Growing up in a home where guns were part of my father’s everyday life as a law enforcement official, you’d think I was fairly exposed to firearms.

But the week before my 25th birthday, I shot a gun for the first time in my life.

Every night when my dad would come home from work, he’d bypass the typical hug and kiss from his three adoring children and wife, and head straight up the stairs into his bedroom to unload and properly store his gun.

We all knew what Dad had to do when he came home each night, though it wasn’t until 2016 that I realized I never once saw his gun — come to think of it, I had never seen a gun in person until just last week.

It’s not that I “feared” firearms in any way; I just had no interest in holding a gun, learning how to shoot, or obtaining one of my own.

In an attempt to see how a young woman reacted to shooting a gun for the first time, my colleague asked if I’d like to participate in somewhat of a social experiment.

I’ll admit, though I am always eager to experience all that life has to offer, I was extremely nervous. It wasn’t so much nervous about others at the shooting range; rather, I was terrified that someone as inexperienced as me — holding an extremely powerful weapon — could accidentally hurt someone.

As I drove to SharpShooters Indoor Shooting Range in Lorton, Virginia, my hands were shaking uncontrollably.

Entering the range, I quickly noticed my female colleague and I were in the minority. It suddenly felt like the first day of high school and you have nowhere to sit at lunch.

My face was hot and palms were sweaty as we approached the counter to register me for a beginner’s course in Firearms 101.

I distinctly remember a man who worked there looked at me and sternly said:

“It’s not like bowling, you can’t just go in there without any experience.”

I think he noticed my nerves set in, and later gave me a SharpShooters hat to cover up my “movie star hair” so it wouldn’t get dirty.

Image Credit: Virginia Kruta/Independent Journal Review

The gesture was appreciated and definitely gave me some much-needed street cred while I stood in a sea of what appeared to be former/current military and law enforcement personnel.

When my instructor was finally ready to teach me the ropes, I instantly felt my anxiety spike… there was so much to learn!

He started with the basics, taught me never to point a gun in an unsafe area (like the direction of people) and made sure I understood the power of the weapon I was about to shoot.

Image Credit: Virginia Kruta/Independent Journal Review

Let me just tell you there’s a LOT more to know about firing a gun than I thought. To anyone who assumes it’s as simple as picking up a gun and shooting it, you’re sorely mistaken.

You have to get your stance, grip, breathing, and sight straight before you even touch the trigger — all things that might sound easy, but are actually really hard to do simultaneously.

Image Credit: Virginia Kruta/Independent Journal Review

I also learned that placing the pad of your forefinger on the trigger is essential to accurately hitting your target.

Loading the magazine with ammunition was tricky, but I eventually got the hang of it. As my instructor said, “It takes repetition and practice,” like most things in life.

Image Credit: Virginia Kruta/Independent Journal Review

After a roughly 45-minute lesson in loading, firing, and unloading a Glock 19 9mm, it was time to put my newly acquired skills to the test.

The shaking had come back, as I suspected it would, as we walked into the range full of people firing off everything from small handguns to one man shooting an AR-15.

As loud “pop, pop, pop” sounds echoed throughout the range, I suddenly felt the urge to tell him I couldn’t go through with it. For the first time in my life, I heard multiple gun shots within just a few feet of me, and I was scared to death.

But within five or so minutes of just holding an unloaded gun, talking through all the steps once more, I finally mustered the courage to shoot.

Image Credit: Virginia Kruta/Independent Journal Review

And you know what? I not only hit the target, but the instructor said my shot grouping was “really good” for someone who’s never fired a weapon before.

Image Credit: Virginia Kruta/Independent Journal Review

My confidence continued to grow as I kept my sights and mind set on the target and nothing else.

Image Credit: Virginia Kruta/Independent Journal Review

There was a strange sense of power and confidence that overcame me as I finished my time at the shooting range. I’m a results-driven person, so visually seeing my progress on the target only made me want to continue to improve.

Leaving the range, my hands were shaking once more, but this time they were shaking with adrenaline.

Image Credit: Virginia Kruta/Independent Journal Review

While I don’t think I’ve had enough experience to make the decision to buy a gun of my own, I can see why others (particularly those with families and homes to protect) would do so.

If you know how to properly operate a firearm and continue your education and practice, I see no issue with owning a gun.

However, after firing a gun myself, I see the immense responsibility one takes on by owning guns — they must not only learn how to shoot, but also consistently brush up on their skills at a gun range.

I also came away with a greatly increased respect for law enforcement and the military — people who can keep their cool and go through all of those steps in very high-stress situations.

Rightfully so, guns are a very important issue in our country, but I wonder if more people like me took the time to learn how to operate one, we’d have a better understanding of those who’d like to protect the Second Amendment.

Your life experiences shape who you are, and I’m thankful I had the opportunity to learn about firearms in a safe, responsible, and — quite frankly — fun way.

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