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

      Unfortunately yes, as it detracts from the wholesome nature of the picture. Not to mention, makes Esoteric Inanity extremely envious.

  3. avatar Cruzo1981 says:

    Don’t be afraid to forgo range dress requirements…

    1. avatar CTstooge says:

      Yeah. Hot brass + cleavage = mayhem.

  4. avatar rt66paul says:

    Hot brass down the waist of those jeans just might her to have a full length shirt – but hell, I enjoyed the vid.

  5. I find it amusing that this is directly under the same author’s desire for a gun that very good at making you afraid to shoot it.

  6. avatar samuraichatter says:

    While this advice is good it comes from a certain type of culture and view to a certain culture and view. To put it less philosophically: rednecks tend to not have this problem. Yeah they are at times over confident and hap-hazard form wise but its like watching two beginning swimmers; you can tell the one who is afraid of the water and the one who is not.

    When your training consists of shooting guns when you are knee high to a grass hopper, often alone or with minimal supervision, you might develop bad habits but hesitating is usually not one of the them. New shooters are often afraid of failure and saving face in addition to safety. They are afraid to “do it wrong”. When its just you (and maybe your dog), if you do it wrong no one will know. But you get comfortable with guns and gain a measure of confidence. Guns are darn near everywhere and it is like driving a car or riding a bike. Your no-account cousin might be an expert bike rider but you at least can hold your own.

    I highly recommend TTAG’s own John Wayne Taylor and his excellent:

    It’s a country boy’s Magnus Opus if there ever was one.

    This isn’t just for guns and it isn’t just true for poor whites (“country” might be a better term than “red neck”). In the country, self sufficiency is learned at an early age often through self-directed exploration: a.k.a. setting crap on fire and jumping off stuff 🙂 Country kids are usually not coddled and even if they are they have enough time and space to wonder off on their own. If you view guns like a soccer mom from the upper east side then yeah you might feel like they are Excalibur and only a Navy Seal should dare shoot one. When you have seen your drunk grandma shoot and connect then Kilimanjaro it ain’t.

    In summation: Make America Less Neurotic Than It Is Now 🙂

    1. avatar Flinch says:

      Thank you Sensi Chatter. It explains much about the strange crowd that gets their CCW and then believes themself wise enough and experienced enough to start a podcast about guns. But everything they say is nothing more than inch-deep regurgitate.

      Call me a Fudd— that’s Mr. Semiauto Fudd to you Farago— but I’ve got a decade of hands on gun experience for every year of most of these showboat knowitalls. And their only defense Is to show off to someone even dumber than they are. And plastic tits help.

  7. avatar 5spot says:

    Hovering instructors, bad, um kay?

  8. avatar ironicatbest says:

    Oh good gawd almighty, what a hoot.

  9. avatar Cucamonga Jeff says:

    The first time I put my wife behind a rifle she must have stared down the reticle for five minutes before she got the courage to pull the trigger. After the first few shots it was all down hill. Now I have to tell her to slow down and stop hogging the ammo bucket.

  10. avatar Martin Dude says:

    Israeli model Michal Idan ??
    What about military service in Israel?

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