I’m touching up my red lipstick when my boyfriend asks, “Are you going to wear that?!” “Yes,” I say. “What’s wrong with it?” I look down at my outfit — black skinny jeans with a pristine white shirt cinched at the waist and gold loafers, my hair is artfully pulled into an updo. “Well, I don’t know if it’s an appropriate outfit for a gun range,” he says. “Maybe not, but I’m not changing my outfit. I’m sure the gun range could use a little femininity anyway.”
You would’ve thought that he was the one dragging me to the gun range, but it had been my idea. An idea that preceded our relationship by many years. I’m not the type of woman that you would suspect would want to go to a gun range. I didn’t grow up in a household with guns, I strongly believe in gun control and I’m not really athletic or outdoorsy. But since I was a child I’ve been fascinated by guns and not by guns so much but by the power that I thought it bestowed upon its owner. My mother, who grew up in Texas, was the only person, especially a woman, who I knew who had fired a gun. She was on the drill team in high school and hear her tell it, she was a pretty good shot. I always admired her for that.
Growing up I would daydream about being a superhero, saving defenseless citizens from the evils of this world. My guilty pleasure was watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. He was tough and no one messed with him. I, on the other hand, was shy, always the last to be picked for any gym team and very ladylike, prissy even. In my high school yearbook, the most common phrase people wrote was, “Stay sweet.” Badasses aren’t sweet! I’ve become bolder since then, but my curiosity about guns wasn’t something I talked about. In my circle of friends and the liberal parts of the country where I’ve lived, owning a gun is for Southern hicks, white male Southern hicks.
So how does a nice girl like me end up in a place like a gun range? It wasn’t just me trying to find my inner badass, although that had something to do with it. There was a part of me that wanted to fire a gun because I didn’t grow up in a household with guns, I strongly believe in gun control and I’m not really athletic or outdoorsy. Guns were taboo.
So here I am, holding a 9 mm. I’ve heard that guns are heavier than they look, but I’m still surprised by the gun’s heft. I can barely hear my boyfriend telling me how to sight my target over the noise of some guy shooting a semiautomatic two stalls down. The floor is covered with shell casings and I almost slip on one before I shoot a gun for the first time. The force of the recoil throws me off balance. My heart is beating so fast and it takes me a moment to get back into my shooting stance again. I shoot again and my mind goes blank. Surprisingly, most of the bullets hit the target.
I lay the gun down and watch my boyfriend shoot. I feel like I’m having an out of body experience. I’m questioning what I’m doing here and also questioning why I’m not feeling more. I’m numb. I don’t know what I expected, but the normalcy of the whole experience is … unnerving. Although it was my idea to come, I was coming with a fair amount of suspicion and judgment of regulars of a gun range. I’ll be honest I thought most gun owners were fanatics and racists. But looking around the cold basement room, I realize I’m not the only woman here or person of color. There are three other women with their boyfriends or husbands. There are also four other black women here. With the rise in police brutality cases and racial tensions after Trump’s election, more African Americans have bought guns.
It’s my turn to shoot again and on my first shot the recoil is so strong that the hammer hits my thumb and I’m suddenly bleeding all over the gun. The irony is not lost on me. My pristine white shirt now has droplets of blood on it. I go upstairs to the gun shop to ask for a bandaid and I realize this is not for me. My badassness won’t involve guns and though I still see myself as defending helpless people from the evils of this world, my path will involve petitions, marches, art and entrepreneurship.
I’m glad I had a chance to shot a gun. I’ve satisfied my curiosity and it gave me a chance to really confront my beliefs about guns and gun owners, but not everything is for everyone. And guns aren’t for me.