by Claire Wolfe
"When I was a child I was afraid of sewing machines."
A polite titter ran through the room as the ladies of the Hardyville Literary and Social Betterment Society heard the close-cropped ex-Marine admit his fear.
"Really, my mother owned a dressmaking shop, and I was sure the sewing machines would just start up and sew right through my finger."
More laughter from these veterans of many domestic victories.
"So," said the firearms expert, "How many of you are afraid a gun might just 'go off' and shoot someone?"
The women glanced around at each other, getting the connection: The equipment you know is always less formidable than the equipment you fear.
They were listening to Michael Harries, who had come to Hardyville at my invitation. I first met Michael when he sent me a 22-page commentary on one of my books. The commentary can be summed up in a single sentence: "You are the most brilliant, witty, sparkling writer who ever lived, but you don't know beans about firearms."
No comment on the former claim, but compared with Michael, indeed I don't know beans about firearms. Compared with Michael, most people don't know beans about firearms. In the '70s, he conducted "Seminars on Survival," with the likes of Mel Tappan, the late, great guru of survival weaponry. For 12 years, he was an instructor at Jeff Cooper's API/Gunsite. And he is the inventor of the Harries Flashlight Technique, widely used for defensive nighttime pistol shooting.
After many months, I was able to drag Michael to Hardyville, where I finagled the ladies of the club into having him as a guest speaker and into spending a day at the range with him afterward. While some of the women are ranch wives, quite accustomed to firearms, others are retirees from the City or young, inexperienced house-moms. One of our members, Dora, even came to this middle-of-nowhere berg, believe it or not, straight out of Yale.
She, of course, was convinced that firearms were the invention of the Devil. Or she would have been, had she believed in devils.
"A sewing machine can't kill you," she sniffed.
"Sure it can if somebody throws it at your head," Michael countered. "But think of it this way. A gun can kill you. But a gun can also preserve you. Try saving someone's life with a sewing machine. Do you have a husband? Children?"
Nods all around.
"So you have people in the world who love you and care for you. Now what would happen if you allowed yourself to be overwhelmed and killed, when you had a chance to protect yourself? You are hurting these people who'd be distraught if you weren't there anymore.
"And what about your children? What if some 225-pound guy came crashing into your house and got between you and your children?"
A high-pitched voice from the back of the room piped in indignation, "I'd blow the SOB away!" It was tiny Janelle, who'd just had her first baby. She looked as if the notion of someone hurting her baby had hit her for the first time -- and that it would never hit her unawares again.
Not that we've got rapists and muggers roaming the streets (all two of them) of Hardyville. But you never know. Wasn't that long ago a serial killer dumped his "trash" in a ditch in a nearby town. And not much before that that a kid on amphetamines did in his family, a ways down the road. It happens. Anywhere. Even in Hardyville, we have drunks who can get out of control and pretty darned mean, sometimes to their own family members.
"But why not use karate or pepper spray?" Dora continued to object.
"Did you know that 40 percent of a typical man's body weight is skeletal muscle?" Michael asked. "And that with a woman it's more like 23? Think about what that says for strength, even if you're the same size as a guy attacking you. Now think about the probability that he's a lot bigger than you. Do you really want to let this character get close without having a lethal weapon to stop him?"
"That's why they call them 'equalizers,'" another woman said. "They give us a chance against the big guys. Wouldn't you want to have a gun if, say, O.J. Simpson, came at you?"
After a while, all the ladies decided they were game to handle guns, even if a few weren't thrilled about the idea. Some had brought their own or their husband's. Some had brought extras to share. And Michael had a few, too.
First, we examined the weapons to make sure they were unloaded. Then Michael made us memorize Jeff Cooper's four rules of safety: 1. All guns are always loaded. 2. Never point the muzzle at anything you're not willing to see a hole in. 3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. And 4. Always be sure of your target and where your rounds are going.
Then Michael showed us how to dry fire the weapons. That means to snap the weapon without ammunition, getting used to holding the gun and practicing various ways (there are several, though most trainers don't say so) to pull the trigger.
We'll have to draw a curtain over this part of the lesson, because Michael teaches trigger control by giving his students a personalized mantra. If you recite it secretly to yourself, he says, your target-shooting partners won't know why you're whupping them. Can't tell you that secret.
