Saturday, February 2, 2013

Shootin' Class

I'm not a member of the NRA and I don't have a carry concealed permit, but several events converged leading me to spend three hours this week learning how to shoot a handgun.

First, as a mystery and romantic suspense author, I like having hands on time with elements in my book - in a safe enivronment of course. I did FATS training at the Writers Police Academy a few years back and was fairly terrible. I knew I needed to up my game.

Second, there's a gun rush going on right now. It's like the gold rush because people are flocking to gun stores like nothing ever seen before. Everyone wants to buy a gun for protection.

Third, my handgun profiency (as mentioned above) is awful. I didn't even want to consider the possibility of owning a gun unless I knew how to handle one. Lo and behold, there was a class just for ladies not too far away.

Not knowing what I would find, I packed up two bottles of water, a granola bar, and a pouch of almonds inside the tote bag with my notebook and pen. The other women in the class ranged in age from new moms to seniors, and they were all keenly interested in this topic. No one had randomly entered this class. I learned the instructor is booked solid for the next three months.

We had some handouts, but it was hard to keep my eyes on the papers when there were so many guns on a stand at the front of the room. I'd never been around so many handguns. Black ones. Silver ones. Cammo-looking ones. Paper targets were posted at strategic points in the room.

Serious stuff indeed.

We began with nomenclature for revolvers: muzzle, barrel, cylinder, hammer, grip, safety, trigger guard, trigger, and bullets. For semiautomatic weapons, there's no cylinder. Bullets are inserted in the base in a cartridge thing called a magazine.

As the instructor drilled us in stance, grip, and loading, unloading techniques, he stressed safety and the value of practicing. Also, one thing I was worried about, gun recoil, was not a factor at all. Holding a handgun high on the grip kept it steady. I had no jarring of my hands, arms, shoulders, or body.

Did you know if you have guns at home, you should handle them in front of a bookcase? That's so if a gun fires while you're handling it, the bullet will be stopped by the books. Bullets will tear through walls, windows, mattresses, and more. According to the instructor, the shelved books act like a bulletproof vest in their stopping power. Always be safe!

Another part of the class that surprised me was learning which eye was my dominant eye. For years and years I thought it was my right eye. Come to find out it is my left! That set me back on my heels. But sure enough, when it was my turn at the range, lefty did me proud.

Two things were hard for me. One was holding a heavy gun. Some guns were just too big for my strength. Along those same lines, some triggers of double-action guns were too hard to squeeze. Apparently, my fingers are not as strong as the average bear's.

Did I become a sharpshooter because of the class? No. I don't see that in my future at all. But I do have a new respect for what guns can do and learned that they should be handled safely. The instructor told us about biometric gun safes you can get that read your thumbprint, so that your kids can't get into the guns.

I came home smelling like gunpowder, but oddly happy that I hadn't failed. I've often joked that if I'd been born in pioneer times, I'd be dead by now. But maybe, just maybe, I would've been able to shoot a rattlesnake before he bit me.

Maggie Toussaint

ps congratulations to Dawn Staniszeski who just won a copy of SEEING RED, my sweet romance about the bed and breakfast money pit.

44 comments:

  1. Good for you! I have not shot in years, but I've only shot revolvers and hunting rifles. Oh--and an M-16 during my military days!

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    1. I don't know if it's politically correct to mention guns in any context, Tia, but the class had a profound effect on me.

      Thanks for dropping by!

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  2. Maggie, when I was a little girl, we lived in a house that had a built-on den with a flat roof. My dad would let me climb up on the roof and practice target shooting with his pellet gun. I'd set up cans on the sandbox, and shoot them off. I thought I was Annie Oakley. LOL I really did great for a kid, I guess, because I remember how satisfying those knocked over cans were. LOL

    Lately, I've been thinking about a gun class. We never had guns in my home growing up, except the pellet gun. We never had guns after we married (that's why one of us isn't dead...) and for whatever reason, guns have always held a fascination for me. I would love to take a class like you did. It sounds like you did very well! I would also like to take my daughter with me and get her some training, too. You can't be too careful anymore in this ol' world.

