There are plenty of people my lovely wife Cassandra rants against — some of whom don’t even live in our house. But the ones who get it worst are gun owners. Having grown up in a rural, gun-loving town, she finds the preppers and vigilantes to be self-heroizing macho bullies who, now that I type this sentence, I am worried she’s secretly attracted to.
Still, it was surprising that the week Donald Trump won the election, an event you probably know about because he is still talking about it, Cassandra said she was thinking about getting a gun. She wanted to protect herself from the people who had guns to protect themselves from people who wanted to take their guns, such as her. She is preparing for a civil war that deconstructionist philosophers dream of.
Turns out lots of women feel this way. Several of Cassandra’s liberal friends have been talking about going to a gun range. Last February former National Guard member Marchelle Tigner started a gun course for women near Atlanta; since then she’s been asked to teach more than 700 women in 11 other cities. Tigner suggested that I make the shooting experience as soothing as possible for Cassandra, spending a lot of time talking first. “Some men get so excited about shooting that the patience goes out the window,” she explained, “because they’re so excited about the bang.” I wasn’t at all sure we were still talking about guns.
Cassandra asked me to take her to a shooting range for her birthday this year, so I called my friend Chris Cognac, who co-founded the international Coffee with a Cop program, for suggestions. Instead, Cognac invited us to the range at his station.
Cassandra put on a pair of sensible ankle booties and shiny black tights and banded her hair into a ponytail because there are no female-shooter role models outside of action movies. We arrived at the shockingly nice Hawthorne police station, not far from our house in Los Angeles, where Cognac and another officer took us downstairs to their huge shooting range. I asked if they were going to do a background check on us, but Cognac said it was unnecessary because he knew me. This seemed weird since he didn’t know Cassandra, and they were giving a gun — in the middle of a police station — to a woman who wanted to learn to shoot because she opposed the current government. Meanwhile, I had to present a passport and driver’s license, get fingerprinted and be interviewed just to be able to leave my shoes on at airport security.
Cassandra couldn’t believe how many shells were on the floor of the range and found the Beretta 92FS way bigger than the gun of her dreams. “I pictured a small handgun — a pink one I could put in my purse,” she said. After a few rounds, the officers offered her a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. The kickback freaked her out, and the officers got closer, giving firm instructions to point at the target and “take your finger off the trigger” after firing, during which she was yelling, “Jesus!” and “Whoa!”
“I was worried,” Cognac told me. “I just hoped that she didn’t drop it. That’s why we only gave her three bullets.” She put the gun down and went to shake out her arms, which were shaking on their own. “I thought I’d get a rush of adrenaline and it would be fun,” she said. “But it was very scary. It overrode everything else.” She shot one slug out of the Mossberg and turned down the fully automatic Colt AR-15.
The officers were happy to see that we realized that marksmanship is so hard, even an expert can’t shoot a gun out of someone’s hand. I was happy to learn that if Cassandra somehow did get a gun, she could probably never hit me.
On the drive home, Cassandra said she’d like to go to a shooting range again, this time with a female instructor and using only a handgun. When I asked if she was still considering keeping a gun in the house, which I am firmly against, she said, “I don’t want you to say in the story whether or not I have a gun in the house.” Then, a second later, she added, “Maybe I do have a gun in the house, and I’m hiding it from you.” And then: “I have a gun in the house, Joel. I’m telling you right now, I have a gun in the house.”
I am not sure I can survive this presidency. Literally.
This appears in the September 04, 2017 issue of TIME.