Recently, Randi Stitt, the owner of Armed in Stilettos and the sponsor of OffBeat, reached out to me with the idea of holding an introductory handgun class for women. For me, teaching civilians is always a pleasure because everyone in the class chooses to be there; that is not necessarily the case in law-enforcement training sessions. Women and children are eager to learn, and they do not usually presume to understand things that are unfamiliar to them.
Training women is quite different from training men in many aspects, but one important difference that I think is critical (and often overlooked) is the base knowledge most woman want to have before they ever fire their first shots. From my experience, men typically want to “get through” the “boring” information like range commands, safety rules and any other basic information, in order to get right to the shooting. I’ve found that beginning-female shooters want to understand the firearm and what to expect. They want to know as much as possible before they stand on the firing line. I have found that a simple explanation of the internal- and external-safety functions of a firearm can provide comfort and confidence for women, calming their fears that the gun will not just “go off.” Having a rudimentary understanding of these features provides reassurance that nothing catastrophic is likely to occur. If explanations such as these are curtailed or neglected, women may lack confidence on the firing line and experience above-average anxiety.
Women also want to know the expectations of a class. The goal for every class should be simple — safety. If safety principles are followed, the second course goal will be met — to have fun. In order to make sure everyone understands the safety expectations, a thorough explanation must be provided. There is no room for misunderstanding these rules. At times, when I teach men, I see that this lengthy discussion is troublesome for them. I know that most of the time they aren’t focused on what I’m saying, but rather they are politely awaiting the conclusion. Women want to make sure they understand the rules, ask questions and hang on every word. Women don’t want to violate a safety rule … especially in front of men who may be quick to point it out.
I am always surprised by the level of interest women have for understanding the functions of firearms and ammunition. I briefly explained these processes, as well as handgun features and options that women may wish to consider before making a firearms purchase, i.e., safety features, interchangeable backstraps, ambidextrous magazine releases and the difference in actions of firearms. Once the group had a thorough understanding of these areas, and their questions were answered, we hit the firing line.
At the firing line, we covered the fundamentals of sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press, grip, stance, breath control and follow through. We practiced these fundamentals with an empty gun, and later practiced it during live fire shooting. Participants brought their own firearms to use during the class. I discovered that training does go much smoother when new shooters all have similar firearms. Having a variety of firearms requires more firearm-specific instruction on loading and unloading. Fortunately, there were enough range-safety officers to allow the women to work with their own firearms, and also have an opportunity to familiarize with other students’ firearms.
The women in attendance had diverse backgrounds. Experience levels varied from never firing a firearm, to experienced marksmen and hunters. There were nurses, saleswomen, business owners and homemakers in the class, each attending for their own reasons. Positive attitude, enthusiasm and personal goals were all common themes during the class. These goals included familiarization of personally-owned firearms, a desire to learn the fundamentals of marksmanship and information on carrying concealed.
The women brought a variety of firearms: Glock, Smith & Wesson M&P, Smith & Wesson Shield, Beretta Nano, Beretta Neos, Ruger 22/45, Walther PPK and Beretta PX4 Storm. Randi and I had envisioned the participants having the opportunity to try out as many firearms as possible, but heavy rain and winds prevented it.
Although the weather curtailed the training session slightly, the participants expressed an interest to continue training in the future. They seemed excited and motivated to learn to shoot. The positive feedback means more to me than just validating my ability to teach, but it signifies that I have successfully converted more allies of the Second Amendment.