    Good post!
    Cheryl

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    1. My husband found out about the class and signed me up. I didn't fuss, much, but I'm glad I went. People need to know what they're up against.

      That whole gangsta style of shooting? Not good, according to my instructor. Mostly for TV. If you want to hit something, use the sites on the gun. For that you need to be able to see them, LOL, so no gangsta holds for me.

      I'll bet you were Annie Oakley. Sounds like a great childhood.

      Appreciate the comment.

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  3. Good for you, Maggie. We had a gun expert at our Sisters in Crime meeting. Even though the gun wasn't loaded, I kept inadvertently pointing it, and everyone yelled at me. The guns he had were way too heavy for my weak hands and fingers. Both my sons have guns, so maybe one day I can go with them to a range. I really doubt I'll have the strength to pull the trigger.

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    1. I learned that the heavy guns were unmanageable. But there are a world of lightweight guns, those 12 oz or under. And its clear they cater to a ladies market because they are pink or purple or some other eye candy kind of gun.

      One of the ladies in my class was talking about making a new purse with a special compartment just for her gun. I hope she has a carry-concealed permit!

      Thanks for the visit.

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  4. Maggie--decades ago I was privileged to go on a trip sponsored by the US government to be part of a teachers/counselor's group to fly to Camp Pendleton for a week tour. What an eye opener that trip was to see how the Marines train their young men..nope, no women during those years. We took part in everything a recruit did--one day I should write about it--and one was to shoot a weapon. The first weapon was some kind of rifle in an indoor shooting range. I could hit bull's eyes like nobody's business!
    I also learned that my right eye is dominant, but I can't close my left and look out my right. I can only close my right. So, like learning to keep both eyes open when I look through a microscope, I did the same with a gun. Not easy, but I did learn.
    Then we went to an outdoor range where you lie on your stomach and shoot...get this....a AK47. That's one weapon I can recognize--I've shot one. And yes, I could hit the bulls-eye.
    Now? I cannot pull the trigger on a pistol of any kind...and we have several kinds. Plus they're very heavy. What a lot of good these would do me.
    We don't have these weapons for protection, as much as they are a collection, lovingly oiled, cleaned and polished once a year--even though none have been fired in a very long time.
    We have a one shot 22 rifle--very old--and Jim lets the boys shoot it when they come to visit. The older and younger ones don't like it, and won't shoot it. The middle one would stand out there all day and try to hit the target his Granddad set up. He's good, too.

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    1. I'm gonna start calling you Dead-Eye Yeary! That's amazing. I ended up with a fairly tight cluster on my target paper, and I did it all with my right eye closed.

      The crazy thing is I had monovision for years, with my right (dominant, or so I thought) eye for distance and my left for reading. No wonder my brain wires get crossed. I'm a hot mess!

      Thanks for stopping by Celia.

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  5. I've had some lessons here at a range in the city and have gone shooting on several of the ranches I've visited out west. I love the sport but, annoyingly, my daughter, who really cares nothing for it, is an absolute dead shot. There isn't a squirrel in Nevada who doesn't fear her name and I promise the birds turn back in flight if they spy her in their state.
    There is already a handbag on the market with a concealed compartment. It can probably be googled.
    Thanks for an interesting blog.

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    1. HI Andrea,

      There seem to be a good many people who shoot targets for a hobby. I envy your daughter her skill. She is very lucky to be so accurate.

      The lady said she'd heard of the other bag, but I think she wanted to make her own and see if she could start up a cottage business. Maybe she can make a better one?

      I hope we don't end up with a world where everyone is walking around with a gun on their hip or pocketbook. It would be like the Wild West all over again!

