By Kris Hey, Orlando Sentinel
2:21 p.m. EDT, September 14, 2013
I stood in front of the firing-range target, holding a black 9mm Glock with trembling hands.
I couldn’t load the bullets or place the magazine in the semi-automatic pistol without my husband’s help. I thought if I dropped just one bullet, it would explode.
But I was determined. All I had to do was line up the sights, point and shoot. Seconds later, the bullet tore through the target.
Hitting that target was a symbol of everything I thought I could not do. And with that one shot, I was free of my lifelong fear of guns. A year later, I own a semi-automatic pistol and shoot regularly for sport.
My transformation from timid to avid shooter is not unique. The National Sporting Goods Association reported women involved in target shooting jumped from 3.3 million in 2001 to more than 5 million in 2011, a 51 percent increase.
Women take up shooting for many reasons. For me, it was about getting control of my life and letting go of my fears.
Guns always equaled one thing: death. It started from an early age, when I picked up on my parents’ dislike of guns. As I grew older, I couldn’t be in the room with a gun, look at a gun or even hold an unloaded one. I knew it was an irrational fear: No one in my life had ever been hurt by a gun.
But the fear festered. After my son was born nearly 11 years ago, news reports of children getting hurt or killed using their parents’ unsecured guns made my fear almost paralyzing. My job as an online news producer for more than 15 years, often seeing and working on these stories, only made things worse.
It was frustrating for my husband, who grew up with guns and knows how to use them safely. I knew I had to change — for myself and for my family.
So I picked up a gun.
About 500 trigger pulls in, I realized I loved target shooting. It relieved my stress; helped me focus on what I could control; boosted my self-confidence; made me feel strong, powerful and alive. It helped me work on overcoming other fears, too.
It wasn’t long before I was going to the range alone and with my husband on date nights. I decided it would be cheaper and I could practice more if I bought my own gun.
I also joined the Orlando chapter of The Well Armed Woman, a national organization that helps women learn about guns and hone their skills in the classroom and on the range. The chapter’s head, Andrea “Andy” Tolbert, a National Rifle Association instructor, gave me the tips and advice I needed to improve. I learned how to shoot well enough to receive a marksmanship designation.
Now I own a .22-caliber target pistol, and I’m a regular at Gander Mountain Academy in Lake Mary, where I learned to shoot safely. I like shooting for sport only — I’m not interested in getting a concealed-weapons permit so I can carry my gun around.
I’m so comfortable around guns that I wanted to explain my hobby to my son. The staff helped me figure out how to tell him I had bought a gun. Jay White, manager of Gander Mountain Academy, suggested I start by taking the mystery out of it: let my son know I have a gun and that I use it for target practice. Someday, when my husband and I decide our son is responsible enough, we may shoot as a family.
According to White, a lot of women shoot because they want to empower themselves, have an equal chance to defend themselves and increase their ability by stepping out of their comfort zone.
“Women are very much into embracing that type of activity these days,” White said. “Probably anywhere between 45 and 55 percent of the people that come through wanting to learn and to take classes and your first-timers getting that first firearm are women, and they nail it. They do everything just right.”
A few weeks ago, I went back to the firing range where I shot the Glock for the first time. I had to know whether I truly was over my biggest fear.
I drilled the target every time.