He also says there are just two essentials of good shooting: sight alignment (meaning how you line up the barrel of the gun) and trigger control.
That was on a Wednesday. We all went home with instructions to practice sight picture and trigger control, beginners and experienced shooters alike. The following Saturday we assembled at the Hardyville Rifle and Liars Club. After driving a wandering cow out of the barb-wired range, we proceeded to set up a row of person-shaped targets and don safety glasses, ear plugs and billed caps.
Though the range had berms and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and more yards, Michael put us right in front of our "bad guys," just a few steps away.
"But anybody can hit a target this close," someone objected. "Why don't we step back, where it's more of a challenge?"
"Because you're learning self-defense shooting," Michael replied. "Think of the distances in real life. A creep who's across the street, even if he's mooning you, is only offending your sensibilities. Somebody who's five or ten feet away can be on you in a second."
Michael started us out in the position called "target ready" or "search ready" -- holding our guns in both hands, pointed downward at about a 45-degree angle. (None of this Hollywoody pointing-at-the-sky business which, in real life, is a good way to accidentally shoot the guy in the upstairs apartment.)
On command, we raised our weapons, sighted and pulled triggers.
Hey, I've been shooting a few years, and didn't really think I'd learn much that was new. But right away I realized the truth of something Michael had told us. If you don/t practice regularly, your muscles get lazy. Then, when the recoil of the shot hits you, it's hard coming back to readiness. If you do practice, your muscles develop the habit of coming right back very quickly -- even if you've been practicing by dry-firing, where you don't get any recoil.
That means you're positioned for a second well-aimed shot -- which you may need, and which you should always practice in defensive shooting. It's called a controlled pair.
We'd all been practicing. The women who'd never live-fired a gun until now looked around in wonderment after the first round of shots. "Hey, it's not as bad as I thought. I can do this!" said the expression on Janelle's face and a few of the others'.
"Comon," said Dora. "What are we waiting for? Let's do it again."
Dora did better than anybody else that day. It was her Ivy League competitive instincts. Never mind if guns were the tools of the Devil. She was going to be the best, even if it was the Devil's own game. Pretty soon, it wasn't the Devil's tool anymore, but Dora's. And no way was it going to "start up and sew" through her fingers, not as long as she was in control of the situation.
We shot about 100 rounds of ammo apiece, practiced a variety of defensive techniques and plugged a lot of holes in theoretical bad guys. But the main thing the new shooters did was build up a ton of confidence. For some, especially the very young and older club ladies, there was a note of discovery: "Whaddaya know, guys aren't the only ones who can use tools, after all."
"Well, I think I want to buy a gun now," little Janelle offered as we took our final break of the day. "Um ... my husband said if I wanted to, the best gun for a woman was a .25 caliber."
Michael snorted, "Buy a Charter Arms Bulldog -- five-shot .44 revolver."
"A .44? But ... ! I mean, I couldn't. ..."
"Let me put it this way. Just because you're a diminutive female, that doesn't mean you have to shoot this little .25 whose round won't even go through the leather jacket of the 225-pound monster who's coming through your front door. Right? You're not going through one of those things they have at Disneyland that says you have to be 'this tall' before you can go on the serious rides. Use the tool that'll do the job. Think about what you've done here today. You can handle it."
Janelle looked dubious for a moment. Then a broad grin began to spread across her face. "Wait'll I tell my husband. ..."
We sat a few minutes in the cool fall sunshine before getting back to work. As we idled, Dora, who was fingering an old business card Michael had in his gun case, read, "'Special courses for women.' Is that what this is? So, Mr. Harries, when do we get to learn the real stuff, the stuff you teach the men?"
"Oh, you are learning it," Michael grinned. "I just put that on there because so many women start out thinking they can't learn what the men learn about guns."
We are now, not quite officially, the Hardyville Literary, Social Betterment and Fierce Females with Firearms Society. We still have more to learn, but as Dora says, "Any thug who thinks we can't improve society by learning to shoot is invited to take the issue up with me, personally."
Michael Harries can be reached, for training and consultations, at: 3017 Reid Avenue, Culver City, California 90232, (310) 202-9020. He's not on e-mail yet, but promises that he soon will be.