When I walked into the firearms safety course last weekend, imagine my surprise when I saw that the women in the room outnumbered the men. Like the Aerosmith song says: “Janie’s got a gun” or at least she wants to get one, or else she wouldn’t be in this room. Why were so many women interested in the ability to purchase or own a gun?
On every break we had from learning about the different types of rifles and shotguns, including firstly knowing how to make sure each gun was safe (i.e. unloaded), I started asking the women why they were taking the course. Some women wanted to hunt, some women wanted to target shoot, one needed the certification to apply for a job, and one wanted to be able to inherit her father’s firearms.
In stark contrast to the United States, here in Canada, if you want to buy a gun, you can’t simply walk into Walmart and throw down your credit card. Canada also doesn’t have the perks of opening a savings account that some Michigan banks, among others, offer: “Open a savings account, get a free gun.”
Canadian firearms laws state that you have to take a one and a half day safety course, called the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, pass a practical test and a written test (multiple choice and true false questions), and then mail in some paperwork to obtain your Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) … assuming that you pass the RCMP background check. Only then can you go shopping for your gun. The process takes several months.
Even with your PAL, you can’t buy handguns or automatic weapons, as they fall in the restricted category which requires a special licence. For the restricted licence, you take an additional day and a half course and file more paperwork. Holding a restricted licence allows you to apply for certain jobs where you require a handgun (such as Canadian Customs) and gives you the right to purchase or inherit restricted weapons for use on a range for target shooting.
Out of the 25 people in my firearms safety class, three women were there as part one toward obtaining their restricted licence. The other 13 women were interested in rifles and shotguns, for hunting, target shooting or collecting.
Other than shooting a shotgun (among others) at The Gun Store in Las Vegas, I had never laid eyes or hands on the weapons we needed to know how to prove safe, load, and unload with ammunition for our practical test. It was a bit daunting staring at the table with the five types of firearms: bolt action, lever action, break or hinge action, pump or slide action, and semi-automatic.
Luckily, our instructors were none other than Reg and Jane Perry, of Perry’s Gun Shop, and I can’t imagine a better couple to learn from. Their respect and love of firearms was awe-inspiring.
Before I knew it, I was cracking open the hinge action shotgun, feeling like a cowgirl on the frontier and then sliding the bolt action back and over like a soldier on the front line of an old war. Then my hand slid gracefully up and back on the pump-action gun, my ears revelling to the tell-tale, click-click noise that loaded a bullet into the chamber. Then I found myself loading the lever action firearm and unloading it, watching the ammunition eject with every forceful movement of the lever. The semi-automatic was also satisfying to load as I smacked the magazine into place.
Now the fear I had in working with the guns was being replaced by curiosity and respect, it was exciting to learn a new skill safely. I sat transfixed listening to tales of how people had destroyed their firearms by not following simple safety procedures, seeing examples of barrels bulged out or blown open.
I “sweat bullets” when it was time for the testing, but luckily my written answers were “on target,” and my skills were “bang on” for the practical (yes, puns intended).
I left the course with very positive feelings, not only for the skills and information that I’d acquired, but for the knowledge that women of all ages were getting out and pursuing their interests, shattering traditional gender stereotypes, and having a “blast” while doing so.