It happened to me again—the first time in a while—when I was least expecting it. Last week I walked into the gun shop I’ve been frequenting for at least five years (where I know everyone—or so I thought), to complete a form 4473 paperwork on a handgun I had purchased. But I soon found myself in the Wayback Machine.
As I approached the counter, a 40-something male clerk with whom I had never personally interacted (he was hired in the middle of the 2020 gun-buying frenzy) looked up and asked if he could help me. Yes, I’m here to fill out paperwork for a gun that’s come in, I told him. He looked over my shoulder at my husband, who was standing a few paces behind me, and asked, “Is this for your husband?”
That is when, in my mind, the room morphed into an old western movie set, one where the piano player in the barroom stops playing. It didn’t help to have my husband pivot and dive for cover at the far end of the display cabinet after exclaiming, “No, it’s hers!” while simultaneously throwing his best “Now you’ve done it” glance at the clerk. Fortunately for the clerk and the other nearby customers, my over-age-50 unfiltered response mechanism was not working that day—probably because I was not expecting to have to use it. As for me, I proceeded to experience what I equate to the 5 Stages of Grief (the DABDA model), which, as it turns out, doesn’t always have to apply to a death.
Denial: Did this really just happen? Did I perhaps hear him wrong? Are you talking to ME? I mean, everything I’ve been working for in my career at NRA seemed to evaporate before me. A punch to the gut. Or lower. This initial state of shock lasted for about five seconds before I stared directly at him and very deliberately stated, “It’s for me.” Still—it was all I could do to maintain composure and some righteous dignity in the face of this slight.
Anger: Wait a minute, I thought. You work for two women (a mother and daughter team) in THEIR gun store, and you still went there? Normally I’m greeted with, “Hey, Miss Ann,” when I enter the store, and this guy was just blinded by his own assumptions. Moreover, when he retrieved my purchase—a Springfield EMP4, a gun I finally decided to buy five years after falling in love with it—he made sure to reiterate that it was a “lightweight” 1911 model … and he didn’t even offer to let me handle it as he locked back the slide to show me the gun's serial number. I had a right to be angry!
Bargaining: To me, in this case, the bargaining was to just fill out my papers and walk away. Maybe express gently that it WAS for me, perhaps chalk it up to his inexperience behind the counter (or in the general population), avoid eye contact and ignore the fact that I wasn’t offered the opportunity to handle my purchase. And because I have shot that model of gun many times enough to know that I like it, I didn’t demand this. I just wanted to spend as little time with him as possible. Look, I got through my purchase, he got away with perpetuating his own misguided beliefs. And as our mothers taught us, a silent sustained stare can be far more effective than a verbal sparring match. A bargain of sorts. But I can’t, and I won’t, which leads me to …
Depression: Although I would characterize this feeling more as sadness or disappointment, it stuck with me long after the event. As a longtime NRA employee who has played various roles as women position themselves closer to the head of the table, I saw it all wash away in an instant. Julie Golob, one of the shooting world’s most effective Second Amendment ambassadors, recently posted a video blog in which she said most people tell her that she “doesn’t look like” who she is, which by the way, is a member of Team Smith & Wesson and a world champion shooter. Perhaps there was an assumption based on my appearance (read gender), I considered. Was it my age? Do I really have to start carrying a laminated card that spells out the most recent statistics on who has purchased more guns in America in the past year and a half? But in retrospect I am more disappointed in myself. Since I am known for my somewhat sarcastic nature and am usually never hesitant to use it when appropriate, I just stood there and felt offended instead of addressing the affront with a sharp tongue. I suppose I have tired of having to use that approach.
The bittersweet ending to this is that when I returned to pick up my gun (my state has a waiting period), it was clear this clerk had been schooled by other staff. He immediately referred to me as “Ms. Ann.” While I appreciated the new deference, I also knew that had another store employee not called him out, I might still have been just a woman tagging along with her husband. That perhaps is the most disheartening aspect of it all.
Acceptance: It’s hard to acknowledge these attitudes still persist. But they do. They will. Recognition, however, should NOT equate to acquiescence. Just when you WANT to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, expect and accept that it’s usually an oncoming vehicle. While there obviously is still work to be done, resist the urge to pistol whip the sexist greenhorn and patiently call his attention to his own shortcomings. Never fail to educate, continue to be a good ambassador, and try to have a witty retort at hand to disarm the situation. And stand up, lean in and claim your right to be part of the community.