An In­side Look at an In­tro­duc­tory Firearms Class for Women

Home Defender - - Home De­fender - By Frances Tirona, Pho­tos by Larry Atil

“It’s not be­cause things are dif­fi­cult that we dare not ven­ture. It’s be­cause we dare not ven­ture that they are dif­fi­cult.” –Seneca

In­ever thought I would agree to give up a chunk of my week­end and take a hand­gun class. It’s just not me. I’d rather do some shop­ping or fin­ish er­rands. Yet, I found my­self on a dreary March day at the range, get­ting my gear to­gether and won­der­ing if I made the right choice. I guess you could say that the im­pe­tus for this de­ci­sion was two-fold.

First, I blame so­cial me­dia. Scrolling through daily posts, I’m alarmed at the sharp in­crease in vi­o­lence on our streets, and ev­ery graphic and vi­cious video I see screams the same thing to me: Do not be a vic­tim.

The sec­ond rea­son was more per­sonal. I have al­ways re­lied on my hus­band for pro­tec­tion. It was nice and easy to be able to rely on the tra­di­tional roles in mar­riage—it meant I didn’t have to take out the trash, kill spi­ders or learn how to shoot. To me, home/fam­ily de­fense was a man’s “thing.” How­ever, as time went on, I re­al­ized that I was just shirk­ing my re­spon­si­bil­ity. I knew I wasn’t with my hus­band 24 hours a day, and that with­out him, the pro­tec­tion of the fam­ily rests on my shoul­ders. It was my duty as well.


It was early Satur­day morn­ing, over­cast and a bit chilly. I was at the Richmond Rod and Gun Club, car­ry­ing my gear through the park­ing lot and look­ing for the sign that said “Gun­ter­est.” My hus­band hap­pily signed me up for the Women’s Ba­sic Hand­gun Class and shortly af­ter, it was sold out. It was the first I had ever at­tended, and I had my reser­va­tions. I was afraid I would be too slow, too in­ept and too un­safe. In my heart, I won­dered whether I was too old to try to learn this stuff. I se­ri­ously con­tem­plated just go­ing home.

I spot­ted the Gun­ter­est and CTT So­lu­tions ban­ner, and my eyes were drawn to some ta­bles cov­ered with


black cloth un­der sev­eral canopies. There were some light re­fresh­ments— wa­ter and juice—and an­other ta­ble held trays with each par­tic­i­pant’s name on it. Strangely, it added some el­e­gance to an other­wise rugged set­ting.

Mia Wood, founder of Gun­ter­est, greeted me with a warm smile and af­ter a short in­tro­duc­tion, told me to place my un­loaded firearm in my “tray.” So far, so good.

I could see that some women came in groups, oth­ers in pairs, and a few, like me, came solo. I eas­ily made friends with the women next to me and was so re­lieved to find that for most of them, this was also their first ven­ture into the un­known world of firearms. I could tell I was not the only one with fears and reser­va­tions, and it was a com­fort­ing thought.

The class started out with Mia in­tro­duc­ing her­self and her rea­sons for found­ing Gun­ter­est. It was all so re­lat­able. She was a for­mer LA County deputy dis­trict at­tor­ney in Comp­ton, Cal­i­for­nia, among other things.

When she de­cided to leave it all be­hind, she turned to her bucket-list of things she wanted to do, and shoot­ing firearms was one of them. She never imag­ined she would en­joy it as much as she did, and she wanted to share her pas­sion.

She then turned and pre­sented our day’s in­struc­tor, Mike Pan­none, who I knew through my hus­band. He was a mem­ber of the U.S. Ma­rine Corps Re­con­nais­sance and later, the U.S. Army Spe­cial Forces and even­tu­ally, Delta. He is also a top com­pet­i­tive shooter and a sought-af­ter in­struc­tor by pri­vate and govern­ment agen­cies—for­eign, as well as do­mes­tic. We were in good hands.

I won­dered why he would take time out of his sched­ule train­ing big bad fight­ers and sea­soned shoot­ers to in­struct housewives, ca­reer women and first-time shoot­ers. When he spoke to the class, he ad­dressed my un­spo­ken query. He believed that women were the fast-grow­ing de­mo­graphic in the shoot­ing world that has, for far too long, been un­ad­dressed,

and even ig­nored. He believed that women usu­ally made bet­ter stu­dents and shoot­ers than men, if only they were given the proper in­struc­tion. He im­me­di­ately put me and the other women at ease. There was no pres­sure. He wanted us to get more com­fort­able with han­dling our firearm and to learn the ba­sics of marks­man­ship.


