John Naese, one of the founding members of Guns Save Life’s predecessor organization wrote earlier this week about the conversion of a “Karen” after the George Floyd riots in 2020. Here’s my own story of what I thought was a loss turned into a huge win.
John Naese and I have taught firearm training classes for twenty-five years now. A quarter century. Frank Wright, another former leader of Guns Save Life for a time has taught with us almost as long, and before that he taught for the FBI and Quincy PD. Frank’s been teaching firearms since the moon landing.
Over those twenty-five years Naese and I have taught (along with our fellow instructors on our team), we’ve probably had between two and three thousand adult students come through. Our GSL Defense Training crew also volunteered for years at the NRA Youth Shooting Camp at Darnall’s in Bloomington, introducing probably close to a thousand young people to defensive handgun shooting over the years.
We do it for love, because since Illinois got concealed carry and with a dozen or more instructors each class, we aren’t making much at all. Insurance, range fees, accounting fees eat up the bulk of tuition. We do it because of we love empowering good guys and gals to defend themselves from bad people with evil in their hearts.
A LOST CAUSE?
Not everyone comes to our class because they want to learn to defend themselves. Not with guns at least.
Take one woman. She was an educational administrator who didn’t like guns. She came to class because her husband promised her a Hawaiian vacation if she came to class. We thought the husband was joking when he mentioned that during introductions. He wasn’t.
The husband, we’ll call him Paul as he’s a regular at one of our GSL meeting locations, brought her hoping to bring her around. As an educator, Paul’s wife (we’ll call her Suzy) was exposed to a lot of anti-gun agitprop over the years. After working as a teacher, she eventually secured the principal slot for an elementary school. She didn’t like guns, worried about school shootings, and wouldn’t even allow Paul to keep any in the home.
Her body language aligned with her statements about guns. She didn’t like them. Guns made her anxious and worried. During dry fire, she mustered the strength to hold a gun but her whole body trembled with fear and anxiety. To her credit, she hung in there for an hour of learning the fundamentals of stance, sight alignment, trigger control (well, sort of) and follow through.
After lunch, when it came time to fire the first shot, we held her proverbial and but after that first shot, she broke down and bailed off the line. Thankfully, our first five shots are a load one, fire one sequence. Behind the scenes, we call it squirrel identification. There’s only so much pucker factor anyone can deliver with an empty gun after they fire that first shot.
Susy bailed out and several members of our instructor team took time to console Suzy off to the side as others fired. All told, I think she maybe fired a half-dozen shots that first day, and probably cried after almost every one of those shots.
The next morning, Paul brought her out early and Jeff, one of our best instructors who can make shooting a gun as non-threatening as possible to anyone fearful of guns. He put her on a rimfire pistol for some one-on-one.
Suzy shot a little more on the second day and while she didn’t shoot the 250 rounds like the rest of the class, she did pay close attention to lectures. When she wasn’t sobbing away from the firing line, she watched others.
She didn’t get a certificate of completion, but she learned a lot.
After class, at our post-class dinner, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how we could have done better. We beat ourselves up for “losing” our first student.
SIx months later I saw Paul at a gun show in Springfield.
Since we last saw him, he proudly noted that Suzy had bought her first gun – a revolver as we’d recommended. What’s more, she even took it shooting – by herself – on a few occasions. Not only that but Paul was thrilled that she allowed him to bring his guns into the home.
Maybe a year after that I saw Paul again and asked how things were going.
Suzy had sought out a couple of additional gun classes on her own. She bought a couple of more handguns. And she took two of her female teachers out to one of those classes and introduced them to shooting.
Today, she’s quite an advocate for the proven benefits of firearm ownership. She talks about the empowerment gun ownership offers to women. She’s an expert on gun safety and shares that knowledge with others. Additionally, she knows BS when she hears myths about guns from those who fear guns out of ignorance.
Over the past ten years, who knows how many other women Suzy has taken out to shoot for the first time and helped them over their own fears and anxieties about guns.
So have patience with those who don’t like guns. Allow them to dip their toes in the water and allow them to pull back if they feel like they need to. It might feel like a loss at a time, but by making their first experiences handling and shooting guns as non-threatening and non-judgmental as possible, you’ll keep the decks clear for them to come around in their own time.
While it was tempting to “push” her to keep shooting when she didn’t want to, looking back I’m glad we handled it the way we did. We couldn’t have asked for a better long-term outcome.