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Kevin Whipple for The Trace

The NRA and Me

I’m an NRA Shooting Instructor, and Mom of Three. It’s Unfair When the Media Portrays Us as Uncaring.

"Every gun owner I know, we ache and mourn as a community if someone has perished or been injured by someone with a gun. It's a terrible thing."

I learned about the attack at my daughter’s middle school while scrolling Facebook. It was right about dismissal time, when the kids were supposed to get onto buses to head home. One of my friends, another mom, starting posting about how police and emergency responders were at the school. From then on, my feed was covered in people talking about what was happening. I still get chills thinking about it.

The situation did not get a lot of national attention because it was diffused in maybe 15 minutes by a sheriff’s deputy who’d been stationed at the school. But that experience woke me up. It was six miles from my home. This was my backyard. This was my daughter’s school.

I decided that it was not enough for me just to have a passing knowledge of firearms. I decided that my family needed to know how to be safe. My husband and I owned guns, but we had never seriously considered carrying concealed. We’d probably gone shooting four or five times a year, like for date night.

After the lockdown, I started to learn more about guns, and I joined the NRA shortly after that because they have an extensive training network.

Project

The NRA and Me

A series of interviews with current and former members of the gun-rights organization.

I wanted my children to know what to do if they were ever exposed to a gun. I think that’s something every parent should teach their children — regardless of whether or not they keep guns at home — because kids might go to a house or some place where there is an unsecured firearm. Unfortunately, that’s where terrible tragedies occur.

So to teach our kids about gun safety, my husband and I started with a conversation about the school lockdown. We talked about how sometimes bad people do terrible things and sometimes they use guns. We wanted to help them understand that we can’t run around being scared, but we should do what we can do to be prepared.

After that, my husband and I wanted to make sure our kids understood why we have guns in our home, why we choose to be responsibly armed, and why we think it’s important to train. I came up with rules, which we talk about to this day. Number One: every gun is real. I know that sounds weird, but I once saw a Glock with a custom paint job that made it look like a Nintendo game gun. Some fake guns look real and some real guns look fake. Second rule: every gun is loaded. Third rule: don’t touch. The last rule is tell an adult. Find someone in charge — an adult, a parent, a trainer, a teacher — who can control the situation.

When I started attended firearm training classes, I felt intimidated. Sometimes I had that feeling like “I don’t belong here.” It often seemed like I was in a class full of people who’d had guns their whole life, who knew the lingo, and I was just completely new to it. I didn’t — and still don’t — know a lot about the inner workings of the gun or about every single type of firearm.

And I started to think, “Well, gosh, if I feel like I might not belong in this class, how many other people out there are like me?”

So I became an instructor. I wanted to offer classes in a way that would be more welcoming to more people.

There is a stereotype out there that all gun owners are older white guys. I certainly held that stereotype. But now, even in my classes, I’m seeing more minority women who are interested in learning to shoot compared to when I started five years ago. What’s awesome about women getting involved is that they’re so influential within their family or circle of friends. Women often join these things in numbers. I’ll see the mom and her daughter taking a class together, or a church group. It’s almost like how ladies take trips to the restroom together.

People still get surprised that I’m a firearms instructor. I understand why. I’m an average American woman with kids, a family and a home. I try to pay my bills and keep the house clean like everyone else. Plus, when I teach a seminar, I look like your average, everyday mom. I’m usually wearing pumps, maybe a jacket or a blazer, and I’ll have my concealed-carry firearm on me. I don’t run around in tactical gear and boots — well, unless I’m teaching a class outdoors.

I don’t watch a lot of media — I joke that I’ve been on a media fast for 15 years. If I want to know something, I try to seek it out rather have it be fed to me. I don’t watch Fox News. I don’t watch CNN. I don’t watch any of them. But when I do read things, it seems that the media portrays gun owners, especially those in the NRA, as uncaring. Like we don’t care when a child gets injured or killed in some kind of terrible accident.

Every gun owner I know, we ache and mourn as a community if someone has perished or been injured by someone with a gun. It’s a terrible thing, but I think we feel that way about any kind of injury or death.