Girls with guns

I grew up in New Jersey, and was taught to hate handguns. Really. Shotguns and rifles were okay if you hunted (not that I ever had the desire to hunt), but handguns? Evil. Death machines. The only reason to have one is to use it to kill someone. People get killed all the time by handguns, mostly people who found one, played with it, and shot themselves or someone else by accident. At least, that’s the lore I grew up on. But I’ve known since I moved to Virginia that it’s a very gun-friendly state, and y’know, I’m a woman alone, and my neighborhood has gone downhill considerably in the last two years. I’ve been thinking a lot about learning to shoot and buying a gun.

Which is why I spent Sunday afternoon at the Blue Ridge Arsenal in northern Virginia learning to load, shoot, and unload four different kinds of handguns. Plus a rifle.

Four pistols in a caseThese are the pistols I used. There’s a Ruger Single-Six and a Colt Woodsman, both .22’s, a Colt Official Police revolver (circa 1940), and an Enfield Mark 2 (.38). There was also a Stevens 15-B .22 rifle.

My teacher, Stretch, is an ex-police officer. He spent some time beforehand teaching me how each of the guns are opened, loaded, and closed. We did this, of course, without loading the weapons at Chris and Janet’s. However, I got really good at shooting empty guns at the fireplace logs to get the feel of the trigger and the gun. I was also tickled to hear Stretch compliment me on holding my finger properly off the trigger of each weapon until actually firing it. Because believe it or not, I learned that from reading military bloggers. Their posts making fun of faux soldiers, terrorists, and fauxtography taught me how to hold a weapon properly.

After Stretch was satisfied that I had a good idea of how to use the guns, we drove to the shooting range. We had to wait a while, and I looked over the various weapons and gear. I got a kick out of the pocketbooks that come complete with a holster inside for your weapon.

Meryl shoots a rifle While we were waiting, I could hear some very loud reports from inside the shooting range. I didn’t realize it was going to be that loud, and I have to say, I was starting to get scared. I was wondering if maybe this was one of the stupidest things I’d ever decided to do. By the time it was our turn, I was pretty positive I was going to hate it. Inside the range it was even worse—we had earplugs and ear protection, but it was loud and startling and I was getting really nervous. But I figured I was there, I’d paid, I may as well at least try to shoot. Stretch started me on the rifle at three yards.

You know, it took exactly one shot to make my nerves disappear. I loaded the rifle, locked the bolt, cocked the hammer, aimed, and fired. And I hit the target. Where it counts. This was the result of my first shot:

Meryl hits the target

Granted, it was only three yards, but Stretch told me he started me out close to build up my confidence before moving on to tougher targets. It totally worked. I spent the next few minutes loading, shooting, clearing out the shell casing, loading, shooting, clearing out the shell casing… it was kinda cool to see the little pieces of metal go flying out of the rifle. (I saved the shell casing from my first shot. Think I’ll drill a hole in it and add it to my keychain.) And we moved the target back to seven yards.

The rifle was the most fun to shoot. I’m thinking my first purchase is going to be a relatively inexpensive .22 rifle, especially since everyone tells me that you can buy a brick of 500 .22 rounds for about $10 at Wal-Mart. That’s a lot of hours of target shooting. Have I mentioned how much I really, really liked shooting that rifle?

I did spend much more time firing the pistols, however, and I now find myself rather fond of revolvers. Those were fun to load, fun to shoot, and fun to empty the casings out of. They were a lot harder to shoot than the other two, though.

Meryl fires a pistol

You may notice that I shed my coat fairly quickly. That’s because I only noticed the cold about as long as I noticed the noise from the other lanes, which is to say, both went away after I started firing the rifle.

You can compare my hold and stance if you like. Damned if I can tell which gun was which in this picture. Not after two hours, anyway.

Meryl fires another pistol

Oh, wait. That’s not a revolver. I think that’s the Colt Woodsman. I’m sure Stretch will correct me if I’m wrong.

My shooting got better as I went along, until, after about an hour, I started to tire and my groundhog started getting away. Okay, not really, but I didn’t get nearly as many shots in the bullseye area with the two revolvers as I had with the previous three guns. Here’s my favorite grouping, using the Colt Woodsman.

Meryl fires another pistol

Stretch pointed out to me that if you take the targets we were using, and place them over a person’s chest, I pretty much destroyed my home invader at 21 feet. Now I begin to see the practical purpose behind target shooting. (All the shots in the corner were Stretch’s. He got his guy, too.) My first shot at the groundhog hit him square in the head. Wish I could say I was going for his brains, but I was aiming at the orange dot in the middle. I got that orange dot more than a few times.

Meryl emptying a pistolI had fun. And I learned a new skill. Now that I’m back in Richmond, my plan is to find a shooting range nearby and take a course. While I was at the range in northern VA, I was absolutely struck by the thought that every single person in the lanes next to me had the capacity to kill every other person there. And so did I (albeit a little more slowly, what with all the .22 weapons we were using). I don’t think I ever paid closer attention to anything else I’ve learned in my life than I did to whatever Stretch told me. Well, except for the names and makes of the guns. While he was telling me the history, I was looking at the trigger, the hammer, the magazine, the chamber, and the other parts of the gun and making sure I understood exactly what to do with the moving parts. I made only one mistake at the range. I put an unloaded weapon on the counter in the lane pointing into the room, not at the target. I won’t make that mistake twice. It might even have been this one.

