Shooting, Empowerment and Inner Strength

Over on Gun Nuts Media today, the inimitable Shelley Rae has a thought-provoking discussion of why women in the shooting industry use the word “empowerment” so often, and what it really means. Shelley writes:

The empowerment behind shooting is not the sport in itself. Empowerment comes from inside the person, from their self esteem and their inner strength. What makes shooting empowering could be identified as a gun being “the great equalizer,” but there’s more to it than that. Shooting is a step outside of comfort boundaries for many, and trying new things, excellling at new things, enjoying new things is a level of empowerment all on its own.

I think this is exactly right, and I’d like to talk a bit about why.

For me, shooting isn’t empowering because I feel big and tough with a gun. Knowing how to shoot, or to defend myself without a weapon, are empowering because:

  1. Learning those skills pushed me to take on challenges, to overcome them, and to learn and grow as a person in ways I might not have otherwise.
  2. Knowing that I have the skills, tools, awareness, and training to be responsible for my own safety means I’m less afraid about pushing beyond my comfort zone and trying new experiences.

This second point is really the big one for me, and I wonder if it’s not what we mean when we talk about empowerment. For better or worse, during the times I experienced violence firsthand, I felt profoundly helpless and powerless. In those moments, my actions, my body, my life depended solely on the whim of my attackers. I had no ability to influence what was happening…or so I believed at the time, anyway. The woman I am today would respond very differently to those circumstances, which is sort of the point.

Shooting, awareness and other defensive skills are empowering to me in part because they counter that overwhelming feeling of helplessness. Knowing that I don’t have to be a victim if I ever find myself in that situation again – and that practicing good situational awareness drastically reduces the chances of that happening anyway – certainly eases some of that stress and passivity. I think this is what a lot of people mean when they talk about shooting being “empowering” for women. And, if this is all the benefit a woman gets from learning to shoot, that’s wonderful.

But Shelley’s absolutely right: Why stop there? Why not continue with the lesson? Why not continue to push yourself to move outside your comfort zone, to try new things, to embrace all that life has to offer with both hands and all your heart? Because the truth is this: Life is fleeting and precious, and we never know how many grains of sand our hourglass holds until after they’ve run out. And life isn’t a dress rehearsal. The missed opportunities are gone forever.

So, by all means, learn to shoot. Learn to fight with your hands, or a knife, or a gun. Learn situational awareness and the other skills that will keep you safe. But don’t stop there: Leverage the fact that you now know how to keep yourself safe in the world, and use the peace of mind that comes from that to be in the world. Wring every ounce of adventure and pleasure you can out of life for as long as you possibly can do it. “Go big or go home,” as they say. Live big, love big, and embrace new experiences every time you get the chance.

When we teach others to shoot, or we teach self-defense skills, we often challenge our students to reach deep inside themselves, to push their own mental envelope, to embrace the sense of empowerment that comes from stretching beyond what they think they’re capable of. Why should they be the only people we demand that of? Isn’t it reasonable to demand no less of ourselves than we do of others?

So, here are my goals for the next 15 months: I’m going to take the NRA’s RSO and Instructor courses. I’m going to participate in at least one hunting trip, with either bow or rifle. (I hear my local range does a women’s pheasant hunt; that’ll work.) I’m going to learn to shoot a shotgun. I’m going to lose weight and start training, with an aim to being able to complete a GORUCK Challenge in late 2013 or early 2014. (I realize this is an enormously ambitious goal, but hey, go big or go home, right?) I’m going to live fiercely and love fiercely and laugh as much as I can.

What about you? How can you challenge yourself to really BE empowered, to push the envelope and reach for things you never thought you could do? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Photo credit: stock.xchng (by Mattox)


  1. Outstanding, Tammy! Go girl! It will be so great to read about your adventures. Setting goals and working hard to reach them is important and empowering all by itself in so many ways.

    At the same time, it is important to remember that we may not reach all of those goals, at least not right away, and that we defeat our whole purpose if we beat ourselves up for a perceived failure – or worse, just give up.

    Good judgment, great skills, excellence in any field is almost always the result of perseverance and learning from mistakes; reaching, searching and redefining the goals as time and experience indicate.

    This empowerment journey is far more important than the exact destination. 🙂

    • I agree with you that the journey matters far more than the destination, and at the same time, I’ve long thought that reaching for the stars is better, even when we don’t quite get there, than aiming low and hitting all our marks.

      Thanks as always for your comment!

  2. Alison says:

    You go! I’ve recently taken the RSO and Pistol instructor; next on the list is rifle Instructor, and the rest for next year.

    • I’m hoping in 2013 that, in addition to the RSO and Pistol Instructor courses, I’ll be able to take a few more classes in the student role and broaden the base of people I’ve learned from. I find that even a basic class with a new instructor is valuable to me, both because I always learn something from reviewing the basics and because of the value in seeing how different instructors teach.

      I’d also like to take the Refuse to Be a Victim Instructor course next year, because teaching self-defense is tremendously important to me personally, and there are many dimensions to that topic beyond just shooting skills.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Thank you, Tammy. This was a great post, and exactly what I was talking about! I am really trying to travel more, I’ve lived in the same place most of my life and haven’t really seen the world. I am also really pushing myself to do things I was afraid of doing, even things as small as working out around other people and talking about my health issues publicly.

    • Facing our fears definitely pays dividends, and I’m realizing that although I’ve done that in the area of safety and self-defense, I don’t always do it in other areas of my life. I’m reminded of a favorite quotation from Shakespeare, who wrote: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Shelley, and thanks for all that you do!


  1. […] post was very timely for me, because I had a similar experience over the weekend. Having just written about the empowerment that comes from spreading our wings and trying new things and pushing our internal […]

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