I spent a day learning techniques to use a handgun to defend myself with Rick Vasquez, a retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms officer and professional firearm instructor at a state-of-the-art outdoor gun range in rural West Virginia.
In recent years, a growing number of women in America, particularly black women, are choosing to arm themselves. But when it comes to defending yourself with a firearm, I learned there’s more to it than just being able to shoot a piece of paper well at close range.
Before joining the ATF, Rick trained security forces to keep diplomats safe and embassies secure with the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. During his time at the ATF, he trained other officers and agents how to shoot and to crack down on illegal weapons-dealing and shady import practices.
Even after 30 years of training people to use guns and informing them of security techniques, working with new shooters sometimes makes him nervous, he tells me. In high-stress situations, mistakes are more prone to happen — diplomatic security forces sometimes discharge their weapons when holstering them. He’s heard of guys shooting themselves in the leg or the foot on occasion, which is why practicing and developing muscle memory is a key component of survival when faced with a life-or-death situation, he explained.
The day started off in the classroom, where two other female students and I practiced loading magazines with dummy rounds and loading them into a Glock nine millimeter pistol.
Choosing the right gun and becoming familiar with it can save your life, he said. That is why “you should always try before you buy.”
Rick recently trained a husband and a wife, and the latter had a brand-new gun. The trouble was, she couldn’t shoot it.
“She couldn’t even pull the trigger,” he said.
After several hours of safety training in the aforementioned classroom and some practice reloading, we went out to the range to shoot targets with images of real-life criminals wanted by the FBI.
Having never used a holster before, I made the mistake of sticking it down my pants, much to everyone’s amusement. After properly securing it on my right hip, outside my jeans, I was then allowed to holster the gun I was practicing with and we went out to the range, where we practiced drawing from our holsters and reloading our guns with live rounds.
We were then put in situations to simulate a dangerous real-life scenario. I put my Glock in a handbag, as instructed, and sat at a table, where I chatted with my fellow classmates.
“There’s an assailant right behind you!” Rick said. “Go!”
I practiced quickly drawing my loaded handgun from the back, quickly crouched behind a trash can, and fired at the target.
As a group, we ran through several other simulations mimicking real-life scenarios. You can watch one in an Instagram post I’ve embedded below.
I know how to handle a variety of firearms — I’ve been target shooting plenty of times — but I didn’t know how to holster a firearm, reload it quickly, or how to shoot at a target while moving. The experience made me realize there’s a lot more to using a gun as an effective tool of self-defense than just being able to shoot it accurately. One must also be adept at handing it quickly in case of an emergency, which takes a lot of practice. I will definitely get more tactical training with handguns in the future, as I’ve learned that I’m not prepared for a zombie apocalypse.