One Woman’s Journey into Gun Ownership
By Emily Kaiser
Magazine, frame and hammer. Sure, no problem. I knew what all those were. A magazine was something I flipped through on a lazy Saturday afternoon, filled with glossy pages of beautiful models showcasing new designer collections. A frame was something I hung on my walls, with pictures of family, friends and my dogs. A hammer was what I used to hang up these frames. Often not having one, I found a high heel works just as well. I had no idea they were all parts of a gun.
Being a young women and living alone, I had taught myself the art of getting by with whatever I had. Heels were no longer made exclusively for wearing … or putting nails into walls. They also made great bug crushers. My oven, which I have used a total of two times, opted for extra closet space, and stacked books made for a great side table.
Safety was always something that stuck in the back of my mind. I carried around pepper spray, which was normally clinging around in the bottom of my purse, but what good was that? It isn’t that I feel unsafe in my apartment, but let me honest: a girl needs to take precautions.
I consulted a variety of sources and spoke with my publisher about the possibility of taking precautions. Given the recent rise in gun ownership among the female population, taking a CCW course and familiarizing myself with the world of firearms seemed like the natural route to take. I plunged in headfirst. Little did I know what I had gotten myself into…
It all started at Simtrainer, a local indoor range and firearms training center. The owner, Jeff Pedro, has a passion that if everyone shared, would make this world a much more peaceful place. That passion is safety, which he also instills in his employees. Although Jeff is intimidating in his strong stature and serious attitude, I quickly learned it was because he wanted the best for everyone at his range — safety.
The first thing I had to do — actually get my hands on a gun. Guns in general were completely foreign to me. I had never even shot one. Jim Kokaly was the instructor for the First Shots class, and I instantly liked him.
“Women are easier to teach because many men come in thinking they know everything,” announced Kokaly. “Women tend to outshoot the men.”
I was surprised that a majority of the participants were women. This made me feel a little less intimidated, like all us gals could stick together.
After going through extensive tips and procedures about gun safety — learning the correct stance, to treat all guns as if they are loaded, etc. — it was time to shoot.
When I got into the stall at the range, eyes and ears protected, I felt very uncomfortable. The stance was not something I was used to, and my arms started to shake instantly. Then it was time — Bang! My first time shooting a gun. I couldn’t tell if I liked it or not. The gun was heavy, my arms were shaky, and my back was achy. I continued shooting, as Jeff instructed, pausing at intervals to relax.
Afterwards, I was undecided. I definitely didn’t love it, nor did I hate it. All I knew was I had a lot more learning to do.
It was a Saturday morning at 9:00a.m. — not my most glamorous hour. It was time to do the first class for my Carry Conceal Weapon license, or CCW. The instructor was Mark Avery, another employee of Simtrainer. Mark was like a gentle giant. He made me feel at ease and he was incredibly knowledgeable — a real expert in the field. There were six women and twelve men taking the course with me. Again, the site of other women made me feel more comfortable.
We started out watching a video clip of a convenience store robbery. In the clip, a robber shot a cashier, resulting in her death. This was the most shocking thing I had seen on a Saturday morning in a while, but it did get me thinking.
I had always associated guns with danger and even death. I was trying to keep an open mind for journalism’s sake, but guns still made me uncomfortable.
Then something struck me. We were having a discussion about how to conceal a gun properly with different attire. Mark was showing the class a belly-band holster and explaining how he wore it to a Christmas party one year. I instantly raised my hand.
“Why did you carry a gun to a Christmas party?” I asked.
“I always carry a gun,” he said, “I want to be prepared as I possibly can. It doesn’t mean I’m going to use the gun. I can’t dictate when bad things are going to happen.”
I then realized that, in my opinion, there is a time and a place for everything. I don’t find it appropriate to bring a gun to a Christmas party. I come from a big, Italian family. If someone brought a gun around my little cousins, I would have a problem with it. I realize people want to protect themselves and be as safe as possible, but I feel there times when carrying a gun is appropriate and times when it’s not.
About two weeks later, I headed to the second part of the CCW class. I had been on a couple week hiatus from Simtrainer due to my crazy schedule, balancing two jobs and school. I hadn’t forgotten about it, but I was not prepared for what was in store for me.
I walked into the classroom and saw that most people had a gun case sitting on the table.
“Oh shit! Are we shooting today?” I thought to myself. As it turns out, we were.
