This one was tough.
Of all the trips we’ve done, of all the activities we’ve tried and sites we’ve explored during our Secret Adventures, this one was, by far, one of the hardest. Maybe THE hardest.
In fact, I find it hard to even write about – which tells you something. :)
If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that I described this as a ‘level one’ trip, meaning it wasn’t going to be a physical challenge.
But I could call it a ‘three plus’ on the emotional scale. And although I’d warned everyone in advance that this trip could be emotionally difficult, we still found ourselves startled by our own reactions.
We attended a tailor-made class with an introduction to gun safety, personal protection and target shooting at the East Tennessee Training Center in Kingston.
I’ve had this planned since last summer, long before the current intense controversy around gun use and management in our country. After the shooting in Connecticut, I briefly considered canceling the whole thing, or switching over to a more benign activity. In the end, though, I elected not to do so. It seemed to me that now, perhaps more than ever, we as women need to understand as much as we can about this issue.
That had nothing to do with my original reasons for choosing this activity, of course.
I chose it, in fact, because I’ve worked with several women over the years who’ve told me how much they enjoy target shooting.
For some, it helped them face fears and feel a greater sense of power and control. For others, heading out to the shooting range for a hour of bullseye practice was just plain fun, even a stress reliever.
In fact, apparently women are among the fastest growing groups of gun owners in America. Who knew?
And one of my key goals for these trips is simply to give you an introduction, to provide opportunities for you to sample things that may be entirely new to you. You never know what you’ll enjoy unless you try it, right? So why not try a shooting range?
Well, clearly, it’s a little more complicated than that. :)
But Courageous Women are an adventuresome bunch, and goodness knows they don’t shrink from a challenge. In fact, I would say that most in the group were excited. It was an up close look into a world most of us knew little or nothing about. Something a little mysterious, a little scary.
And we were in good hands.
Our firearms instructor for the day was an outstanding young woman named Emily Ciaravino. I was introduced to Emily by another Courageous Woman who knew her and thought she’d be a perfect fit for what we’re all about at C2C, and she was right. Emily was top notch all the way.
She has an intimidating bio that includes things like being a state certified firearms instructor, having college degrees in Criminal Justice and Middle Eastern studies, and a 3rd degree black belt in marshal arts I’ve never heard of. Yet she’s this poised, strong, beautiful young woman who is professional, respectful, patient – and compassionate.
So when some of us found ourselves experiencing emotions we couldn’t explain, powerful feelings that came out of nowhere and took us by surprise, she understood. And slowly, patiently, she talked us through it all.
In the end, we all tried it at least a few times. Some of us loved it. Some of us hated it.
Most of us were glad to have had the experience, if only because we learned something – about guns, or about ourselves.
Thought I’d share a few of those lessons with you.
Life Lessons from Target Practice
Don’t let physical limitations keep you from exploring something new.
You could, quite literally, learn this skill even if you were in a wheelchair. You could also learn to draw or to play an instrument, study a new language, or learn the art of archery. Don’t let physical limitations keep you from expanding your world, developing your skills, using your mind.
Learn about the things that make you uncomfortable.
If knowledge is power, then understanding is the first step towards any kind of meaningful dialogue. Gloria Steinem worked once as a Playboy Bunny – not because she loved the idea, but because she hated it – and needed to understand it.
Ask a woman to open the door.
If you need or want to enter something that’s traditionally been considered a ‘man’s world’, that is, a male-dominant sport, activity, career or other area of interest, it sure makes it easier to find a woman to lead the way. Although progress is ridiculously slow, that is slowly but surely getting easier to do.
Find the right teacher. Period.
It’s not all about gender, of course. That helps, but in the end, finding the right teacher is much more than that. When she needed an extra pair of eyes on the range, Emily was assisted by Officer Mark Coffee of the Kingston Police Department. His calm demeanor, patient support, and profound respect for her spoke volumes. Finding a teacher who respects YOU is first and foremost in anything you do.
Learn more than one way to protect yourself.
It doesn’t have to be a gun. It could be a shopping cart. A collapsible baton. A button on your key chain. Make it a point to explore your options and develop your skills. And while you’re at it, teach your daughters.
And a bonus.
Honor your feelings, even when you don’t understand them.
Some of the most moving parts of this experience came when strong women were able to share unexpected tears with the rest of us. There is something about firearms that touches us on a deeper level. It’s not about fear. It’s something else entirely, something primal that we can’t even explain, and I’m not going to try to do so here.
All I know is that I respect it. And pray that whatever that is it’s something that women can bring to the conversation about firearms in this country. As difficult as this subject is, women need to be a part of it.
At a recent event held at Maryville College, I was on a panel where we addressed what women bring to the table in terms of leadership, activism, and community development. When we were asked about gun control, I told a story about dealing with this subject when I served on our local County Commission. I was praised at the time by both sides for my vote on the issue at hand, which meant that no one really understood it.
I don’t understand why anyone would ever need to own a machine gun. Or a round of ammunition that shoots 100 bullets a second. I don’t understand why someone needs to carry a gun to a Little League game. And I don’t know why anyone ever thought that guns and bars should have anything to do with each other.
But I don’t have a problem with humane and ethical hunting practices. And I do understand why a woman might want some kind of protection when her job takes her to dangerous places. And I do understand how hitting a bullseye on a target, or heck, a bottle off a back fence, could even be fun.
So that conversation will continue, and women should be a part of it.
If you would like to learn more about gun safety, sport shooting, or anything else related to firearms, I can’t recommend Emily Ciaravino highly enough. I’ll be happy to put you in touch with her if that’s of interest.
If you’re looking for an indoor range where you can practice, look up East Tennessee Training Center in Kingston, Tennessee. The new owner, Chuck Ward, is giving the place an overhaul that puts health and safety first – and I like that.
And if you just want to learn more about this topic, you might check out a 2004 book called Blown Away: American Women and Guns. Or click here to hear an interview with author, Caitlin Kelly, on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.
I don’t have any interest in ever owning a gun, but I heard a few things the other day that I’d never thought of.
For one, I know now what to do if I find a gun and at least how to tell if it’s empty.
And two, I’ll never carry my groceries out to the car without a (handy dandy protective) cart again. :)
And that’s good.
Photo Credits: by Wendy Pitts Reeves