      Thanks for the comment, Andrea

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  6. Very cool blog. I have to admit being philosophically against guns but I do really enjoy reading about characters in books who are good with guns and other weapons (and seeing any movie with Bruce Willis). I did go to a gun range once with my alpha male brother but I couldn't hit anything without a site.

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    1. Hi Catherine,

      I see the point of guns, but I'm not going to carry one. I'm not even sure I want to own one. But you're right. When you're writing about a life or death situation in a book, guns are the weapon de jour. There's only so many times you caan say "gun" instead of Glock, Baretta, Smith and Wesson, Sig Sauer etc. At least I know the difference between a revolver and a semiautomatic now.

      Thanks for visiting, Catherine.

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  7. Good for you, Maggie. Especially if your stories will feature firearms, you're well-served to learn about them, how they function, and what they feel like.
    I've been shooting since I was a kid and I'm a grandfather now. Not much of a hunter --- mainly like to shoot at targets and keep proficient enough that if I ever needed a firearm for self-defense ... that I wouldn't have to stop and think too much about the mechanics.
    Very fortunate now to live on a 20 acre farm just outside the city limits. I have a shooting range set up in the woods which is surrounded by a 25 foot high earthern berm.
    When guests come to shoot here for the first time, I had them my (short) list of range rules.
    Safety FIRST.
    Also, I usually shoot at least a few rounds LEFTY. You never know when, in a crisis situation, your dominant hand might be out of commission.

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    1. Hi Jeff,

      It sounds like you have a great set up for target practice. We live in a city, albeit a tiny one, so finding a place to practice has so far eluded us.

      I applaud your insistence on safety first. People do dumb things. You have to be using your head when you're handling a handgun.

      I don't know if I could ever shoot lefty, but I am guilty, every now and then, of practicing to write with my left hand, just in case something happened to the right one. I like to be prepared...

      Thanks for the visit.

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  8. Interesting post. And dead-eye Celia... well, why am I not surprised?

    For those who don't know me I'm a Brit, so unless you're a very bad baddie over here, into drugs and gangs, you don't have a gun. Even the police don't carry, nor are trained in their use, as a norm, only specialist units.

    But I come to USA for my holidays, and we have friends out that side of the pond, and last year we got invited to a range. Well, hubby got invited and I made it perfectly clear that as a writer... so research it became.

    I handled lots of different types, from the archetypal snub-nose to a Mac 10 Uzi lookalike, to an M4. I found it very interesting, the different weights and kicks, and even got a good cluster with the snub at close range.

    But here's the first thing: would I have the cool wit to drop my shopping, pull the weapon from my shoulder-bag, take aim and pull back the hammer while ensuring (a) I'd got the right target and (b) not got passers-by in the line of fire who would, by this time, be in full-on panic mode, and then pull the trigger?

    And here's the second thing: I was with a bunch of intelligent middle age blokes on an outside range. After the initial by-the-book they soon got to aiming for weeds, which is when I backed well off. At home they wouldn't have been allowed with my food mixer.

    All this is fine for research, but as Maggie clearly puts it, research isn't on 99% of people's minds. So the question becomes, why, exactly, do you want to carry a gun? Do you really believe you are going to "protect" yourself? I would have thought lightweight kevlar would have come more readily to mind. Or do you think that you saying 'put that gun down' means they will?

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    1. Hi Linda,

      I turned off the computer early yesterday and am just now getting back to the comments. I greatly appreciate your perspective as a Brit. And I completely get that some gun people can get carried away with an "I'm Mr. Big Shot" attitude because they have a gun.

      Us Americans are looking at a changing world in many ways. I don't want to get bogged down in politics of any kind here on Mudpies, but suffice it to say, guns are a hot topic over here. So hot, I almost didn't blog about my experience. But it was very meaningful for me and I wanted to show that side of the equation.

      And I think it would be cool to own a kevlar vest. I've never had the opportunity to try one on. I did try a guy's chain mail once and that nearly collapsed my knees.

