Facing our fears: Hoplophobia (firearms)

From the July 26, 2012 edition

Someone shoots me every few months in my nightmares. Everything fades to black, and I wake up terrified.

There is nothing I want to do less than touch a gun. None of my relatives or friends keeps guns for hunting or protection. I never got comfortable seeing what guns could do to people when I covered crime and courts as a reporter. Words I associate with guns: pain, violence, death, mourning, anger, regret.

So the downright cheerfulness of the people at Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware threw me off. I was welcomed with a sign in neon dry-erase marker: “Alive! Welcome Kristen Schmidt! Editor, Columbus Alive ‘Conquering Our Greatest Fears.’” Right.

Firearms instructor Andy Loeffler was tasked with getting me to do that which I did not want to do. His explanation of firearm mechanics was clinical. “Mechanically, it’s a stapler,” he said. I did not believe him.

After working myself up to picking up the unloaded gun and aiming it at a wall, we headed over to an indoor range where I was supposed to fire actual bullets. Ideally, they would pierce a paper target.

Loeffler placed three delicate bullets in the clip of a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun and placed the gun on the booth counter. After this, my actions felt rote: Pick up the gun. Grip it. Put a finger on the trigger. Aim. Shoot.

Peh-choo. It’s quieter than you think.

Loeffler turned to me and said, “Wanna go again?” I nodded. As it turns out, I’m a decent shot. Of 12 rounds fired, five hit the bull’s-eye.

I think most fears, be it water, dentists or public speaking, are actually fear of the unknown — and what is unknown becomes beastly when fed by an active imagination. A little education cured a little of my ignorance, but not all of my fear. Conquered? No. But tamed.