A gun should fit like a bra.
That’s according to Victoria Wojciechowski, owner and instructor for the Women’s Firearm Academy in Kalispell.
Too big or too small and it will never feel comfortable enough to wear, let alone to use, Wojciechowski tells her students.
Before they’re ready to choose a gun, however, they first need to know what they’re holding, how it works and what happens after they pull the trigger.
Wojciechowski, 50, opened her academy in 2012 after going through basic pistol, instructor and personal-protection training in order to help educate others.
Whether her students enter her classroom with confidence or hesitation, she starts by holding out a hammer and asking a question: “Are you afraid of it?”
Each of her students has taken the hammer from her without hesitation every time, she said. The analogy serves to show how harmless a potentially dangerous object becomes with familiarity and understanding.
“The point is, you took this hammer and weren’t afraid of it because you knew what it was and knew what it was used for,” Wojciechowski said. “A gun is just a tool, and so once you’re familiar with it and once you understand that, yes, it can hurt you and yes, it can hurt someone else…you don’t have to be afraid of it.”
Six years and around 500 students have taught Wojciechowski that the reasons behind each person’s desire to learn about self-defense and firearms vary, as do their reactions to the information she teaches.
Most of the women who walk through Wojciechowski’s door, she said, seek the knowledge and tools to defend themselves, whether they’re 50-something and recently widowed or 20-something and out on their own for the first time.
One in three women will encounter sexual violence at some point in their lifetime, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, and Wojciechowski aims to help empower more women to protect themselves.
However, a gun only provides safety when its holder knows how to use it and feels confident in their ability to use it when needed.
“We really talk about the mentality of why are you choosing to learn. What is the purpose that you hope to gain? How do you want to utilize it going forward?” she explained.
She starts her “How to Shoot a Gun 101” students with the basics of gun anatomy, identification and terminology before moving on to more hands-on training.
Lessons at the shooting range introduce them to a variety of firearms, starting with a practice pistol and working up as they become familiar with the differences between each style and caliber.
Once they’ve gotten some target practice under their belts, Wojciechowski illustrates what happens to the person or animal on the receiving end of a bullet.
She often sees the reality of gun ownership take hold in her students during this phase as they analyze the impact a bullet has on a subject by looking at ballistic gels shot with different ammunition.
Then, pulling the trigger goes from a theoretical reaction to a potentially realistic decision, and students witness for themselves the results that decision could have.
“It’s something that if you’re going to carry and you’re going to have that, you need to be prepared not only physically but mentally, too,” Wojciechowski stressed. “If you’re going to chose to bring a gun to a situation, you may be bringing a gun to a fight that wasn’t there, so you have to be already mentally prepared that you don’t draw your gun unless you know that you’re capable of using it.”
Some realize at that point in the class that they are not, and decide not to carry a firearm.
That’s perfectly acceptable, Wojciechowski said, and she can walk them through some of her non-lethal weapons and self-defense course options.
ONCE A professional photographer by trade, Wojciechowski did not gain an interest in guns until she encountered a threat to her own life.
Upon seeking help from police, an officer told her she could get a restraining order.
The man held up the form and let it fall back onto his desk. “But it’s just a piece of paper,” he told her.
His advice, she said, was to get a gun and learn how to use it.
Six months of research, hours at a shooting range and several hundreds of dollars’ worth of gun rentals went into Wojciechowski’s decision of choosing a gun that best fit her and suited her needs.
Despite the level of education she achieved prior to her decision to purchase, however, her first attempt to purchase a firearm introduced her to the challenges of entering a male-dominated industry.
“I really kind of had to struggle through lots of opinion when I was choosing my gun of what would work best for me,” she said.
When she finally settled on a firearm and went to purchase it, the man behind the counter told her the gun she asked for was too big for her and refused to sell it.
Confident in her knowledge and decision, she ordered the gun elsewhere and still carries it today.
“We ladies are built different,” Wojciechowski said. “Our hands are different. We don’t have the upper-body strength that men have. What is the right gun? How do you fit it? How do you find it? And how do you get truth, not opinion?”
Through her firearms classes, Wojciechowski aims to help answer most, if not all of those questions while giving women the education and confidence needed to make decisions that best suit their needs.
“The unknown, I think, is the biggest fear,” she said. “It’s been really neat to help so many women go from fear to empowerment that they can understand that they don’t have to be afraid.”
Though she works primarily with women, Wojciechowski offers a variety of classes, including the basic 101 course, how to choose a gun, concealed carry and non-lethal, some of which have co-ed options.
For more information about the Women’s Firearm Academy, visit https://womensfirearmacademy.com/.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.