It’s Not That Scary: Shooting a Gun

I’m not sure how Jason got it into his head that I needed to shoot a gun. I know that he’s not the only person in my life who assumed I would enjoy such a thing. Chris Huff, a weapons expert, has wanted to take me to a shooting range for years. It’s only his wise wife, Allison, who has insisted that would be a bad idea. “First of all, she’ll be holding that gun sideways in five minutes, acting like she’s tearing up the joint.”

But the reality is: I have absolutely no desire. Because the super real reality is: guns are terrifying.

Mom never let us have guns in the house growing up. Even water pistols were outlawed. I don’t think we could even finger-shoot each other without the threat of being grounded. We Karate-Kidded the hell out of each other, but plastic gun violence was outlawed. I do believe she even confiscated the “Bang!” gun that came with my magic set. Mom was serious about this.

Like all deep fears my mom has (crossing the street, the police, going outside with a wet head), they are now deeply embedded in me. A potential roommate situation fell apart in college when the girl I was to room with insisted on having a gun in her room. Her father insisted, actually. And my mother insisted the opposite. We never lived together.

I did end up rooming with a Texan here in LA with Ray, and while I should’ve assumed, it never even occurred to me for a second to think about the fact that he was (of course) storing guns in our apartment. Multiple. Which he pulled out one day when he couldn’t believe I was scared of guns. He came down the hall holding this thing and my broken panic reflex had me hide behind the corner, shouting at him to put that thing away. “Aw, Pamie,” he said, sounding terribly disappointed in me. “I even brought out the little one for you, because it’s so cute.”

So when Jason promised this past Christmas that when we went to his grandparents house, he’d teach me how to shoot a gun, I kept telling him that it was more the thought that counted, and he didn’t have to go through all that trouble. What I was banking on was the business of holidays, how you make a lot of plans you really never get a chance to follow through on. His dad said something like, “I’ll be sure to bring up my rifle and the shotgun the next time I go over there,” and I’d make jokes like, “That sounds terrifying, and I really hope I don’t have to touch those guns!”, and “Ho, ho! I hope you know I will cry!” But they weren’t really jokes. They were confessions.

They were serious confessions. I cried when Ray pulled out the baby gun, and I cried when a security guard at a hotel I worked in back in Austin pulled a gun on me as a “joke,” and I had never actually touched a gun.

And then suddenly we’re at Jason’s grandparents’ house in the middle of Nowhere, Louisiana, standing in front of what I suppose he’d call his “Paw Paw’s Shed,” and it’s a windy, cold day and I’m suddenly closer to a firearm than I’d ever been in my life.

Jason was being careful as he explained how the rifle works, holding it upright, showing where the safety is, how you hold it, how you point it, what you do and do not do. Then he shot the rifle. Two, three, five times. Opened this thing, clicked that. He was being so careful that he wasn’t looking behind him, where I was standing, silently trembling all over, weeping uncontrollably.

A standing panic attack. That’s what I was having. He was holding this weapon and my brain was flashing images of people being shot, of blood coming out of mouths, mouths I don’t even know. I saw me touch the gun and then Jason accidentally get shot in the face. I flashed back to a recurring nightmare I’d had as a child — a marine was my boyfriend, and he got shot in the neck in front of me, but I felt the bullet enter my own throat instead. I saw deer getting shot, birds getting shot, bunnies shot between the eyes. The opening scene ofWatership Down, a blood-wave of deadness, the gun going off in my hands, accidentally pointed right at myself. It could happen, right?

At this point Jason noticed me. “Oh,” he said, this sound like he’d walked upon a woman having a seizure, like he knew he had to do something, but he wasn’t sure the best way to approach. He suddenly understood, “I’m kind of afraid of this,” didn’t mean, “I’m nervous to try something new” or “Guns are kind of scary.” I meant: I cannot function around this machine.

He told me that I absolutely didn’t have to touch the gun or shoot it, that everything was okay. That I would just stay behind him and he’d shoot at the tree a few times where he’d tacked a makeshift target. At first I had to get used to the sound of the bullets firing.

And then Anna Beth called.

“Hi, Jason’s Firing Range,” I answered. “I’m terrified!”

“Pa’am! What is happening?”

“Jason’s shooting a gun and I’m crying!” I shouted, beginning to cry again. “I’m so scared!”

“I’m scared for you, too! Now I’m gonna cry!”

And we stood there, crying over Jason shooting a gun, and I realized how silly this was. Anna Beth and I laugh-cried while she gave me instructions on what I was going to do next to help her throw a party. Only Anna Beth can offer up sympathy while ordering you to make glittery-pom-pom toothpicks for her donut holes.