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  9. Maggie, I'm glad you took an approved safety course for your research. I grew up where you either shot or butchered you meat, so it was a matter of learning to help provide food. Later in the Marine Corps, I had to qualify with both pistol and rifle. There are seveal reasons to have one, but as you and your instructor stated "Safety first".
    Patricia

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    1. Hi Patricia,

      I appreciate your perspective as a rural person and I also thank you for your service to our country. We are so very fortunate to have people willing to fight for freedom.

      God bless you.

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  10. I went to a firing range as research for my books--I wanted to be able to write accurately about what it felt, sounded, and smelled like to fire a weapon. I still have no desire to own one, although since moving to Colorado, I think I'm one of 3 people in the county who doesn't. Hubster joined the herd and bought several handguns and long guns, but he keeps them locked up and (as is typical with his new-found 'hobbies')-- rarely goes shooting. Up here, we'd be more likely to need a gun as defense against a bear than a burglar.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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    1. Hi Terry,

      I can empathize with expensive hobbies. One of our kids competed cross country on horses and the other was a gymnast for awhile. Both hobbies were extremely time consuming and expensive.

      I don't see myself joining any herd. Never been a herd sort of person, and I've been told I don't herd well. Just too independent-minded. You wouldn't believe all the committees that's gotten me out of!

      I know you are very interested in having the right information in your romantic suspense books. I strive to come up to your ease of writing about weapons.

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  11. I'd be afraid of the recoil, too. It's interesting how that didn't bother you. The only times I've shot guns was during a Sleuthfest field trip to a shooting range and during citizens police academy. That was enough for me.

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    1. Nancy,

      I skimmed all the comments, and I see Ernie(a former cop) made a comment at the end about recoil. The guns I shot were 22s, one revolver, one semiautomatic. I didn't have the chance to fire others like a 38 so I can't compare what that recoil would have been like. There was a lot of discussion in the class about stopping a threat. It appears the higher calibers of bullets tend to go right on through a target, while a 22 doesn't, and it can cause more tissue damage. That part of the discussion made me squirm. I wouldn't fight anyone for my TV, but don't touch my laptop.

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  12. I can't remember not having guns or knowing how to use them. Living on a farm, there's a hundred reasons to have them. Our kids learned when they were about twelve. Besides protecting our crops and animals, it can be dangerous living in an isolated area.
    Now that I'm older and the eyes aren't so good, I prefer a light weight 20/20 rifle, but I also have a 38 revolver. I don't like using a shotgun.

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    1. BTW, I've always shot with both eyes open.

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    2. Hi Sandra,

      Living on a farm or a rural area is different. Wildlife threats are very real and potentially deadly. There were guns around our home as a kid, but I had no interest in them. I was more the type to climb the oak tree, put my fingers in the ears, and write down what everyone was doing. I guess that part hasn't changed much, LOL.

      I thought I would shoot with both eyes open, but the instructor advised me against it. And since I had good luck doing it his way, I complied. But I've done other things through the years, like some early microscope work that was all done with my right eye. Poor lefty, all out in the cold like that.

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  13. As a rabid defender of Second Amendment Rights, I thank you for a balanced and civil column. There's so much hysteria about guns today it's refreshing to find such a civil post.

    As a single woman for most of my adult life, and one who lived in significantly-less-than-prime neighborhoods for much of that time, safety has always been important to me. As a young woman I dated a policeman, who helped me buy a gun and taught me how to shoot. First time I fired a gun it was with his long-barrel .44 mag, a HUGE pistol with bullets roughly the size of my thumb. The recoil almost knocked me into yesterday, and I thought he was secretly disappointed that it didn't dump me on my derriere! However, he said if I could handle that gun, I could handle anything. When we broke up, my brother - a peace officer for his entire life - took over my training. He was not as nice as the boyfriend, but I learned about guns! Now no paper target is safe from me!

