Tania Weber recounted those words to me recently at an IDPA shooting competition when I asked what got her into competitive shooting. A petite and intense 36-year-old mother of two, she had joined the competition to help hone her gun-handling skills and to get in some practice with one of her handguns.
Tania wasn’t always interested in guns, and told me her early view was that “guns kill people,” and she wanted nothing to do with them. Her view eventually changed, and my heart just ached as she told me the story of how she came to be standing on that gun range that afternoon.
Tania was sexually assaulted at age 18, a horrifying experience for her that is never far from her thoughts, even 18 years later. She told me of being held at gunpoint, pinned down, a sock stuffed into her mouth, and of the terror she felt before the assault was broken up and the attacker fled.
She said that wasn’t the turning point for her, that she didn’t consider getting a gun at that point.
She skips ahead in her story to another incident that was a wake-up call for her, a scary Halloween night when she was home alone handing out candy to trick-or-treaters. She opened the door to one group – three young men, masked, but not carrying any bags for candy – and she knew trouble was on her doorstep. Thinking quickly, she called out, “Honey come look at these masks” as though someone else was home. That gave the young men just enough pause that she was able to muscle the door shut and lock it.
We pause the conversation for a few minutes to rejoin the shooting squad to tape up targets, then resume amid the sound of gunshots as the next shooter moves through the course of fire.
Married a few years later to an ex-Army man who kept all kinds of guns, she still had no interest. But when they decided to open a property management business that would have her showing properties to strangers at all times of the day and night, her attitude changed. The risks were just too great to not have some type of protection with her.
She approached her husband and told him, “Show me how these stupid guns work.” He gave her a brief overview, then sent her to a local shooting range for some private instruction. It proved more difficult than she expected, and she had to really push herself. In her first lesson, she felt intimidated by the instructor, a burly man with a hardened demeanor that just put her off.
After her first shots, she put down the pistol and had to stop. I asked what made her stop at that moment? One issue was the instructor, who made her nervous. Another issue, she said, was “The power – knowing I could kill someone.” The gravity and responsibility of owning a gun was suddenly very real for her, and it took a few minutes for her to overcome the emotion and get back on the firing line. “I’m not a quitter,” she said, and she carried on. Soon she had her concealed carry license.
After she had children, she suffered several additional personal safety incidents; one when two men followed her home from Hobby Lobby and blocked her in the driveway at her mother’s home (she had a gun in her purse and pointed it in their direction, and they moved on), and a second when she came home and realized a burglar was in the house. She was 8 months pregnant with a toddler in tow, but had a gun on her hip. She told me she wanted to take action, but she just froze – she couldn’t draw her gun. Fortunately, the burglar fled, but the incident made her realize she needed to learn how to use the gun – that just carrying it wasn’t enough.
In 2012, she joined an all-women shooting group, A Girl and a Gun, (http://www.agirlandagun.org/), where she learned about maintaining situational awareness, about gun handling basics, and then competitive shooting. Her experience there was a far cry from that first shooting instructor who had so intimated her. “This is all women, and I just love that,” she said. That day I shot with her at the range, she had come with four other women from A Girl and a Gun to put in some practice time. She shot her first IDPA state competition in June, and is participating in her first nationals match this month.
Tania still wrestles with the demons of that sexual assault. She told me she recently met with a therapist who is helping her understand and address the deeper emotional trauma that still lingers. And she apologized for getting in to so much detail about these incidents, even though I had asked. Telling her story helps her to let go of the trauma and takes the power away from her attackers, she said.
Today, Tania owns a variety of handguns, and like all who carry concealed, she wrestles with how best to carry a gun in her day to day life. She wears dresses most days, and that presents a challenge for carrying a gun. But she manages it. And with young children in the house – ages 2 and 4 – she is vigilant about handling and storing a gun. “It’s either on my hip or in the safe,” she says.
And she moves on with life – raising a family, spending time with friends – and maintaining situational awareness and the skills she will need should those with ill intent darken her doorstep again. It’s a day we none want to face, but Tania, better than most, understands the threat and the need to prepare.