Making the Choice Not to Carry

1070609_65995437On a recent trip to Seattle for business, I had a chance to have lunch with the inimitable Kathy Jackson. As you might imagine, our conversation touched on all sorts of topics, including armed self-defense. At one point, I commented about how I think it’s important to encourage other women to become responsible for their own safety, but that it’s also important to let women come to that decision on their own and not be pushy about it.

Kathy said something which surprised me, but which on reflection I totally agree with. “I’d go farther than that,” she replied, “and say that I think it’s irresponsible to pressure women into making that decision.”

Though we didn’t talk in depth about Kathy’s reasons for feeling that way, I’d like to talk about the reasons why I wholeheartedly agree with her sentiment.

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Humiliating New Shooters Isn’t Funny

If you’ve been shooting very long, you’ve probably seen this happen on the Internet or at a range: Someone will take a new-shooter or non-shooter to the range and hand them a big, powerful gun. Usually this is guys giving a female friend or relative a weapon, but I’ve seen guys do it to other guys, too. I’ve never seen a woman do this to a guy, but I’m sure that happens too. Anyway, they’ll put the gun in the new shooter’s hand, not offer any instruction or training on stance, grip, and the other fundamentals, and then laugh their asses off when the new shooter fails. Or falls on her/his butt, knocked over by the uncontrolled recoil.

Sometimes, they’ll even film the incident and upload it to YouTube.

Mary of GatsAndTats posted a video yesterday with her thoughts about such behavior. I’d like to share it, because I wholeheartedly agree with what she had to say, and then I’d like to add a couple comments of my own.

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Take a Friend to the Range

20121001-213423.jpgMassad Ayoob had a lovely blog post today about a GSSF match he and Gail shot in Salt Lake City over the weekend. Mas talked about the joy of taking someone shooting and seeing them do well and have a great time. He ends his post by encouraging us to “take someone shooting. On the practice range if they’re new, and to a match if they’re ready. You’ll feel as good about it as I do, today…”

Mas’s 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 mental boundaries, Sunday was a great opportunity to reflect on that in action.

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Shooting Safety: The “Hot Brass Dance”

If you’ve been shooting long at all, chances are this has happened to you: You carefully align the sights on the target, squeeze the trigger. The gun goes “BANG!” and a shell casing is ejected from then gun. You start to bring the gun back on target, and then…YOW! The (hot) spent shell casing has landed not on the ground, but on some part of your body. And those little buggers sting!

The burning pain might come from your neck, as happened to my friend Ben Branam during a CHL class today. You may catch the projectile with your arm or in the bend of your elbow. If you’re female and unlucky enough to be wearing a top with a low or loose enough neckline, it might be coming from somewhere more…sensitive. (See the photo; although this is a re-creation, I have had both pistol and rifle brass land there even when wearing high-necked T-shirts.)

If you’re even more unlucky, and/or not wearing enough safety gear, a spent casing could land between your safety glasses and your face, a truly unfortunate and potentially dangerous occurrence.

When this happens, it’s not unusual, especially for new shooters, to jump around, scream, flail about, and the like. This is okay, except for when the hand that’s flailing around is still holding a loaded gun. That’s how safety rules get broken. That’s how accidents happen. That’s how people get hurt.

Now, if you’ve been shooting for any length of time, you’ve probably had this experience at least a few times, and you can deal with the situation without freaking out. You know that, although uncomfortable, it’s unlikely the hot brass will be dangerous. And you know that panicking, when holding a loaded weapon, surely will be dangerous. In fact, the last time this happened to me, I calmly engaged the safety on the Beretta I was shooting, set it down on the bench, reached inside my shirt and fished the 9mm casing out from inside my bra while my (male) shooting companions looked on and gaped. But for new shooters, who may not be able to muster up the composure to respond calmly, hot brass can indeed be scary.

Here are some tips to help new shooters with the “hot brass dance”:

  • Check clothing before going to the range. A low-cut top like the one in the photo above is probably not a good choice for a new shooter on her way to the range. High-necked, long-sleeved tops, shooting glasses, and baseball caps can all help keep errant brass out of sensitive spots.
  • Check the new shooter’s choice of firearms, especially if they’re shooting one of your guns. An M1911 is a heck of a lot of fun to shoot, but the ones I’ve fired all scattered brass every which way over a wide distance. In fact, at a recent IDPA match where I was scorekeeping, I was standing about 15 feet to the right of and about 10 feet behind the shooter…and I still managed to catch a .45 casing in my jeans pocket! Although flying brass is something of an occupational hazard (unless you’re a revolver shooter), selecting a weapon that tends to eject brass along a predictable trajectory is a help for newbies.
  • Explain the problem to new shooters, and remind them of what to do. I usually say something like, “Sometimes, when the gun ejects the spent shell casing, it’ll land on or in your clothing. This can be uncomfortable but not dangerous. If it happens, set the gun down on the bench without pointing the barrel at anyone, and then you can retrieve the brass.” When we get to actually shooting, this is one of the things I watch for. Knowing what to expect, and knowing that hot brass isn’t dangerous, seems to help.

And if you DO end up with a burn, like Ben did, remember that it’s just the gun’s way of giving you a little kiss to tell you it loves you. No? Not buying that? Well, it was worth a try. But anyway, remember that a hot shell casing is much less dangerous than an armed, panicking woman (or man). Stay calm, safe the gun, and then retrieve the brass. A burn might hurt a bit, but I guarantee it won’t hurt nearly as much as a bullet wound.