    It's a sad fact that in these days we do have to be so conscious of and personally responsible for our own safety, and in this climate we as writers have to be balanced and thoughtful in our treatment of firearms.

    By the way, I like shooting just as a simple hobby. Getting fifty out of fifty in the bullseye at a fairly long distance is just as elating as hitting a hole in one.

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    1. Janis,

      I appreciate your comment and you sharing your experience about learning to shoot. I wanted to strike the right note with this post, and I'm glad I didn't offend someone who is passionate about guns. I didn't take this lightly and I admit to being a bit nervous during the class. Some of the revolvers looked like the cap guns we'd had as kids as I was struck with the unfortunate urge to giggle - which I quelled, but it was a near thing. I'm so glad I didn't embarass myself.

      I respect everyone's opinion about handguns.

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  14. Linda Acaster makes so many very good points, especially about the potential for dropping the shopping, etc. My sister wants to carry a small gun, but I know exactly what would happen:

    A mugger comes up to her, while she is on the phone (it is always glued to her ear), she holds up one manicured finger to him, ends her call, drops it in her massive bag, then rummages around in it to find her gun, finally gets it in hand, and tries to point it.

    Of course, in reality, by this time the bag would have been wrestled away from her, and she would be lying on the ground bloody.

    It is just not practical for most people to carry a gun on the off-chance that some "bad" person is going to try to harm them. And furthermore, is mugging a shooting offense?

    A friend saw someone walking around a Walmart with a semiautomatic rifle strapped to his back, and she said it terrified her. Which it would me, as well. I'm sure he thinks he's "protecting" himself and others, but I don't know this person, and he doesn't know me. Who's to say that he might misconstrue an action or word of mine and retaliate?

    That said, I had police training in college (it was my major) including firearms, and I'm a very good shot. With a target, and with lots of time to aim. My first husband was a cop and he discharged his firearm in the house once, accidentally. It was only a miracle that no one was hurt. If there is a gun in the house, there is potential for disaster.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Anonymous. I can't offer any hands-on advice for your sister because I think everyone's situation is different. But having her learn more about handguns and understanding the responsbility that goes with having or carrying one might go a long way in making up her mind.

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  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  16. Anonymous - I wasn't trying to score any points (oh puns as well!) just trying to get a handle on a very different mindset to us Brits. My hubby is retired police and once said if he was ever ordered to go into firearms training he'd resign. It's still voluntary, though we've got quite used to seeing dainty female officers patrolling Manchester airport looking like the India Rubber woman and nursing, to me, an enormous H&K carbine.

    The first time I was across in NMexico, I was shopping in Walmart and came to the end of an aisle to be faced with a pallet of boxed ammunition as tall as me. Eggs, bread, cornflakes, ammunition... Surreal.

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  17. The class sounds like it was fun, as well as helpful. I am lucky that my son was an armorer in the Marines, so he has been able to help me keep my weapons straight in my books.

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    1. You are so lucky to have a weapons expert close at hand, Maryann. Thanks for the visit and the comment.

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  18. I’d like to point out a couple of things: You mentioned carrying granola bars to the range and coming home smelling of gunpowder. As you probably noticed, in spite of the best ventilation in firing ranges, guns emit a lot of smoke from gunpowder inside the cartridge (what most people call bullets, but the bullet is only the part of the cartridge that flies out the barrel of the gun). The firing pin on the hammer of the gun strikes the cartridge’s primer, producing a sparking charge that ignites the gunpowder. The gunpowder burns, changing from a solid to a gas that occupies much more volume than the solid, and therefore forcing the bullet through the muzzle at a ballistic velocity. And the resulting smoke contaminates you with nitrates and other stuff bad for you. My point is you should always wash your hands and face well after firing a gun before you eat. Also, it’s a good idea to take off your contaminated clothing when you get home and take a shower and wash your hair. Wearing it around can contaminate your food, family members and pets that get on you. And finally, recoil is a big factor in shooting accurately. You said you fired a heavy weapon. The more weight a gun has, the more that weight absorbs recoil. A small .38 can kick like a mule, whereas a heavy .45 revolver seems to kick less.

