Bluefield Daily Telegraph
You can’t handle a firearm with mittens. I learned this on a cold, windy Saturday morning. Waiting for my turn to target practice, I knew I would eventually have to take off my warm mittens in order to grip the gun. I stepped up beside the instructor and proceeded to follow his instructions. I aimed the gun at the cardboard sign. My cold fingers rested on the handle. It was the first time I had fired a gun. The target practice was part of a four-hour concealed weapon class for local residents. I spent the first part of the day in a make-shift classroom, learning about firearms. The last 20 minutes was spent in a frozen field near the race track.
The instructors and the rest of the small class couldn’t believe I had never touched or fired a gun until that Saturday morning. They wanted to know where I was from. Did I look like a city girl? Or was it my lack of knowledge about guns? In the two Virginias, many young females are exposed to firearms through hobbies like hunting and target practice in an open field. Honestly, my family had other hobbies. The men were more interested in working outside or taking apart vehicles and putting them back together like puzzles. I stayed around the basketball goal or inside with mom, hovering around the kitchen. Firearms were not displayed or brought out of their hiding places.
Which makes one wonder how I ended up in that frozen field aiming at a cardboard sign. It was time. I am not a city girl but a southern West Virginia woman with a right to learn how to use a firearm. Always the reporter, I was also interested to see how many other women would attend the class. I wasn’t the only female in the class, nor the youngest. There was a wide range of women — from young females in their 20s to older women who talked about their grandkids.
I believe Annie Oakley would have been proud. The famous sharpshooter taught more than 15,000 women how to use a gun. According to her biography, Oakley believed it was crucial for women to learn how to use a gun, as not only a form of physical and mental exercise, but also to defend themselves. She said, “I would like to see every woman know how to handle (firearms) as naturally as they know how to handle babies.”
I wonder if Oakley’s comments — she died in 1926 — would have the same power and influence today. In 2012, her gun sold at a Texas auction for $143,000. Her skills were well-known, both in the entertainment world and in frozen fields across the U.S. Later in life, she became an advocate supporter of women’s rights. I feel certain she would approve of the class, probably in my ability to hit the bullseye.
For four hours, I reverted back to a student. I took notes and participated in a few role-playing situations. I realized I had been risking my life by not paying attention to my surroundings. Self-defense doesn’t start with a firearm. It starts with common sense. I cannot count the times I have walked across a parking lot on the phone. Or answered a text instead of scanning a dark parking lot. I have fallen victim to distractions. Even my purse is a liability. According to law enforcement, the average person has a general amount of trust in mankind. But it only takes one time, one incident, to change a life.
As I stood in that field, my legs ached from the cold. My fingers felt numb, even inside my mittens. Yet, I felt at ease with pages full of notes and a new appreciation for firearms. I have no idea if I hit the target or the snow-covered bank with those first shots. It didn’t matter really. Knowledge is power. In southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, there are plenty of open fields, empty cans and maybe, a few modern-day Annie Oakleys to teach this woman how to hit the bullseye.
Jamie Parsell is the lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BDTParsell.