Right way to learn to shoot


I’m currently a sophomore in high school and, as long as I can remember, I have been taught about firearm safety.

Over the years I have learned to respect the power a gun holds, gun owner responsibility and my Second Amendment right.

Looking forward to college, I was glad to see the recent push for concealed carry on college campuses defeated. I know there is a self-defense issue, but on campus, student maturity is still developing, weapons training and experience are limited and alcohol use is frequent — lousy ingredients for gun safety.

When I was a little girl my dad forbid me to touch toy guns, even squirt guns. He always had the same answer when I asked why I couldn’t play with toy guns: “Melanie, guns are not toys, and you should never pretend to shoot someone.”

When I was 12, he sat me down to discuss firearm safety and later that year he taught me how to fire a .22-caliber rifle.

He was very serious about safety rules: eye and ear protection; always assume a weapon is loaded even if you know it isn’t; never point a weapon at anyone you don’t plan to shoot; always keep the rifle pointed downrange; when the range officer yells, “COLD!” put your weapon down with the breach open and step away until he yells, “HOT!” And so on.

I’m still learning to aim, to take a deep breath and hold it, let it out slow while squeezing the trigger and keeping the gun target line steady on the bullseye for a good shot, still working on tight groups.

Recently my dad finally let me shoot the “Big Boy” gun, his M4 rifle, what TV news calls an assault rifle (AR), though the only thing unusual about it is the pistol grip. He supervised me firing a shot with a bigger kick, the .223-caliber bullet barely larger than the .22 but the powder casing much larger for power.

Now that I’ve shot it, I understand why a petite girl like me should wait till she is older to fire a gun like that. I tried a second shot, then another, and ended up firing a bunch of shots at our target downrange.

Dad showed me how to reload the magazine and do all the safe stuff about where the weapon was pointed, the safety switch and so on, and I was really enjoying competing with myself, trying to make the next shot better.

When we packed up for the drive home I gave the M4 a pat and said to Dad, “This baby is mine now!” He gave me a look that said, “Oh, no, it certainly is not.” And of course he keeps it locked up.

Some say that our M4 is somehow evil and should be banned. There was another man near our range shooting table that day, firing what Dad said was a .308-caliber hunting rifle, with a large-capacity magazine and rounds with twice the power and range as Dad’s M4, but nobody is trying to ban that one. I wonder why?

Does the pistol grip on my Dad’s M4 make it somehow evil? Some TV news comments imply an AR is dangerous because it fires on automatic, but it doesn’t; it can only fire one round at a time just like more powerful .308 and other semi-automatic rifles.

Last November Dad gave me my wish to go deer hunting. He drove me all the way to Hague, Va., to hunt with the man he trusts most to teach me, his friend Bill Neal. Bill was an infantry company commander in the jungles of the Vietnam War, two tours. He knows all about gunfire, both outgoing and incoming, and his safety rules are not negotiable.

I got just one long shot at a deer, at about 100 yards with a shotgun slug, and missed. I didn’t bring home a deer, but I did learn a lot in two mornings of hunting.

I also earned the horrified look from a lady at the McIntosh High softball field when she learned that I know how to shoot a gun and that I enjoyed deer hunting. I wonder what she would do if she had to kill the meat she eats?

I make no apology for learning firearm competence. It means some day if I need to protect my family I will know what to do with a gun, in seconds while it counts.

While some may think badly of me and have a fainting spell at the mere mention of the word “gun,” should they ever need to protect their family, they will not know how to quickly and safely handle a firearm.

I would much rather know how to shoot and never have to, than to be unprepared to protect myself and my family.

I may always be my daddy’s little princess, but even princesses need to know how to defend themselves when their daddy isn’t there to do it.

Gun safety will always be one of the most valuable lessons my father ever taught me, and I hope to marry someone one day who will help teach my children why firearm safety is important.

[Melanie Garlock is 16 and a sophomore at McIntosh High in Peachtree City. Her dad, Terry Garlock, is a Vietnam veteran and occasional columnist for The Citizen.]