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    1. Hi, Ernie! I ate the granola bar before we got to the firing part of the class, but if I ever go to a real range, I will use your advice. And argh on my instructor for not saying to wash our hands. I went right from the class to Zaxbys and then to the grocery store.I ate my salad with a fork, but I didn't even think about all the gunpowder in my hair and clothes.

      I would like to talk with you at some point about recoil. I fired two types of 22s, so I didn't experience a .38. The revolver I shot looked and felt like it came out of the old West, but the trigger was easy to work. The semiautomatic I shot seemed to be mostly plastic, and it was much lighter than the revoler. I honestly couldn't tell the difference in the weapons in respect to recoil or accuracy, for that matter. Once I understood how to correctly line up the sights, everything worked just fine. one of the things that struck me was how many different numbers of bullets went in each gun, whether 5-8 for revolvers and I don't know how many went in a magazine, 10 or so? So no more counting six bullets and thinking the bad guy is out of ammo.

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  19. I've always felt that anything that can protect you should be considered. I do believe that no one should have a gun unless they have been trained to use it.

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    1. Hi Ilona,

      So glad to have you visit again. Good thoughts on gun training and safety.

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  20. Maggie, thanks for writing about your experience. I'd enjoy learning how to shoot for real. The couple of times I've been able to do it, I was darn good... but that was long ago, and it was just about shooting some targets. In these times, I think we all need to learn 'whatever' protection methods we can... and, as a writer, it would sure be interesting and valuable to learn the ins and outs of how to handle a gun properly.

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    1. Hi Savanna,

      You and I are on the same wavelength. As economic times continue to squeeze our wallets, more and more people are driven to desperate measures. I don't consider myself an expert by any means, but I have the knowledge that I can do this. I want to become more proficient - fumbling does you no good if your personal safety is at risk - but I'm already so pressed for time. We'll see if it remains a priority.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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  21. Maggie, I loved hearing about your experience. I learned to fire guns/weapons when I joined the army. I did the M16, M203 grenade launcher (attached to the M16) M60 machine gun, 50 cal, Colt 45, 9mm Beretta, 38 Cal, and a shotgun. I am right eye dominant. Recoil never bothered me but with the shotgun, my shoulder always turned black and blue. I enjoyed the training I got and I always treated guns with a healthy respect.

    Since I left the Army in 1997, I haven't fired a gun, but nowadayws I'm looking forward to getting my own firearm. Yes, I want to protect myself simply because any FOOL in the US can get a gun and that FOOL may not treat a gun with respect. Maybe it's part of my military heritage. I'm glad I do have the right to own one.

    I respect those who don't have them in their society. Ultimately the tempation to use the gun is there and how one responds to that makes up the measure of that person/society.

    Smiles
    Steph

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    1. Hi Steph,

      Thank you for sharing your experience in the Army, and I thank you for your service to our country. We are lucky to have the freedoms we have in America, but with that freedom comes great responsibility.

      I participated in the shooting class to learn more about guns, so that I wouldn't sound like such a goober when writing about guns. But I also believe housebreakers shouldn't have a weapons advantage. How the gun policy settles out will have a lasting impact on all of us.

      Thanks for your visit.

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  22. Good job, Maggie. I'd encourage you to make the effort to continue gaining proficiency. There is a sense of empowerment, achievement, and self-sufficiency that comes with mastery of firearms.

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    1. Hi Casey,

      First, thanks for stopping in at Mudpies. It's nice to meet new folks. Second, I can see how proficiency makes a big difference with regard to handling a firearm. I hope to become more proficient in knowledge and handling.

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