Jennifer asked and lots of people are answering, so I figured I'd toss in my little story.
I remember, as a child, not being allowed guns. The boys in the neighborhood had these neat guns that actually went bang, and I was insanely jealous...but terrified. Y'see, my parents always appeared to be incredibly anti-gun. They didn't like me having squirt guns, cap guns were a no-no, and BB guns? Yeah, they didn't exist in my little world. Heck, even snap-caps were absolutely verboten. At the time, I though it was because my parents never wanted me to have any fun EVER because they were the MEANEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.*
This got long, so hit the jump for the rest!
I lived in this world of NO GUNS GUNS ARE BAD GUNS WILL HURT YOU for my entire childhood. At one point I honestly believed a gun would hurt me if I so much as looked at it funny. My elementary school best friend's dad was a hunter, and he had a glass-front long gun case in the basement. I remember looking at them shyly out of the corner of my eye...not really comprehending what I was seeing, not knowing what, exactly, one could do with them. All I knew is they were OFF LIMITS, and they stayed that way. I never even went inside an imaginary 6 foot barrier around the cabinet.
Still, I was somewhat intrigued. I didn't do any research into firearms, but my curiosity stayed in the back of my mind, a little nugget sitting there 'till it was ready...'till I was ready.
After high school, I dated a gentleman who lived in a more rural, western part of the state. He was the youngest male in a family of hunters and proud former military, and talked about it occasionally with me. He and I eventually decided I should learn how to shoot. It's funny how easy I could agree to something without really thinking about it...
Anyway, about a week after that conversation he took me to a local gun range. I couldn't tell you the name of it, now, but I remember it was open and airy - it was an outdoor facility with both pistol and rifle areas, and the range safety officers were all "good ol' boys" in their late 60s. They all chuckled at my boyfriend for bringing me along. My fear must have been palpable, because I was TERRIFIED. I'd never handled a firearm before, so I assumed everything was going to hurt me. He gave me glasses and foam plugs (which were itchy, and I hated them, and could we please go now?), plopped me down at the bench, and showed me how to use his .22 single-shot rifle. He told me to wait until the line was clear, keep my hands off it when a cease fire was called, keep the muzzle pointed at the target, and told me which target to use. I listened carefully and followed his instructions to the letter, including literally dropping the rifle on the bench when the RSO called the cease fire.
I. WAS. HOOKED. I had a ball...I think I went through 200 rounds before he told me we were done for the day. I wanted to shoot more, but that's approximately all he'd brought with him. I was disappointed, but said I wanted to come back. He agreed on a return visit once funds allowed for it.
A couple of months later, he took me back out. This time he had some sort of old rifle to shoot in the next lane. I didn't have a clue what it was at the time. All I knew is it made a MASSIVE boom when he shot it. Once he figured I was alright handling the .22, he put me behind this huge, heavy hunk of lead and wood, and said pull the trigger. I wasn't afraid - after all, I'd done fine with the .22 - so I handled it like I thought I knew what I was doing. He didn't prepare me for the recoil, and didn't show me how to seat it properly - I think this was one of those "put the newbie behind the big gun and giggle" situations I hate hearing about.
When he told me to pull the trigger I dropped the rifle and fell off the bench. Literally. On my ass, on the ground, wincing in the pain that radiated simultaneously through my posterior and my shoulder. HOLY CRAP that sucker hurt! I had to know more about it...I couldn't believe someone actually MADE a rifle that could DO that and make that much noise at the same time.
Turns out that rifle was a K98 Mauser (which his grandfather had brought back from The War), and at the time I weighed 105 lbs soaking wet. Fortunately for HIM, he didn't laugh at me like others at the range...I think I'd have beat him to a pulp if he'd laughed at me.
We went back to that range maybe 3 more times before he and I broke up. Each time he put me behind the .22 so I wouldn't hurt myself. I became proficient with it, and was sad I'd no longer go to the range after we broke up.
Fast forward to summer a few years later. A male friend and I met for an afternoon lunch "date" after his cousin's birthday and decided to hit the range down the street. Per my friend, they had pistols for rent in almost every caliber one could imagine. I'd never shot pistols before, but was eager to do so. I'd heard about this pistol everyone seemed to like (Beretta 92FS), and hoped they had it in the case.
This range was...different. Darker. More strict about rules and such. They did end up having the Beretta in the case, and one of the gentlemen behind the case offered to show me a few things before he let me go back and shoot it. He emphasised safety and proper handling, showed me the various features of the Beretta, and attempted to steer me towards something smaller - I have small hands and he was concerned I'd have difficulty shooting it.
My friend insisted we'd shoot the 92, so we trundled back to the range (with our eyes and ears firmly in place). He loaded it for me, reminded me where the safety was, and stepped back...and I froze. I was in a state of near-panic. This range wasn't like the other one! It was loud and scary and HOT HOT HOT inside and I didn't like it. I put the gun down, stepped back, and made my friend shoot the first two magazines while I watched. It didn't seem that hard, so after the second mag, I agreed to shoot it. I got through maybe 2 magazines before I was done. My wrist couldn't handle it. I was happy to leave, and didn't return there for a few years.
After Chris and I started dating, I suggested hitting the range. By this point I'd been bitten by the bug pretty badly, and wanted more time at the range. We went, I rented the Beretta again, and I had a slightly less miserable time due to Mr. Handsomeface showing me better grip, better aiming, etc. He also realized I was having some difficulty handling the big gun, and suggested I shoot something smaller. We looked at the case and he spotted a Kahr .380 (or was it a Bersa? Chris will have to chime in as I can't remember which I shot). I fell in love with the little thing, and went back to the range a by myself few more times to shoot it. I moved into my own place and decided I needed a gun for self defence, and started researching. At the time, the Bersa was cheaper than the Kahr, so I hit the local gun shop. I went through the normal Maryland procedure - watch a boring video, fill out all the paperwork, plunk down a deposit, and wait 7-10 days) - then brought home my brand new shiny special Firestorm .380. I squirrelled it away from prying eyes in case my parents stopped by, as I didn't want them knowing I owned a pistol. I truly didn't have a clue how they'd react, and since I'd only been out of their house for a couple of years, their opinions weighed heavily on my life choices. I wanted this choice to be mine, and mine alone.
The little .380 remained my only firearm until after I moved in with Chris. He eventually bought me a .22 rifle, and I further expanded my collection to include a Mauser of my very own (after years and years of wanting one to prove to myself that yes, I CAN handle this big bad rifle). The collection continued from there, and I don't quite know if I'll ever be finished with wanting firearms. The list of wants is huge, the list of must-haves is just a little smaller, and the list of will-haves is only a little smaller than that. We've taken the hunter safety course and a concealed permit course, and we're seriously considering IDPA either later this year or next year. I plan on going to an Appleseed event, and this year we venture into the world of hunting. My parents have chilled out on their anti-gun stance now that they understand I'm careful and educated in gun handling, shooting, and ownership. I've even brought my cousin into the "fold" and he now owns a shotgun for home defense and is shopping for a pistol.
*I have learned otherwise. Conversations with my parents in recent months have not only been positive, but reassuring as to their opinions of firearms. They merely wanted to keep me as safe as possible back then, and while I disagree with their methods, I understand their reasons.