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Episode #6: Fashion…Firearms and Safety Training – Reflections

I was inspired to record today’s podcast because I want to share a story with you. Here’s a little background first and I know it’s going to sound a little unrelated to the intended topic, so bear with me! I hired a fashion consultant/stylist in 2015 to help me figure out my *business casual* wardrobe when I started working for Hewlett-Packard. Up until that point, I had only known corporate dress for companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Merrill Lynch and Citi Private Bank. I wore pantsuits for a long time, then moved into sleeveless dresses with matching jackets. They were uniforms and it didn’t require much thought. Under the pantsuits I could wear a chemise or a top that added a little color – a little bit of Dee Dee – and, with the dresses, I could add a little jewelry, maybe a long necklace or a bracelet. But I wasn’t sure what to do with *business casual*, so I hired Jody. She was a friend of a friend and she meant business when she came to our apartment and took inventory of all my clothing, shoes and accessories. This isn’t meant to be a story about my clothing/fashion consultation really. Let’s just say that Jody showed me how to pair jeans with blazers and to layer dresses with belts and to dress like myself and to feel professional at the same time. Meanwhile, I learned more about Jody the person and her other talents. 

I guess when you’re trying on clothes – outfit after outfit – in a bra and underwear in between outfits, you get to chatting. Turns out that not only is Jody amazing at fashion consultations – a fashion role model in her own every day hair, make-up and clothing – she also teaches safety and firearms training classes in about 10 states in and around the Washington, D.C. area where we both live. Not only does she teach firearms and safety classes to the general public, she also teaches – and I think I have this right – FBI agents TO TEACH FIREARMS AND SAFETY CLASSES TO OTHER FBI AGENTS. Yeah, Jody is a fucking badass. So, one evening a couple of months ago – maybe a month ago, I got this feeling that it was time. I texted Jody that I thought it would be good to learn how to handle a gun. Not because I feel unsafe in any way. No one is coming to get me. Our neighborhood is safe. Even at 4am when I have to take our dog out, I feel safe. That’s actually when the construction workers start to file in, most of them are Hispanic and I greet them in Spanish. They usually seem to be surprised to be greeted at all, let alone in Spanish. I see you, I want to tell them. And they seem sweet. Plus, we’ve got the police department literally 2 blocks away. I see it while our dog is peeing and while I bend down to pick up his poop. Really, I feel totally safe in our suburban neighborhood, even though I have watch and heard more arrests right outside our windows than I ever did living in NYC for 15 years. I even left my apartment doors unlocked in NYC – there were 24/7 dormant and again, no one was or is out to get me. It just felt like it would be good to know how to handle a gun. Maybe as a bucket list item – even though I don’t actually have a bucket list. Maybe to learn to shoot for sport, for accuracy. I wasn’t sure. But when I texted Jody that it was time, she was ready for me. 

It turned out she was teaching a safety and firearms class the next week, just a few miles from our home and to a group of all women. So, I signed up for the 4-hour class and turned up. I turned up wearing my favorite gold jeans – jeans I had bought many years before – with Jody, of course. Gold jeans, a loose-fitting white tee, flip flops and a loosely-crocheted cream-colored long sweater on top. The outfit seemed appropriate for the class – casual and a little badass. 

When I walked into the hotel meeting room, Jody was in full-swing finger-printing everyone. All fingers on both hands. On the table in front of us was a large envelope with the meeting agenda/training topics and a State of Utah Application for Concealed Firearm Permit. Wait a minute. We live in Virginia and I have no immediate or even long-term plans to go to Utah. Turns out there are 4 reasons why Virginians should get their Utah Concealed Carry permit: 1. Virginia permits may not be valid out of state 

2. Utah permits are valid in 30 states 

3. Utah permits are easy to get AFTER I get my Virginia permit and the background check can be completed by mail (that’s what the fingerprints were for, for the FBI). So, not really that easy to get, and, 

