Eight years ago my husband brought me along to an outdoor range in southern California because I insisted that I wanted to go. I just wanted to watch and see for myself what all this excitement about shooting was. I had no judgments, no concerns, just curiosity. I can still remember the cool breeze on my face, the clean smell of being out in the desert, and the little dust devils in the distance. It was so nice to be outside on such a beautiful day. My husband handed me some ear plugs to put in. I’d never used any before. As I did what he said and squished the spongy material to make it fit in my ears I remember thinking “This is it? It probably won’t be as loud as I thought.” As the others got the firearms and ammo ready, I watched. It was all so fascinating. When the first shot was fired, it was loud. But it looked so powerful, it looked empowering. Every “bang” startled me a little bit, but I was captivated. My husband could tell that I was intrigued. He asked if I wanted to try. I stepped up to the table, caught sight of a pistol, and the tears began. “Put it away,” I said. I went back to the car and waited for everyone else to be done. Four years passed until we spoke of firearms again.
I’m not really sure what happened that day. As a scientist I pride myself on being rational and pragmatic. How did a piece of metal and polymer evoke such an emotional response? It wasn’t logical. It wasn’t rational. I grew up without any exposure to firearms. My only conception of a firearm was built through where I saw it most – on television and in the news. The news always spoke of death when they talked about guns. Television shows always showed bad people doing bad things with firearms. So that is what my understanding of guns was: bad and scary. And that was a perception that had built up over eighteen years of conscious and subconscious sensory experiences. So when that piece of metal was presented to me, all the emotion I had built up from before surfaced through an overwhelming feeling: fear. I was scared — no, I was terrified. And I was not in a place where I could deal with such immense amounts of fear. I wanted nothing to do with guns. Four years passed.