I’ve run into quite a few people who like the idea of guns. They like the concept of self-protection or hunting. But when it comes to actually shooting, they’re scared to shoot.
There are two ways to approach someone is who scared to shoot. You can point and laugh and say seriously? What is there to be afraid of?
(Which is clearly a super effective tactic.)
The second—and much better approach—is to pinpoint the cause of the fear and figure out a way to work through it. Because the point we’re aiming for is to want to shoot, right?
Intimidation and fear stem from many things. If you’re interested in guns but find yourself scared to shoot (or know someone who is) it may be caused by one of these reasons.
Noise…and the anticipation of it
Guns are loud. Noise is one of the most common reasons I’m given when someone explains they’d love to get into guns, but they are scared to shoot.
In fact, the issue is not only that guns are loud, it’s the anticipation of the gun being loud. A sudden, loud noise generally bothers most people—a loud noise that you know is coming can sometimes be worse. Issues with noise/anticipation can be rooted in many things from noise sensitivity to PTSD.
How to fix it:
Scared to shoot? Start your gun experience with something quieter like a BB gun or air rifle to get used to the idea of guns and become well versed in the rules of firearms safety.
Ear protection for shooting is a must—and not only when someone is new to shooting. You don’t ever stop using ear protection. Invest in a decent pair of earmuffs. Some people even wear earplugs and earmuffs for extra protection.
Go to the range at an off-time. You won’t have to deal with as much noise when there aren’t a ton of people shooting all together. Better yet, find a piece of private property to use where it will be just you and the person teaching you to shoot.
Scared to shoot: fear of the unknown
I spent a few years as a rifle/pistol instructor in youth shooting sports, and I will never forget one of my first students.
It was her first time on the shooting line, and the struggle was real. You could see it on her face and you could tell it in her posture—oh, how she wanted to shoot.
But oh how hesitant she was to pull that trigger.
When she finally shot—and it took quite a bit of encouragement from her instructor—a look of absolute relief washed over her. She exhaled and laughed and said, “that was totally different than I thought it would be!”
Another student of mine had experience with guns but not the particular gun we were shooting. The appearance of the gun gave her the impression it would be much louder and have more recoil than it actually did. You could see her surprise (and relief!) when she finally pulled the trigger.
Fear of the unknown when it comes to firearms is real, even with adults. If the only exposure you’ve had to guns is what Hollywood has shown you, then you’ve got some fallacies to work through. We don’t know what we don’t know. Likewise, we know what we know until someone shows us differently—which sometimes requires heading to a range with a really patient mentor.
How to fix it:
A person who is scared to shoot is sometimes helped by seeing someone else shoot first. As in, they want to know how the gun works, watch the recoil, hear how loud it’s going to be. They want to see it in someone else’s hands before they put it in their own.
Take your time on the line. Don’t rush. 9 times out of 10 when a new shooter finally gets that first shot off, they will be hooked. But they’ve got to get to the point they can make that first shot. Be patient.
Are you intimidated by the power a gun has?
Make no mistake, guns are powerful. And it’s important that people understand this.
We want kids to understand the power of a gun, but we don’t want to overwhelm them with fear. It’s a tricky line to walk, and can be more of a challenge with some kids than others.
Sometimes adults do kids a disservice by telling them how big and powerful and scary guns are. Don’t get me wrong, guns should absolutely be respected, but sometimes adults can go overboard—especially if they don’t have the best relationship with or understanding of guns themselves, as can sometimes be the case in anti-gun families.
The problem is when someone in this situation grows up and are essentially new to guns, they have an overwhelming fear stuck in the back of their mind that can make it tough to become completely comfortable with learning to shoot.
How to fix it:
Study the rules of firearms safety forwards and backwards. Become familiar with how a gun works. Knowledge is power—cue Schoolhouse Rock music— and the more you understand something, the less intimidating it seems.
Hear this: you control the gun, the gun doesn’t control you. A gun is a mechanical device. It’s a piece of equipment. It does what you tell it to do.
Negative experience in the past with guns
In talking with new shooters, I’ve heard this situation mentioned a few times: Crazy Uncle So-and-So or Jerkface Boyfriend hands a gun that is way too big to a completely inexperienced shooter and then eggs them on until they shoot. And while some people remember this “fondly” as their first foray into the world of shooting, it leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many others.
Whatever your story, the past is a powerful thing—let’s ensure it doesn’t affect your future as a potential firearms enthusiast.
How to fix it:
If you’re scared to shoot, surround yourself with and spend more time around responsible shooters. This will hopefully inspire more time on the shooting line for you.
Are you afraid of failure?
“I’ll do it wrong. I’ll miss, and everyone will laugh.”
Oh, fellow perfectionist. We must break you of this.
I clearly remember the first time I shot at a clay pigeon. I was about 12 and a bunch of family members were gathered in our backyard for our annual clay pigeon shoot. I was not new to guns. And I knew the theory behind what I was supposed to do with the whole clay pigeon thing.
But oh my word, what if I missed? WHAT. IF. I. MISSED?
Although I now consider myself to be a recovering perfectionist, I’d be lying if I told you this omgwhatifImiss nonsense doesn’t continue to follow me to the range occasionally. But I try to keep things in perspective. It’s one thing to do your best. It’s another thing entirely to be so stressed out about a bullseye that you don’t shoot at all.
Don’t let perfectionism be the reason you’re scared to shoot.
How to fix it:
For perfectionists—especially those with a highly competitive streak—guns are just one more thing they expect themselves to excel at immediately.
Please understand this: no one walks onto the range and shoots a bullseye every time. Some people never shoot a bullseye.
We all start somewhere. We all get better with practice. And we all have off days. And if you’re shooting with someone that consistently bashes you for your efforts, it’s time to share your shooting lane with someone new.
If you’re scared to shoot, it’s time to build confidence!
If you’re scared to shoot, what you need is confidence. So here are some ways to build that!
Find a good mentor/teacher: Someone who is more experienced in firearms than yourself, that you trust and can go to for advice about guns/shooting is worth their weight in gold. Learn all you can from them so you can someday teach it all to someone else.
Classes/groups: Check out organizations like The Well Armed Woman or A Girl and a Gun. Visit your local indoor range or gun club and find out what kinds of classes they have. Trust me, they want nothing more than to get more people shooting. Don’t be intimidated—they are there to help!
Surround yourself with responsible shooters: Get together with other people who want to become more comfortable with guns, and then find real life and online communities of people who are less about the swagger and more about the safety of firearms. My online community Roundtable: Ready Amy Fire Away is a great place to start.
Spend more time learning/training: Whether it’s on the range, on private property, dry fire drills in your home, or watching YouTube videos about technique or safety, there are so many ways that you can continue to increase your knowledge about and experience with guns. Any decent shooter or gun enthusiast knows that you never stop learning—and that everyone starts somewhere.