I smash the horn at some slow dimwit in the left lane of Interstate 40. He’s forcing trucks, automobiles and big rigs to pass on the right. My wife practically jumps out of her seat. She takes fright if there is a sudden, loud noise or unexpected movement. Slip up behind her and explode a firecracker or pop a balloon, and she has said she might pee in her pants. (These are the things you learn after you get married.)
The other day, we drove to an indoor shooting range. Her new, hammerless .38 S&W revolver came with a slight spur on the locking bolt pin, which the gunsmith quickly resolved.
Then, with a dozen lanes open, the feather-brained young sales clerk set us right beside men blasting ARs. The shock was withering; my wife immediately fled. We moved to the end lane, but the rifle blast inside this indoor range again caused my wife to flee to the bathroom, where, this time, she apparently wept. She was ready to leave. She just couldn’t handle the shock of those ARs, she said. She reminded me that at a ladies’ shoot at the range last year, she had the same difficulty and quit before the event was over.
I asked the clerk if we could move to a second set of lanes as far as possible from the ARs (I had assumed these other lanes were closed for some reason), and he said, “Sure, man. No problem.”
Another man soon came in to shoot. The pop of his handgun caused my wife to jump at first, but after she stepped into the shooting booth and fired her first five shots, suddenly, all was well.
Realizing how nervous she was, I tried to make the afternoon fun. I laughed at my bad shots and complimented her good shooting. I suggested a movie and dinner out afterward. Indeed, she quickly calmed down and shot very well. Of course, if someone had come in with an AR, she would have walked out pronto. But no one did, and she didn’t. She was a hero.
We all have a startle reflex. It’s innate and inborn, and we share it with other mammals. It happens in less than half a second and results in a chemical release of adrenaline and corticosteroids. Psychologists say the startle reflex is useful because it pushes us into a defensive posture. Look it up online, and Google will take you to the infantile Moro reflex, which dads and moms observe in infants. Keep looking, and you’ll come to hyperekplexia, a rare, hereditary, neurological disorder that may affect children and adults. Individuals with hyperekplexia have an excessive startle reaction to unexpected noise, movement or touch. Reactions include continuous eye blinking and even body spasms. My wife does not have this odd disorder, but her startle reflex is serious.
Her startle reflex made her afraid to shoot (at least inside). Her outdoor qualification for a concealed carry permit was uneventful, but there was no heavy rifle fire. The blast from other handguns was not confined to a relatively small room, and it dissipated into the openness of the range.
“The purpose of the startle reflex is to make us vigilant and, for moments (during enactment of the reflex itself and immediately afterwards), it makes us hyper-vigilant,” writes Frank Wildman, Ph.D., for the Huffington Post.
I thought about renting a .22, but it wasn’t her gun that startled and frightened my wife. It was the ARs in a confined environment.
We solved her fright issue by moving to a quieter range, by ensuring that she wore high-quality ear and eye protection and by me being a calm and patient tutor (qualities I admit I learned late in life). Now I have a good shooting buddy for almost all conditions.