4. Congress is considering making permits valid nationwide. I’m not sure how I feel about this and need to learn more. 

Anyway, these are the reasons we have the Utah permit applications in front of us and it’s why we have our fingerprints on our FBI applicant card, which is to be sent in with the Utah application. I am overwhelmed before we even start the four-hour course. And I trust Jody. I know she knows what she is doing. And this evening in this hotel conference room just a few miles from Washington Dulles airport outside of Washington, D.C., I’m sitting in a room of probably just about 10 women who I don’t know. I hear one of them talking about a restraining order – for an ex-husband or boyfriend. I breathe a sigh of relief that in these 4 hours, in this conference room, we are not going to handle any weapons, not even training weapons. I’m an empath but I can’t really in this moment process what it must be like for this woman to need a restraining order and who may feel she needs this course – and to get her Utah Concealed Firearm permit – potentially for self-defense. I’m here for my non-existent bucket list, maybe for sport, maybe to show my 11-year-old daughter that her mom is capable of many things. I do take the content of this course very seriously though. And I love Jody’s approach that the last thing you want to ever have to do though is fire your gun in self-defense. 

I leave the class at 9:30 that evening, at the time I would normally be going to bed. Now, I still have to get home, check on my daughter, take our dog out for one last pee and maybe poop and get to bed before my 4 or 5am wake-up from our dog. I’m overwhelmed by the form I’m still going to need to find on-line for my Virginia permit, where I’m going to need to go to file the permit, and what documents I’ll need to have with me. At this point, it’s an administrative exercise I will power through over the next couple of weeks. And before I know it, I received in the mail my “Commonwealth of Virginia, Circuit Court of Fairfax, Permit to Carry a Concealed Handgun” and I’ve never held a gun, let alone fired one. 

The shit was starting to get a little real, so I put the permit on top of my file cabinet. About a week later, I texted Jody to schedule time with her at the range. That was a week ago today, today is Monday, June 28th 2021, so we went on June 21st to the range. I knew to wear close-toed shoes, no heels and a closed shirt because hot cases can fall down your shirt. And I was nervous about my first time going to a range, an indoor range. And I arrived right on time, provided my driver’s license and paid my fee before being shown into a room to watch a 10-minute safety video. It was what I had already learned from Jody’s class, though I respected that the range required it for all first-timers and I really appreciated that both the Virginia and Utah permit applications required completion of a 4-hour safety and firearms course. Thank God and good on Virginia and Utah. Though definitely all states do not require the course, a background check or a permit to carry a concealed handgun within their bodies. What the fuck? I’m just starting to get my head around the state laws and lack thereof related to gun permits. 

So here I am. I’ve watched the 10-minute safety video as 3 young-ish men walk in to watch the video. I notice they are very polite to me and they seem sort of laid back. I think one was white, one appeared to be asian and the third man was black. They seemed chill and yet respectful of the process to watch the video before going into the range. 

I had been paying attention to the energy of the lobby, of the people working there and of the few patrons passing through the expansive lobby area. Everyone was white and most were men, though at least one woman was working there. Mind you – I want to mention that this indoor range is in Manassas, Virginia – and about 30 miles outside of Washington, D.C. – Manassas is known for the Manassas National Battlefield Park, the site of 2 major Civil War battles. I half expected to see confederate flags as I drove south and a little west from where we live near Dulles airport and into the parking lot….and in the windows of the vehicles parked there. This was The South technically. And while I live in Northern Virginia, 3 miles out from Dulles and about 20 miles north and a little east of Manassas, I feel like I might have traveled into a different state altogether. 

Jody put ear protection on me and led the way into the range itself, pulling behind a duffle bag on wheels with her gear. Bullets and guns. 

I don’t know how to describe the adrenaline I felt as we went through the first door toward the range. I could hear gun fire – live gun fire for the first time in my life. Yeah, I’ve heard guns and I’ve watched guns on TV shows and in movies for as long as I can remember. Even in comedy movies there are guns. We are de-sensitized to violence on TV and in movies because we see it so often. 

