Guns are not something I grew up around, nor something I’ve had good experiences with.

Years ago, I was in Seattle at a mall when there was an active shooter. I could hear the shots, which at first, I thought was a sign crashing down. Within seconds I knew it wasn’t and I ran to the back storage room of the store I was in. The one thing I did know was not to run out into the open area where the gunshots were coming from. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

Even earlier than that, I was in California at a Wendy’s. All around me people started running and jumping over bushes, which I thought was odd, but then again it was Los Angeles. Then I saw a man holding a gun to the head of another man. I was there with a friend having lunch, his back was to the gunman. I could tell the gunman had a beef specifically with the man he had the gun pointed at. By then I was worried that if we ran like everyone else did, that we would draw his attention. So, we continued with our lunch as if nothing odd was happening. Eventually the man with the gun left without shooting anyone.

Needless to say, guns scare me. These two experiences contributed to my strong unease around crowds of people. I’m always looking for the exit and making sure I know how to get out of wherever I am. Even at the kid’s school events, I like to sit near the door.

This is why I wanted to learn more about guns and even shoot one, which I’ve never done. Stock & Barrel Gun Club is in Chanhassen in an unassuming building on Highway 5. It’s not at all what I expected. For some reason I didn’t expect it to be as nice and inviting as it was. My partner, Tony, joined me and even he was impressed. Non-members can rent guns and use the range, but they also have different membership levels with varying perks.

I met up with the Mike Reilly, the executive general manager. Reilly has a fascinating background in cage fighting and other similar sports. He is also a really funny guy, which added to the experience and put me more at ease. He went over the focus of the gun club, which is safety, education and training. Truly, I was taken aback with how much care is put into safety at this place. They definitely go above and beyond.

We went through a safety briefing, including the basics of checking to make sure the 9mm gun we would be using was unloaded. By the time we got through the safety briefing I was much more at ease with being near a gun, let alone touching one.

We learned that Stock & Barrel offered group and one-on-one lessons, not to mention a variety of seminars on everything from how to deal with an active shooter situation to a workshop for women filled with empowering safety training. From the novice to the pro, they have something for everyone.

We headed out onto the gun range with Reilly, who ran us through a few drills. The most impactful one for me was when Reilly painted a scenario where Tony was about to be attacked by a crazed, ax-waving lunatic. My job was to shoot him as if Tony’s life depended on it. He wanted me to shoot aggressively.

Reilly sent the target down the range then started rushing it toward me, telling me to hold. I wasn’t to fire until he said so. The adrenaline rush was crazy. That target came at me fast, Reilly yelled “Shoot, shoot!” Normally it’s not in my nature to be violent or aggressive. I think that is common with women. We are raised to be ladies.

I really put myself in the mindset that this was a real scenario. When Reilly yelled shoot, I fired that gun over and over until it was empty of bullets. The target reached the barrel of my gun, by then it had a good 4-inch hole in it. I was shaking from the adrenaline.

To be honest, I didn’t think I had it in me to be that aggressive, but I obviously do. It was oddly empowering. Somehow learning about, handling and shooting a gun myself made me feel less afraid of being in another shooting. After the mall shooting, it was hard for me to go to places like Home Depot or Costco, where it felt like I was trapped in a box with a ton of people.

Guns are something I have a respect for, but after my experience I’m less afraid of them. It’s the people who use guns in a harmful way that I need to watch out for, which is why I want to take the class for women at Stock & Barrel. They don’t just teach self defense, they educate you on what to look for in terms of behavior.

You can learn more about Natalie Webster and her adventures in the Lake Minnetonka area at WebsterEffect.com.

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