In this August 2021 photo, Mark Darrigo of Hermon, a member of the Trident Armory Shooting Team, competes at the recent Standby to Fly Benefit Match held at the Hampden Rifle and Pistol Club. Credit: Courtesy of Melanie Darrigo Photography

Ryan Donahue is the director of Brand Management at American Outdoor Brands, where he pursues his passion for anything firearms-related. The former director of production in motion pictures oversees accessories for many brands including Caldwell, Frankford Arsenal and Smith & Wesson. Ryan holds several patents for digital movie technology.

As more and more states ease gun regulations, the number of first-time gun owners is growing. There are more guns in the U.S. now than ever, with about 36 percent of citizens owning a firearm. That includes more than 46 percent of Mainers.

Aside from the need for protection and defending the second amendment, why do more Americans own guns, or are they more likely to do so?

The surge is mainly driven by the  uncertainty left behind by the pandemic over the last few years. However, the mental and physical benefits of shooting sports are often overlooked, especially with the misconception of concealed carry linked to an increase in criminality. Gun owners don’t just flaunt their guns. Instead, they use them to release stress at the range and reap the greater benefits of shooting.  

Let’s take a look at how shooting sports can have a therapeutic effect and boost mental, physical and social well-being.

Shooting can serve as therapy. With the current world events, there’s no wonder people enjoy getting outside and disconnecting from reality, even if it’s just for a few hours. From the moment you put on your ear and eye protection at a shooting range, your focus and concentration change to allow you to properly handle a firearm and hone your shooting skills.

Since shooting is  90 percent mental ability, this deep concentration and the adrenaline rush you get from shooting at a range releases serotonin which, in turn, contributes to the feeling of happiness, a rewarding emotion.

Nothing improves your confidence and self-esteem more than seeing progress in a hobby you’ve picked up. Handling firearms is no different. The more you practice at a shooting range, the closer you are to mastering the skill.

When practicing, you need to focus on your target, and this alone helps develop your dominant eye and increase your accuracy. The significant hand-eye coordination that you learn to control at a shooting range can also contribute to how you learn to deal with stress productively in other areas in life. This helps you develop patient, strategic thinking rather than relying on knee-jerk impulses.

This newfound self-confidence and improved self-esteem can greatly affect your relationships, work, and how to handle constructive criticism, making stressful situations less painful.

Handling firearms also can help you get in shape. It requires different levels of strength — depending on the gun. At a glance, you are building arm and wrist strength to maintain control after the recoil and keep a steady aim.

Yet, it also requires proper positioning, which works the upper body and core muscles. After all, shooting is all about balance. So, by strengthening your abdominal muscles, you can evenly distribute your body weight, improving your balance and accuracy.

The United States has been heavily associated with guns for many years now. So it comes as no surprise that many gun owners have grown up around firearms. While there are different levels of gun-handling expertise, meeting like-minded people can greatly improve your shooting skills and serve as a medium to bond and connect with those around you who have similar interests and hobbies.

From the moment you walk into a shooting range, the staff and other gun owners welcome you and are ready to share valuable tips. It’s a very inclusive community, and the best part is that shooting is a hobby and skill that you can develop at any age.

At the end of the day, owning a gun can offer more than just protection for individuals and families. Shooting sports can help reduce stress, improve overall health and boost confidence.

Mastering your skill takes time, and shooting depends almost entirely on discipline and practice, which requires greater concentration and focus. This practice can also be applied to other aspects of life where you identify your body’s responses to various situations and respond in a coordinated manner. With all of these combined benefits, it’s no wonder why competitive shooting is a long-lasting sport, and more Americans are finding more reasons to own their first firearm.