By Meghan N.
My entire childhood was filled with four irrational fears: bees, spontaneous house fires, drowning, and guns. Bees (and, honestly, any stinging insect) is easily explained as I stepped in a well-concealed underground nest when I was seven. Buh. No thank you. I still get the creeps from anything with a stinger.
Harboring a heart-hammering apprehension of spur-of-the-moment house fires probably has something to do with the fact that I grew up in the mountains of Northern California, where “smoke” and “ash” is synonymous with summer. Perhaps. I can’t really explain my fear of spontaneously combusting homes.
Drowning…drowning I can’t rectify. I was a competitive swimmer for twelve years. I’m more comfortable treading water than I am walking on flat ground, where I’m more likely to break my ankle or fall flat on my face (and yes, it’s happened).
Guns, however, I can pinpoint to a fear that was bred and spread by other people.
When I was five I found a stray bullet in my cul-de-sac while playing with friends. Every parent present immediately grew pale and worried and ushered us all inside.
At age twelve my whole neighborhood was awakened by the sounds of a semi-automatic blast, quickly followed by four short pops – a man shot down by the police.
Teachers regularly told horror stories about guns being left out in places where small children could play with them and accidentally shoot their siblings. It was a formidable warning to us youngsters to stay away from guns. Don’t touch them.
Don’t look at them. Don’t even think about them. Don’t play video games with them because God forbid they might make a person violent.
But then there were unspeakable terrors like Columbine.
My mother, however much I love her, abhors guns. She swore when I was young that a gun would never find its way into our house and ensured that I would never hold one, let alone shoot it. It’s kind of funny how “never” became almost like a charm. She should have knocked on wood.
My father, in an interesting twist of events, is fascinated by guns. He respects them. When I grew too old to appreciate Saturday afternoons at the batting cages with Dad, we started sneaking off to the shooting range. You think I’m kidding. I thought he was kidding the first time he suggested it. And it was always followed by, “but don’t mention it to your mother.”
The first time I walked into a shooting range, I felt completely backwards. I was maybe sixteen and super-girly. Perfectly applied makeup to go grocery shopping, for instance, because there was always that risk that the cutie from second period would also be out grocery shopping. The scandal.
My cheeks were flushed with embarrassment and I was fixated on the thought that it was so wrong for me to be playing with guns, especially as the only female on the range. But my heart rate was also doing the quickstep in excited anticipation and it took everything in me to slow down and listen to my father as he went through the four rules of gun safety.
I was simultaneously so nervous that I was accidentally going to shoot someone, or, more likely, myself, that I was afraid – a trend with guns, sadly – to touch the .22 rifle in front of me.
The first shot I fired scared the ever-loving shit out of me (um, from a .22 — take that in for a moment). The second and the third were better. By the end of the round I’d stopped shaking and had this ludicrous goofy grin on my face.
I didn’t want to give the gun back to my Dad for his turn. There was an M-16 on display behind the register when we were leaving for the day. “When do we get to shoot that?”
While I entered the range with a face scarlet from humiliation and discomposure, I left with the bright glow of love. And while I was by no means a good shot, it was a lot of fun to destroy a target. It was also a point of pride to look at boys who’d never picked up a gun and be like, “Yeaaahhh I shoot guns. I’m a badass.”
And then I went off to college. When I say I ended up at probably the most liberal school in America, it is, by no means, an overstatement.
There was absolutely no gun tolerance there at all. I don’t think I ever once admitted to my peers that I’d ever shot a gun. I only ever met one other person who knew anything about them. People on campus nurtured an intense and unfounded anxiety about guns that I never understood, and so I kept my “I love guns!” secret to myself.
The summer after my freshman year, Dad took me to the range – I’d been so unbelievably deprived – and I was sporting one of my college tees without really thinking about it. No one from my hometown really knew where I went to school, so it came as a complete shock when an older gentleman at the range recognized the name. He glanced over, did a double take and approached us as we loaded our mags in our lane.
“You went to Oberlin?”
Totally nonplussed, I gaped stupidly at him for a moment before responding. “Y-yeah…. I go there now, actually.”
“And you’re holding a gun?”
My dad laughed, as did the man. I was still so stunned that it took a moment for me to chime in.
“Ha! Yeah, yeah I guess so.”
“Well then. Want to shoot my Desert Eagle?”
“You’re joking.” No freakin’ way.
“Only if you are,” he laughed again.
At that precise moment, the mental image that flashed wildly across my brain was of cowboys facing off in the middle of a dusty and empty street at high noon while the theme song from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” played wistfully in the background. I equated a Desert Eagle with a Real MotherFucker.
Of course I wanted to be like one of those dumbasses who pretends they’re cowboys and wields Desert Eagles one handed, but the man flashed me one expert glance and wiped all gleeful idiocy out of my mind. He showed me how to hold it so that it wouldn’t smack me in the face once it fired.
“Okay. You’re ready.” Uhh…I started shaking again. This was a Big-Ass Gun. Like, whoa. I hesitated.
“Meghan, you know how to pull the trigger, right?” My dad, always full of jokes. Me, always the punch line.
I took a deep breath, and released slowly as I aimed and pulled. And, as always, I was completely unprepared. I nearly dropped it. This was no .22. Or 9mm, which was (is) my flavor of choice.
“Damn. Daaaamn. Wow. Wow, thank you so much. Okay. Wow.” I put the gun down and tried to walk away from the lane, the fear of the Big-Ass Gun and the Real MotherFucker standing next to me, who had been overcome with laughter at my reaction.
“Where do you think you’re going? You have six more bullets in there!” Goddamned .44 Magnum. I looked sidelong at my dad, who just started laughing and gestured back at the gun that had scared me witless.
“Nothing. I mean, really? Are you sure?”
“Sweetheart, it’s all yours.”
And that’s how I overcame my fear of guns. Nothing like facing the biggest and baddest of them all. Of course I ran away like a little girl when I was done and my face was pinker than a sunburn at the beach, but it doesn’t matter. Point is, I’ll pretend I’m Tomb Raider behind my lane and celebrate my appreciation, respect, and enjoyment of having serious firepower in my hands any day.
[This post was originally published in 2014.]