In the past, I have shared with our readers many of my life experiences, including overcoming my fear of flying when I got on a plane in 2007 to accompany a group of World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. This past weekend I conquered another hurdle - one I have to admit I never saw myself doing.
Members of the Mid Nebraska Rifle and Pistol Club in Broken Bow hosted a women’s basic handgun class Saturday, Feb. 23, in the Paddock Building at the Broken Bow Fairgrounds. The fact that numerous women have developed an interest in learning to shoot is not surprising, however, the fact that I have - is!
Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that I have been anything but an advocate of firearms in the past. In fact, throughout most of my life I have labeled myself as “anti-gun.” This attitude was not the result of a bad experience with a gun, or even knowing someone who had a bad experience with a gun. I now realize it was fostered totally out of fear and misunderstanding.
So what happened to cause me to do such an about-face? Quite simply, it was a wake-up call from a nearly 90-year-old woman.
My attitude had begun to shift slightly in recent years, but it was when I heard a presentation by a lady named Kitty Wurthman at Anselmo-Merna School last fall that I really experienced a change of heart. Kitty shared with the audience about her life experience growing up in Austria under Hitler’s rule, and talked at length about the devastating effect on her country of the citizens losing their gun freedoms.
I am familiar with the second amendment to the Constitution which protects American citizens’ right to keep and bear arms, but I do not believe I fully understood what that meant. I was part of the camp that was convinced that guns hurt people, and that our society would be a much safer place without them.
I was nearly beside myself when Nebraska introduced a bill giving its citizens the right to carry concealed weapons! In my mind, this was the most outrageous thing I had ever heard.
My husband grew up around guns - his father was a gun collector and hunter, and my husband had his first rifle before the age of 10. I, on the other hand, had never been around guns. My dad did not hunt, and there were never guns in my home. One member of my gun class said she “grew up with an unhealthy fear of guns.” That is a good way to put it.
Finally making the realization that my fear of guns is totally unfounded, and desiring to share in an activity that my husband enjoys, enabled me to take a leap of faith and learn how to shoot. I discussed this with Matthew Haumont during our interview for my first gun control article a few weeks ago, and he steered me to Randy Jenkins, one of the instructors of the women’s handgun class.
It so happens two of my co-workers had signed up for this particular class, and they passed along the information and encouraged me to face my fears and take the class too. And I have to say, I am very glad I did.
The class ran more than four hours, with more than half that time devoted to instruction and emphasizing gun safety. Because of the overwhelming response the club has gotten to these women’s classes, this one was split into two sessions - morning and afternoon. There were 13 women in the morning class, and 14 in the afternoon session.
Randy Jenkins, Larry Larson, Doug Bazyn and Jim Rempe each gave presentations on various aspects of gun safety, types of weapons and styles of holsters. There were also lots of questions pertaining to the concealed carry law.
When the classroom time was over, it was time to pick a gun and prepare to shoot. This class was limited to .22 handguns, which were provided - along with all the ammunition - by members of the gun club. We paired up, selected our weapon, learned how to load the magazines, and took turns firing at paper plate targets.
My partner was Bethany Knudsen, who says she decided to take the class because her boyfriend is a police officer and she thought it might be to her benefit to learn how to handle a gun since there is always one in the house. She shot first, and made it look so easy.
When I came to the firing line my hands were shaking so badly I was afraid I would drop the gun - (which we learned if that happens to just let it fall.) But my coach, Delmer Applegarth, was very patient with me and his calm demeanor actually put me at ease.
With each round, I felt a little more relaxed. Those of us who wanted to were allowed to take down our targets and take them with us - which of course I did! I proudly took home my paper plate with nine bullet holes in it (out of 25 rounds fired) and showed by husband, who made me feel like I had just won a sharpshooter award.
I didn’t share that some of the ladies had plates so riddled with bullet holes you could barely tell it was a plate, but I was proud nonetheless - not of my marksmanship abilities, but of just doing it.
At the beginning of the class we went around the room with each of us introducing ourselves, sharing about our experience with firearms, and telling why we were taking this class. Nearly all of the women said they had never shot a handgun before, and for at least three of us this was the first time of ever handling any sort of gun. Most said they wanted to learn just for their own protection.
That is what drives these instructors to teach the class in the first place. Of course they are all sporting and recreational shooters and encouraged us to try that sport as well, but they are also all husbands and fathers and are driven to help women feel safer in their own homes. One of the instructors, Jim Rempe, let his passion show.
“What kind of a country do we live in when it is more acceptable for a woman to be raped and strangled with her own pantihose, than for that woman to shoot the guy in order to protect herself,” said Rempe.
This was the third class taught by these gentlemen, with Randy Jenkins getting it off the ground. Jenkins had received a phone call from his sister, who had never picked up a gun before, telling him that she wanted to learn to shoot. The more he talked to women, the more he became aware of a need and a desire for women to learn to shoot.
All of the instructors stressed throughout the class the number one priority - safety.
The Mid Nebraska Rifle and Pistol Club was founded in Broken Bow, March 18, 1965. There have been several changes of location over the decades, but the club has maintained a shooting range for it's members during it's entire existence.
The focus of the club's shooting events has evolved with the changing interests of the marksmen involved with the organization, but the focus on education and the safe use of firearms by the community has been constant.
The club’s current range location is eight miles southwest of Broken Bow. Facilities include an area for long range rifles, an area for short range rifles and handguns, and several safe shooting areas for special events. Access to the ranges are via paved county roads and good private roads. A portable outhouse is provided for convenience during warmer weather.
“Over the last few years we've hosted bowling pin/steel plate shoots for handguns, Action Pistol matches and 3 gun matches, and Appleseed events,” says Doug Bazyn, president of the gun club.
In the winter the club hosts indoor .22 shoots on Monday evenings from 7-9 p.m. at the Custer County fairgrounds. Anyone is welcome to bring their .22 and ammunition and practice shooting, for a minimal cost of $5.
Membership dues are set at the Annual Meeting in March, and have been $25 per family for the last several years. Memberships are available by contacting the Secretary. Any officer would be happy to answer any questions you may have:
President - Doug Bazyn, 308-870-1312, Vice President - Dave Schmidt, 308-870-2921, Secretary - Jim Rempe, 308-325-5915, Treasurer - Corey Clay, 308-870-2249 or Executive Officer - Larry Larson, 308-870-A707.
Bazyn encourages anyone who enjoys shooting sports to consider joining the club. As for me, I’m already making plans for my next opportunity to shoot.
Ellen Mortenson is the managing editor of the Custer County Chief newspaper. This column was published Feb. 28 in the Custer County Chief online. Reprinted with permission.