Photo by Isaac Harrell
Entering the Dominion Shooting Range and walking past a huge cardboard cutout of Larry, Moe and Curly didn't exactly fill me with confidence. Then I realized that Moe was packing heat, which was the reason I had come in the first place.
I was there for a gun-safety course, something on my bucket list for more than two decades. Just months after my husband died in 1991, a police-officer friend of my older son immediately gifted me with a snub-nosed .38 revolver and a cache of ammunition, saying he didn't want me to be afraid.
I have the revolver to this day, and although I've never actually been much afraid of guns, having been raised on a farm, it had been a very long time since I'd shot one. I wanted to be sure I was comfortable with my revolver if I ever needed it. Some 48 years ago, my husband and I went squirrel hunting together. We entered the woods on his grandfather's farm about 100 yards apart, deciding we would shoot straight into the woods and not toward each other, an effective strategy for not killing each other while confusing the game. The land was posted and very remote, so we weren't concerned about other hunters.
I walked fairly deep into the woods, bagged a couple of squirrels and began to feel tired. Did I mention that I was about four months pregnant at the time and constantly feeling sleepy as a result? I left the woods and laid down to rest in a field close to the farmhouse, the gun and squirrels close to my elbow. The next thing I remember was my husband screaming my name. He collapsed on the ground beside me crying, before realizing that I was just asleep.
"That's it," he said after composing himself. "Your hunting days are over."
He did allow me to tag along with him several years later — sans weapon — and I had to stay where he could clearly see me. The last time he went hunting was in 1990, during the final day of doe season. When he came home without a deer, I expressed surprise, since we always used the meat. "I had a doe in my sight," he said, "but when she turned and looked at me with those brown eyes, all I could think about was you."
I relived that sweet moment while sitting in the gun-safety class listening to a lawyer explain the legal ramifications of owning a gun in Virginia, followed by two instructors who repeatedly stressed, "Safety first. Never assume a gun is unloaded. Nobody wants to shoot another human being, but if you do, be sure you shoot until the gun is empty or the perpetrator is lying down and can no longer use a weapon."
The class began at 9 a.m. Facts and figures swirled between PowerPoint presentations, handouts, and demonstrations covering a plethora of subjects from gun laws in Virginia to how to clean a gun safely. At 3:10 p.m., I pulled the trigger on the firing range for the first time. After I had peppered the first practice target, an 8-by-11-inch piece of white paper, my instructor walked up and told me, "Mrs. Beasley, I feel sorry for anyone who tries to hurt you." The second target soon became riddled as well. Sixteen people took the course that day, and the six women in attendance had the best shooting scores. Sold out three weeks prior to the class, the session also featured a written test, which I also aced just prior to the range shooting.
I returned the next week, after learning that women could target-shoot for free on Tuesdays. When I left the firing range that second day, two young men asked to see my target. They whistled when I held it aloft. One of them asked me, "Do you feel more confident now?"
I gave him a tough-gal smile, put my revolver in my carrying case and replied, "Honey, I always feel confident."
©Nancy Wright Beasley 2012. All rights reserved.