I think it is highly likely I will at least buy a rifle for target shooting. As for home protection, I haven’t gotten that far yet. I’ll make that decision after I’ve learned a heck of a lot more about handling guns. But I’ve come a long way from the Triple-L liberal that was scared to death to so much as touch a gun.

UPDATE: Linked at memeorandum.

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109 Responses to Girls with guns

  1. Congrats. I can see you’re getting a lot of advice right now. I could ad my own gun preferences, but frankly there’s so much noise in this thread I don’t think it would be worth it.

    Instead I suggest you find a local range in the Richmond area with a good selection of rental guns. Get a membership and start shooting through their rental case. This is the easiest and cheapest way I know of to get experience with a wide variety of firearms. After that, buy what you like and can afford.

  2. Glad you had fun, Meryl!! A bolt-action .22 rifle is a great gun to start with, and there is a whole lot you can learn with it.

    Don’t look too far ahead until you know how interested you are in shooting and what kind of shooting you’re interested in. Answers will present themselves in vast waves of unsolicited advice…


  3. MamaAJ says:

    This is good to read. Earlier in the year, I mentioned to my husband that some day I’d like to get a shotgun for home protection. So he got me a Remington 870 for my birthday!

    I haven’t touched it since I don’t really feel like exploring it when my small children are around.* Hubby has a couple weeks off in Dec. so I will set up a time to meet up with someone who can teach me how to use and clean it.

    *Once I know what I’m doing, I’ll be more willing for them to see it and learn. I don’t think me fumbling with it would be very beneficial!

    I’m still unsure how a gun can be handy enough to get to in a hurry and still be safe from the kids…

  4. Jim Stegman says:

    MamaAJ, I have shown my kids my firearms so that they don’t “stumble” onto them at some date and decide that these are some kind of forbidden toy.

    Then, I also tell them that their lives as they know it will come to a screeching halt if I ever catch them playing with them or showing them to a friend. This put the fear of God into them, since I never talked like that before.

    I never had problem #1, so I guess it worked. They know that dear old Dad can be a cuddly teddy bear or a raving maniac, it’s up to them. So they have made good choices along the way to keep the beast in hibernation.

  5. Chris says:


    An unloaded, locked-up gun doesn’t help much for home protection/break-in. It might only help if there was some civil unrest that gave you a warning to take it out (Katrina).

    They make quick-access mini gun safes for handguns that work with fingerprint recognition or quick combinations. Not sure if they have similar locks for long gun cabinets, but a place like Cabela’s may have it.

    The key is to teach your kid(s) proper respect for guns, without making them seem like some forbidden fruit. Just like you would do with kitchen knives or a power tool. Even though my guns are inaccessible to her, I don’t worry about my 4yo daughter, if she ever found one. She sees me with them frequently, and knows not to touch. I’d worry more about her friends.

  6. Ben F says:


    Great post, and best of luck in this endeavor. Two thoughts to pass on.

    1) A cousin of mine (by marriage), a survivor of Auschwitz, became a life member of the NRA when he came to America after the war, and could never understand how any sane Jew could support gun control. He had a small business in Manhattan, and I’m pretty sure he had some form of “protection” stashed in his van, though I never saw it. He once took me and my daughter on a memorable tour of the NRA museum when it was in downtown DC. Time marches on; the NRA museum is now in NoVa, and Les, like so many survivors, has gone to meet his maker.

    2) Do your homework if you are thinking about joining the JPFO. They are to the NRA as the NRA is to the Brady Campaign–seriously hard-core.

  7. Ben-David says:

    Greetings from Israel, which is where this New York Jew learned to be comfortable around firearms.

    Amid all the talk about gun models – I would like to emphasize the importance of securely storing your gun.

    Here in Israel they are very strict about the need to lock your gun up when it’s not in use – if your firearm is involved in an incident and you didn’t taken the steps necessary to secure it – you are (rightly!) in big trouble.

    Maybe less glamorous than discussing the guns – but just as important, if not moreso.

  8. I’m still unsure how a gun can be handy enough to get to in a hurry and still be safe from the kids…

    Two answers:

    1. Quick access lockboxes, using the Simplex lock, the Gunvault style electronic lock, or biometric locks.

    2. Teach kids gun safety, and make handling guns safely, under appropriate adult supervision, part of their lives, rather than some mysterious, forbidden adult thing for them to try when the folks aren’t around.

    Orthogonally: drowning accidents among kids drop dramatically when the kids learn how to swim. Locking up the pool is the fallback; water safety is more important.

  9. Lil Mamzer says:

    Simplex lock-box is what I use for my handgun, and and I prefer it to any other type.

    It’s purely mechanical – no electronics – no batteries or circuits to fail – and the five buttons arranged in a short row can be namipulated in a fraction of a second, in the dark, for immediate access.

    The lock secures a 12-gauge steel (read: acetylene torch to cut) metal box, through-bolted (from inside the box) to the floor.

    Here’s one identical to mine except that the steel is even thicker (10 gauge):

    My long guns are in a security cabinet screwed from inside to a wall stud behind, double-padlocked.

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