A visit to the gun range brings firearms into focus

Women and guns
After her classroom training, Kerri Miller goes to the range to practice shooting Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013 at Bill's Gun Shop and Range in Hudson, Wis.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

I'd never held a gun before yesterday — and when my instructor, Steve "Moose" Hallin, put one in my palm, my hand was shaking.

He'd spent an hour teaching me the rules of gun safety, like: "Observe your target and beyond." And: "Never let the muzzle cover anything you're not willing to shoot." But when it was time to go into the range and actually shoot — I almost canceled the whole thing right there.

I'd decided that I needed a lesson at the gun range when one of our Daily Circuit guests, a New Yorker magazine writer who is a self-proclaimed "Gun Guy," described shooting a gun as "thrilling." He added that you couldn't understand it if you'd never done it.

Now that I've done it, I think he's right.

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(See more photos and an account by Assistant Producer Madelyn Mahon at The Daily Circuit Blog.)

At Bill's Gun Shop and Range in Hudson, Wis., on Tuesday, I loaded a silver and black Buckmaster .22 with eight bullets. I bent my knees and leaned forward slightly. Moose, who has been teaching firearms safety for 30 years, showed me how to grip the gun with both hands and then flick the safety off with my left thumb.

I hesitated. And breathed, with my stomach churning. And still hesitated.

Moose said, "Go ahead." The gun kicked ever so slightly when my finger pulled the trigger.

It's surprising how quickly I got used to it — the movement of the gun in my hands, the noise (even muffled by the ear protection) and the holes that instantly appeared on the target. I understood how much focus and skill it requires to shoot well and responsibly. And I was proud when I hit the target right where Moose wanted me to.

I also realized that those three hours at the range had demystified guns in a way that years of covering the debate about them never has. I doubt that I'll be showing up at the range anytime soon. But the target — with its 25 bullet holes — now hangs on the wall in my house.


Women buying guns in rising numbers, research shows

The number of female sport shooters and gun owners is on the rise in America, according to recent polls.

From The New York Times:

Women's participation in shooting sports has surged over the last decade, increasing by 51.5 percent for target shooting from 2001 to 2011, to just over 5 million women, and by 41.8 percent for hunting, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.

Gun sales to women have risen in concert. In a survey last year by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 73 percent of gun dealers said the number of female customers had gone up in 2011, as had a majority of retailers surveyed in the two previous years.

Manufacturers have increasingly geared advertising toward women, marketing special firearms models with smaller frames, custom colors (pink is a favorite), and accessories like the "concealed carry" "salmon kiss" leather handbag.

Mary Zeiss Stange, professor of women's studies at Skidmore College and the author of "Woman the Hunter" and "Gun Women," said it's a byproduct of post-second-wave feminism.

"Women are in all sorts of places they didn't use to be," she said in an interview with MPR News. "That's one thing. Women have more disposable income and women are making decisions that in former times they might not have. There are more single women who want to protect their kids, as well."

ON THE BLOG: Kerri Miller visits Hudson gun range for a shooting lesson


Why gun ownership among US women is climbing. Women say they are buying guns for personal safety. (Christian Science Monitor)

Rise of the Female Gun Nut. A look back at the history of female gun ownership. (New York Magazine)

Why Female Gun Ownership is Up 77% Since 2005. One woman explains why owning a gun is the best form of self defense. (Townhall.com)