“Every intelligent woman should become familiar with the use of firearms”- Annie Oakley
You may know the name Annie Oakley. She was well known for her intense skill with a firearm in a time where women usually didn’t handle weapons as often as men. Fast forward to 2015 and women with firearms in mainstream media is nothing really all that new. We love Dana Scully from The X-Files and are impressed with Allison Hendrix (and Sarah) from Orphan Black.
I felt it was important that I learned how to shoot a weapon for real, rather than trying to get my knowledge from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider or the Underworld franchise. In my experience, television and film are not the best teacher when it comes to realism.
If one does not want to pull a Donnie Hendrix from Orphan Black (still having flashbacks to Season 2) there is a lot to learn in regards to how to handle a firearm.
Before I went to a shooting range, I came up with a list of reasons I wanted to learn to properly fire a weapon.
- In a dangerous situation I would like to know how to handle a firearm safely and properly
- I’m a writer and I wanted to see if the gun ranges on The X-Files were accurate
- I can’t express how much I wanted to be Clarice Starling from Silence of the Lambs.
- Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse (and yes, I know blunt weapons are better for that)
A gun range is an interesting place. In my case, I visited The Firing Line in Huntington Beach, CA. For Southern California locals, I would highly recommend this range as they offer a Saturday morning handgun class that caters to beginners. When we arrived, a cluster of middle aged women spoke quickly and with entitled frustration. We had found our Allison Hendrix group. I was hoping to be more the Dana Scully camp. The front door has a large red octagon in the shape of a stop sign warning attendees to make sure their weapons are not loaded before proceeding. Inside, a room filled with wood floors and accouterments gave the room a safe feel.
The handgun course was taught by Steven Coronado. Steve is a tattooed former Marine with a straight-faced sense of humor. While sometimes he sounds like he’s insulting you, it is mostly to keep you focused and to relieve tension in a rather serious class. He knows his weapons inside and out. Steve worked with us one on one to explain the basics of gun safety, as well as how to load a magazine properly (it isn’t a clip; never call it a clip) and a how to hold your weapon so you don’t hurt your hand in the process or accidentally have the thing recoil into your face. Much of the time in his 3-hour course is spent repeatedly going over the basics so when you are out on the range itself you are safe, smart, and know exactly what to do. If you aren’t safe, you don’t shoot.
After this, the instructor took us out to the range itself. The range is made up of a room with what appear to be heavy concrete walls and floors, as well as a large black backdrop in the back that is so littered with holes it looks like a night sky. You attach a target to two clips that hang from a cord attached to the ceiling. Using a small mechanism, you move this target backwards until it hangs just above a white line painted on the floor. You can choose a circle target, a target that looks like a man, or if you’re wanting to part with a little more cash you can get a zombie or evil clown to shoot. We then were able to load our magazines with rounds and begin firing. This involves concentrating, taking a deep breath and being prepared for the recoil. The room is heavy with the scent of gun powder. You will get used to it quickly.
According to our instructor, women by nature are better shooters. We are better with focus, breath control and we listen to instruction. Women channel our inner Annie Oakley and take the day.
Some tips for your first handgun course include:
- Don’t drink coffee. It causes your body to move in slight ways that will affect your groupings.
- Do not call your ammunition a bullet until it has been fired. A single piece of ammunition, or a round, is made up of multiple components. Only one part of that round is called the bullet.
- You will likely not shoot like Ethan Chandler from Penny Dreadful on your first time out. Don’t be ashamed. That’s why you get multiple rounds. Make the next shot perfect.
- Wear close-toed shoes with good tread. Do not wear flip flops. Shell casings are hot when they come out of a gun and if it lands on your bare toes that is a no-no.
- Never wear a low-cut blouse to a gun range. See the above point and use your imagination.
- Always wear ear and eye protection to the range. This is no joke.
- Wash your hands before you leave. Many ranges will provide Lava Soap, which helps to clear the lead off your face. Trust me when I say you don’t want to add lead to your food. Think of Caligula.
Handguns are not for everyone. I don’t endorse everyone running out to buy a weapon, but I will tell you that education is power. Knowing how to fire a gun and load/unload one safely teaches you respect of the weapon and will also give you a pretty good indication of what is real and what is television BS.
Be Safe. Be Sane. Education is Power.