I was NOT de-sensitized as I walked into the range. I was hyper-sensitized – if that’s a word! When we walked through the second door – being careful to close behind us the first door – I saw a few empty lanes and felt and saw and heard the shots being fired by clusters of white men – in groups of 2 and 3. Hot cases were flying at their feet and in front of them and beside them. Their targets were riddled with holes. The sound of all the bullets was so loud, with very little relief in between. My adrenaline was through the roof and I breathed and willed myself to be calm and to pay attention to everything Jody was showing me and telling me. It was near impossible to think about anything else than what was now happening in the lane next to us on our left. Fortunately on our right was a solid wall. Hot cases were flying everywhere. Shots were being fired next to us using large bullets and some kind of rifles or long guns. There was a man who appeared to be my age-ish (in his mid-50’s), another man maybe in his 40’s and two young kids – presumably the sons of these men – one maybe in his teens and the other around my daughter’s age, 11. I was so distracted by all of their movements immediately to our left and diagonally behind us. There were so many guns and so many bullets. And the sounds of the shots over and over again, I couldn’t help but think about this is what the victims and survivors of Pulse and Sandyhook and Parkland must have heard. So loud, non-stop and sickening. Each shot caused my body to jerk and vibrated from my core throughout my body. It was beyond unsettling. 

I take very seriously anything that can maim or kill a human being or an animal. The only thing I have had regular access to throughout my life that could maim or kill a human or an animal is my car. And I feel and respect its power. I don’t drive over the speed limit in excess and I follow the rules for stopping for stop lights and for stop signs. When I drive up or down I-95, I keep up with traffic, even if that means driving 85 miles an hour. I feel the adrenaline of the power and the speed and have a knot in my stomach and dryness in my throat the whole time. Still. And I’ve been driving for almost 40 years! I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it – I won’t ever become de-sensitized to the power of my vehicle, especially at high speeds. 

Now, here I am learning to load and shoot a gun, with all of this horrible death and maiming around me. Every bullet could hit at least one human – could injure them or kill them. I look at the targets and the majority of the bullet holes are far from bulls-eye. It seems to be an exercise in shooting the most bullets, not in shooting them well. Is this how one plays video games with guns? Do you get more points for volume than accuracy? Meanwhile, over the course of the 45 minutes or so with Jody’s instruction, I learn to pick up a handgun with my finger NOT on the trigger, I think, the check to see if there is a bullet. If no, fill the clip with ONE bullet. ONE. BULLET. And I’m sure I’m not getting all of the terminology right here – this is my memory of the anatomy of a gun and its safety in a 4-hour class about a month later and a week after my 45 minutes with Jody on the range. On the battlefield, in the war zone, in a mass shooting. It felt like those were the conditions in which I first held a gun and loaded it and fired it. Parts of me wanted to say, “I’m out of here, let’s figure out another way for me to learn this.” In quiet, in private. Calmly, non-violently. I stuck it out because I trust Jody. I listened to her every step, her every instruction. I looked into her eyes. I loaded the clip, brought the sights into focus, kept my feet shoulder-width apart, leaned a little forward, put my chin up a little, squeezed my palms together, kept my thumbs loos, straightened and tightened my arms and shoulders and pulled the trigger almost all the way. I took deep breaths until I had the shot and fired.

I tried not to look at the target until I brought my arms back in. I went through these steps about 8 times. And with every shot and with every flash of light, I didn’t like it. I did like seeing that every shot hit the paper plates used as targets, with an orange bulls-eye in the middle. I liked that all the shots were within a few inches of bulls-eye and one shot even hit bulls-eye. And the reason they didn’t all hit closer, Jody explained, had to do with my trifocals and them allowing me to focus on the target instead of the sights. The shots got better when I borrowed a couple of different readers from Jody – and I just kept following every detail of her instructions. For my 8 bullets in 45 minutes, the guys next to me must have shot hundreds. I didn’t and I don’t get it. I choke up now thinking about all the possible injuries and deaths their bullets could have caused. I think about my 8. I think about that woman in my firearms and safety class who had to take out a restraining order on her ex. I think about a friend of mine, in Florida, who feels unsafe because people know – the wrong people know – she lives alone. She loads her gun every night before bed and she’s ready. Just in case. A quick Google search tells me that “4.5 million women in the U.S. have been threatened with a gun and nearly 1 million women have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner. Over half of all intimate partner homicides are committed with guns. Indeed, a woman is 5 times more likely to be murdered when her abuser has access to a gun.” 

So, I understand restraining orders and protecting yourself as a woman by taking a firearms and safety class and buying a gun. I’m so happy we women have these choices to make. I’m not happy about violence against women, against innocent people, people of color, any people. I am sickened by mass shootings in the U.S. and I don’t have it in me now to do another fucking Google search. 

Right now, I am grateful for Jody for all of her talents and for being an example to all women and girls. They broke the mold when they made Jody, that’s for sure!

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