Gun safety classes generally aren’t given enough credit. Everyone says they are a good idea, but not everyone who takes them should. Oftentimes, this is because they don’t know they exist or don’t think they apply to them. When Team Benelli’s Ashlynne Thomas was about 10 years old, her parents took her to a gun safety class that changed her life.
The Thomas family had moved from California to Texas for work. The most knowledge any of them had of firearms came from video games, with no hands-on experience. With two young kids in a 2A-friendly state, Mrs. Thomas’ boss recommended the family attend a local firearm safety class so their kids would not mistakenly treat firearms the same as they would a Nerf gun. They asked around and purchased a .22 LR rifle – a sort of family Christmas gift – to learn to use.
Ashlynne and her parents attended the course first, her four-year-old sister attending when she grew older. She quickly discovered she loved shooting the .22. It became a bonding experience for her and her father — “their thing.” They would shoot paper targets out to 100 yards, and within a few months, Ashlynne had transitioned to Steel Challenge and regular range outings with a local girls’ group. Meeting other juniors introduced Ashlynne to a whole new world. She says that meeting Kyleigh Hayworth, another Texas junior, sparked her interest in 3-Gun competition. Other Texas 3-Gun shooters like Mark Witt also helped her along. Though she doesn’t recall her very first competition experience in much detail, she does remember one thing: “I remember I was excited, because it was different than everything I had done.”
It only took six short months following the safety class for Ashlynne to realize she wanted to compete at a higher level. She began attending bigger matches, shooting her first A Girl and a Gun Fall Festival and DQ’ing (the slang term shooters use for a disqualification) in the process. She had an accidental discharge in a safe direction. No one was hurt and A Girl and A Gun founders Julianna Crowder and Robyn Sandoval used the DQ as a learning experience, helping Ashlynne to improve as a shooter and competitor. This also began Ashlynne’s involvement with A Girl and A Gun.
Now 16, Ashlynne attends eight to 10 major 3-Gun competitions a year as a member of Team Benelli. Though she also shoots local IDPA, USPSA and Steel Challenge matches for fun and to keep her skills sharp, nothing compares to 3-Gun. “I think it’s the movement, the challenge that you have to remember everything,” she said.
Ashlynne attributes much of her success to her mom, saying she wouldn’t be able to compete without her. With her father running the family business, Mrs. Thomas takes her daughter to most shooting matches. It is at these matches that Ashlynne has met a number of great people, including 2A advocate and 3-Gunner Dianna Muller. This year, Ashlynne attended Muller’s Ambassador Academy, a week-long training program designed to help competitive shooters become better ambassadors for themselves and their sponsors. Ashlynne sang the praises of this course and the many things she learned, including situational awareness and some self-defense techniques, all experiences she wouldn’t have had without shooting. Besides all the great experiences and people, Ashlynne says that shooting has made her more comfortable carrying on conversations with adults and given her confidence about what she can do with her life.
This year, Ashlynne placed fourth in the ladies’ category in the Texas 3-Gun Championship. “[This] is a huge accomplishment,” she said, “because Texas 3-Gun is one of the hardest matches I have ever shot, and it’s in Texas, and I’m from Texas, and I’ve always wanted to get High Lady at that match, and it’s just proving more and more to myself that I can do it.” This match also awards a High Texas Lady, for which Ashlynne came in second.
For the last few years, she’s also placed second to Diana Muller in the A Girl and A Gun Fall Fest, not an easy feat. June 2022 brought Ashlynne her own High Lady title in Hornady’s Zombies in the Heartland 3-Gun Match.
Though she is a team shooter for Benelli, that’s not the only company to support her. Ashlynne’s other sponsors include Vudoo Tactical, Obsidian Arms, Vortex, Hayes Custom Guns and Lake Martin Machine Gun.
Currently in ROTC at her high school, Ashlynne isn’t planning on a military career but is considering a degree in psychology. “I want to be able to continue to shoot definitely, and I know quite a few juniors that have shot once they have gone to college, and I hope that I don’t ever stop shooting even if I have to take a break from it.” Her current schedule includes dry-fire practice two to three times a week as well as live-fire training.
Everyone discovers the shooting sports in different ways. Remember that for Ashlynne Thomas, a simple gun safety course made a world of difference.
Editor's Note: Want to find a gun safety class near you? The NRA has you covered! Click here to find instructors in your area.