While Anna Beth instructed away, I watched Jason practice shooting at a few plastic water bottles. These he had on the ground, far away.

After I hung up I asked him, “Can I do it that way?”

“What way?”

“At the ground? Instead of at the tree?”

“Of course. Why, does that feel safer?”

“Yeah, I can see where the bullet’s going. If I shoot toward the tree it could hit that shed or go off into the forest and kill a bunny.”

“Is that what’s scary?”

“Among other things.”

“I promise, there’s nothing in that field, nothing around for a long, long way. But yes, shoot at the ground.”

I hit the bottle on my second shot. And I hit it over and over. Because right before I pulled the trigger I reminded myself to pretend it wasn’t a gun, but a video game, and I was just trying to hit a target with this thing in my hand.

So I got braver, and tried the tree. I aimed at the target and shot.

“Whoa!” I heard Jason say behind me, quietly, impressed.

My first few shots were all grouped at the center, and I was starting to feel a little more relaxed.

And then I heard a sound, somewhere behind me or next to me, some kind of rustling, and I felt my mother shouting, “STOP SHOOTING!”

I turned to see Jason’s grandfather was rolling up in his golf cart. Now, he was in absolutely no danger, far away from me, telling Jason how impressed he was with my shooting, but I just want to say this isexactly what I was afraid of. The first time I shoot a gun, I accidentally kill Jason’s grandfather. Or the president. And my mom would’ve been right.

I shot the rifle a few more times, changed to the shotgun, WHICH I DO NOT LIKE. My ears would ring after I pulled the trigger and I’d be like Will Ferrell in The Other Guys, rolling around, holding my head, screaming, “I NEED AN MRI!”

Jason took my plate down from the tree and took it home with us. He proudly showed it to any friend who was even slightly interested. And yes, I do believe Chris Huff is still kinda jealous he wasn’t the one to show me how to hold that rifle. (Please note how awesome I was doing at shooting until I almost shot Jason’s grandfather.)

So, shooting a gun. It’s not that scary. But first: IT TOTALLY IS.

My apartment is filled with packed boxes and stacks of my belongings. If I stayed in this apartment for only two more weeks, it’d be the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. Therefore I’m moving tomorrow morning. Forgive me if I’m mistaken on the following memory, as I was kind of upset when I moved into this apartment…

I was crying in my car, upset about having to get a new trashcan, about the injustice of having to buy something I used to already have, combined with the crippling fear of having to buy something without Anna Beth there to tell me which trashcan was the right one to buy. And I feel it was Sara Hess, because she was the one who gave me the speech in Target, saying I must buy things without fear of retribution from Anna Beth… but what I’m about to quote is terribly sentimental for her, which is why I think it was Laura, or Dana, or Cat. But anyway, she said, “Just remember that while you are very sad moving into this apartment, and that you are moving into this apartment for a very sad reason, remember that the only way you’ll be moving out of it is for a happy reason. You will leave this place happy.”

And forgive me Sara, or Dana, or Laura or Cat, because I can’t remember which of your kind faces said those loving words. But I thought you’d like to know, for the record, that you were right.


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  1. Heather

    Pamie, can I just say you are the most bad-ass person in the history of ever? Because it’s one thing to be afraid of something (I would be afraid of guns, too, but I think it’s because I’m Canadian), but it’s a whole other thing to do that thing you were afraid of and be good at it.

    1. Pamie

      I don’t think I’ll ever hold a shotgun again unless it was in order to save a life.

      1. Glark

        Or maybe you get really hungry.

      2. Heather

        Neither would I. Guns = SCARY. But I think it’s awesome that you did something that scared the shit out of you. And that you were pretty good at it!

  2. Brett

    This is my confirmation of reading.

  3. Joanna L. Castillo

    Being like Brett…confirming I clicked on the Twitter link. And, things worked.

  4. Jessi

    Two years late, but I had to comment on this because I just stumbled across it today… just a few days after I shot a gun for the first time ever. My husband grew up in the country and his family always had guns around and thought nothing much of it. I’d never even seen a gun up close until Husband decided he wanted to buy one. (And then buy another, then another, then… but that’s a whole other story.) Husband took me shooting at a field that looks a lot like the one in your pic there.

    “So, shooting a gun. It’s not that scary. But first: IT TOTALLY IS.” That so perfectly captures how I felt about it! I wasn’t panicky but I was nervous and that never totally went away. My brain kept flipping between “This really *isn’t* that scary after all; I can totally do this” and “OMG I AM HOLDING A SHOTGUN WTF AM I DOING?!”

    I’m probaly going to bookmark this entry so I can re-read it the next time he wants to take me shooting.

    PS: I *love* that you mentioned Watership Down—that’s my favorite book of all time.