The Fear of Guns Is No Gift; Here's How to Return It

Fear serves a valuable purpose in our lives, but phobias don't.

by posted on July 18, 2022
river photographed from a bridge catwalk 1,000 feet up
Taking this picture was, white-knuckled hands-down, the hardest thing I've ever done.

Looking down: My forearms corded with iron bands that competed with the freezing steel in my fingers, turning my white-knuckled hands into nerveless manacles chaining me to the bridge catwalk. Eight hundred seventy-six feet below flowed the New River in a jade-green strip I'd have been able to cover with my thumb, had my thumb been under my control. But I couldn't think about my thumb, or anything else beside the blind, mindless, atavistic terror that had paralyzed me halfway across the 3,000-ft. span. Looking down, I gazed into the abyss and the abyss gazed also into me. "Are you OK?" came a quiet voice from right over my shoulder and a million miles away. 

"N-n-n-yess," I lied to the guide through my chattering teeth. It was only about 50 degrees, but my entire body was vibrating. Little spots came and went in my peripheral vision. "M-m-m-my hands are cold." Gently, he offered me his gloves. One by one, I peeled my fingers loose from the railing, each release a step towards fixing this problem. 

Hello, my name is Wendy L. and I am acrophobic. That's why I empathize with women who are afraid of guns, even as I wish they weren't. 

Much has been written about the gift of fear (most notably in Gavin de Becker's seminal work, The Gift of Fear), and it is absolutely true that fear serves a good and valuable service in our lives. That gut instinct that something just isn't right, or that a person might be lying to us, is an ancient and highly effective survival mechanism. The trouble is that, much like an immune system can go awry and start attacking the body it should protect, fear can go awry and turn into an enemy within. When it does that, we call it a phobia. 

The difference between healthy fear and phobias is simple: Phobias are irrational fears that don't track with the true risk level. That day on the bridge I was partaking in Adventures on the Gorge's "Bridge Walk" in West Virginia. If you click that link, you'll get a much better view of what was really happening, which is that I was so securely strapped in that I was probably safer at that moment than I had been waiting in line on the sidewalk. Although it's a fact that a fall from such a height would be fatal, I wasn't going to fall.

It's the same with firearms, which are inanimate objects that cannot do any good or ill by themselves. Being afraid of them isn't "wrong," because feelings really can't be right or wrong (that's why we call them feelings). However, allowing that fear to override your ability to make informed decisions about your self-defense strategy may wind up being wrong for you. What do I mean?

If you're like most Americans, every morning you go outside and take control of a powerful machine. This machine deliberately ignites a potentially dangerous explosive in a controlled reaction that is then used to accelerate its contents, which weigh upwards of a ton, about 100 feet per second. And yet, you probably feel no fear as your car roars to life. You have a healthy respect for it and for the rules of the road, and each day you make a rational and informed decision to drive your car instead of taking the bus, or just staying home. 

If you're making decisions about whether to include guns as part of your self-defense strategy, you owe it to yourself to make those decisions from a rational and informed place. The trouble with phobias is that they're the polar opposite of "rational." So what to do?

First, know that you are not alone. Even a champion shooter like Lena Miculek had emotional challenges with carrying concealed, as she shared in this very personal and frank video

Second, there is something to be said for desensitization. What I was doing on that West Virginia bridge was the last step of a desensitization program I had informally put myself on after I finally got sick and tired of my fear of heights. I started by looking at videos depicting great heights. I got braver and started leaving the curtains open in my hotel rooms ... even when I was above the third floor. Things were getting easier, but I wouldn't be sure I'd beaten the phobia until I took one more shot at it. It's illustrating this article.

If your fear of guns has prevented you from learning about them or considering keeping one for emergencies, I implore you to give it one more shot before you decide. We here at the NRA are ready to help you, and we here at NRA Women are rooting for you.

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