With in­tro­duc­tions out of the way, Mike be­gan by ex­plain­ing the safety rules clearly and con­cisely. He did not try to “dumb” things down. He was

di­rect and im­pressed upon us the im­por­tance of han­dling the firearm with the re­spect it de­serves.

Next, he gave us a run­down on the ba­sic kinds of firearms and the sim­ple me­chan­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween them. He then pro­ceeded to show us how to dis­as­sem­ble our own firearms and put them back to­gether. As a chal­lenge, he had us ex­change guns and do the same thing. By this time, my trep­i­da­tion had all but melted away, and a feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion took its place. Although I was hor­ri­fied when Mike dis­as­sem­bled four dif­fer­ent firearms on my tray and had me put them back to­gether, I as­ton­ish­ingly did, and some­thing clicked.

With my hus­band be­ing a LEO (law en­force­ment of­fi­cer), I was around firearms all the time, but I was never re­ally com­fort­able with them. It wasn’t fear, nec­es­sar­ily, but more of a feel­ing of in­se­cu­rity as to my abil­ity to han­dle them and use them ef­fec­tively. With this morn­ing’s ex­er­cise, my con­fi­dence soared and I re­al­ized that the firearm was a tool, and just like any other tool, I can learn to be pro­fi­cient in us­ing and ma­nip­u­lat­ing it. I could sense all the other women felt the same.

Be­fore mov­ing on to live fire, Mike taught us the fun­da­men­tals of how to grip the gun, how to aim and find the right sight pic­ture. Us­ing a SIRT (shot in­di­cat­ing re­set­ting trig­ger) pis­tol, he worked with each one of us sep­a­rately and made sure that we all un­der­stood the les­son. Then, it was off to the fir­ing line. Once again, Mike worked with us in­di­vid­u­ally and stood

right by us as we emp­tied a mag­a­zine into a pa­per tar­get.

Lunch fol­lowed, and along with it, a lec­ture on mind­set. I heard that this was a fa­vorite com­po­nent of the class, and I could see why. Mike’s unique per­spec­tive as a mod­ern-day war­rior was thought-pro­vok­ing and was an eye-opener for most of the women present.

Mia also proved to be a won­der­ful re­source as she shared her ex­pe­ri­ences in car­ry­ing her firearm con­cealed and the chal­lenges women face as they take a more ac­tive role in self-de­fense.

The rest of the time was spent per­fect­ing what we learned ear­lier and get­ting more trig­ger time. We prac­ticed marks­man­ship, reload­ing and shot steel. We also got to work on one-handed shoot­ing, strong as well as weak hand. By the end of the class, we were all shoot­ing the steel tar­gets con­sis­tently at 40 yards.


Was it worth giv­ing up my lazy Satur­day? Ab­so­lutely! Mia and Mike achieved their ob­jec­tive even be­fore the day was through. All 14 par­tici- pants had be­come more com­fort­able, more con­fi­dent and more com­pe­tent at han­dling firearms. We were all sat­is­fied with the level of marks­man­ship we had achieved dur­ing a sin­gle day’s train­ing. As for me, lit­tle did I re­al­ize that trudg­ing down the gravel road to the shoot­ing range that fate­ful day in

March was a path to self-dis­cov­ery. It was stag­ger­ing to re­al­ize that I found the whole ex­pe­ri­ence grat­i­fy­ing. It was even more shock­ing to me that by the end of the class I had re­solved to spend more time on the range to per­fect my craft, and I was ea­ger to try and shoot dif­fer­ent firearms.

Need­less to say, I will be the first to sign-up when Gun­ter­est comes back to the Bay Area with the Women’s In­ter­me­di­ate Hand­gun Class. I’m ea­ger to push my­self and to see where this new­found pas­sion will take me. HD


Frances Tirona (above) called Gun­ter­est's Women's Ba­sic Hand­gun Class a “path to self-dis­cov­ery.”

Above: Dur­ing the class, stu­dents prac­ticed marks­man­ship, reload­ing, one-handed shoot­ing, strong as well as weak hand. Be­fore the end of the day, they were shoot­ing steel tar­gets at 40 yards.

Frances Tirona ac­knowl­edged that she is not with her hus­band ev­ery minute of the day, so she re­al­ized that the fam­ily's pro­tec­tion could also rest on her shoul­ders.

In­struc­tor Mike Pan­none—a for­mer mem­ber of theU.S. Ma­rine Corps Re­con­nais­sance, U.S. Army Spe­cial Forces and Delta— pro­vides guid­ance for Frances Tirona.

Be­fore live fire, the stu­dents learned a num­ber of fun­da­men­tals, in­clud­ing how to grip the gun.

LEFT: Stu­dents learned that it's im­por­tant how the gun fits their hand.

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