We went through the steps of loading the magazine and chambering the bullets. I had not yet gone through this procedure by myself and with each step Mark showed us, I became more and more anxious. I told Mark I didn’t feel ready and was overwhelmed. Jeff reassured me he would help me through the process, so I decided to take the chance and give it a try.
“What the hell, it’s only a gun,” I thought sarcastically to myself.
I was the second person to shoot in my stall. Waiting for the moment of truth and watching the others prepare the gun, shoot and make the gun safe with ease, I got more nervous. Each shot sounded louder and louder, and my heart was beating faster and faster.
It was suddenly my turn. I shakily followed Jeff’s directions, and with his help, my sweaty hands slid the magazine into the gun, tugged to make sure it was in, pulled back the slide to chamber the bullet and pointed the gun at my target. The trigger felt stuck. Jeff helped me make sure the gun was safe and we went through the process over again. This only made me more nervous. The gun was heavier than the one I shot with at first. The trigger seemed stiff. I got into stance and held it up to my target for the second time. I pulled the trigger and not only did my gun go off with tremendous power, there were tears steaming down my face. Within seconds those tears became sobs, and I told Jeff I just couldn’t do it and rushed out of the range.
I had made up my mind. This was absolutely not for me and I was done. I had gotten the experience I needed. I had learned more than I thought possible and experienced something I never thought I would. It was time to go.
Just then Jeff popped in and sat beside me. Suddenly, I began confiding in him. Suddenly, he transformed from an intimidating gun expert to a consoling friend. He told me my reaction was not unusual. I felt embarrassed, but appreciative. He suggested we go into the range alone, after everyone else was done, to try again. My first thought was an instant no, but something inside me told me not to turn away. I agreed to give it a second try.
With Jeff and I the only ones in a range, I began my journey again. I was still nervous but it was now quiet and Jeff was walking me through every step at my own speed. After I got the gun safely ready to shoot and was in my stance, I shot. A little shaky afterwards, I looked at my target. Not bad, not bad at all. I shot through several rounds and with each pull of the trigger, I felt more comfortable.
“I kick ass!” I thought to myself as Jeff exclaimed how well I was doing. I then felt like I could do anything. Well, let’s be honest, almost anything.
Two days later was the third and final class. I felt easy as I walked in and didn’t see any guns sitting on the table. I felt confident and much more knowledgeable than I had in past classes. We went over more gun safety. Mark advised everyone to carry their guns ready to shoot. He explained that it’s important to make it as easy as possible to use your gun, because under pressure you won’t have time to think about anything else. He also explained that there is a zero percent chance that the gun will go off in the holster, because holsters are designed to naturally prevent it. This made me feel slightly better about the whole thing.
Next step was to take a trip to Bill Goodman’s Gun and Knife show. I had contacted David Goodman, Bill’s brother, beforehand with some questions. I wanted to be prepared.
“Know exactly what you want to purchase so you can make an informed decision on price, caliber, weight and concealability,” suggested David. He advised: once you find a vendor that has the gun you want and you’re ready to buy, you have to first complete a background check called National “Instant Check” System, or NCIS.
“Crime is lower in states that have concealed carry laws,” said David, “More to the point, crime is significantly higher in states without right-to-carry.”
With the knowledge I had gained from David and Simtrainer, I was armed and ready (pun intended) to head to the Gun and Knife show.
I realized I hadn’t dressed the part. Not only was I surrounded by loads of testosterone — I was wearing a green dress and kitten heels. This is normally a perfectly acceptable outfit, but this was a whole different ball game.
With the help of local vendors, I was able to find a revolver and a small semiautomatic that suited me quite well. They were both small enough to fit in my hands and not too heavy. I took a look at some long guns, just for fun. I clearly wanted nothing to do with them. I still felt uneasy with a small pistol in my hand, let alone a shotgun bigger than my arm.
I didn’t end up purchasing a gun, however. I didn’t feel ready yet. Guns still made me a little nervous, even with all the information I had gained.
I decided not to take the test to get my CCW, at least not yet. Although I am appreciative of the experience and information I have gained, I am still on the fence about how I feel. Perhaps a few more times at the shooting range will help me decide. But next time, no tears.
(Simtrainer Civilian and Police Training Academy is located at 2031 Dryden Road in Dayton. For more information or any inquiries please stop in, call (937) 293-3914 or visit www.sim-trainer.com.)
Reach DCP freelance writer Emily Kaiser at EmilyKaiser@DaytonCityPaper.com.