I'm with a group of instructors putting on a monthly NRA Basic Handgun class. Probably 80% to 90% of our students had never touched a real gun before. Our class enrollment run 20% to 40% female. We have students of all ages from early 20s to us more seasoned types. We've had entire families attend together. Most of our student show varying levels of anxiety at handling real guns.
We try to address this by bringing them through the course material in a step-by-step, measured and supportive way.
In addition to the core lectures, we do a lot of "hands-on" work with the students. The students handle a variety of revolvers and semi-autos under direct supervision, one-on-one, of an instructor. They use dummy rounds to load and unload the guns, dry fire and generally learn how things work and feel, and they get continual safety reinforcement.
These initial hands-on exercises help students get familiar with handling gun and lay a foundation for safe gun handling habits. The students begin to realize that although guns can be dangerous they can learn how to handle them safely and that safety is in their hands.
Then in preparation for live fire, and after the "marksmanship" lecture, we work one-on-one with students on grip and stance using "blue" inert training guns.
Before going to live fire with .22s, the students shoot airsoft (the quality type) in the classroom so they can get a feel for sight alignment and trigger control (and reset) without the noise and intimidation factor (for beginners) of firing real ammunition.
After the students fire their 25 rounds of .22 (working one-on-one with an instructor), we put out a variety of guns from 9mm to .44 Magnum so the students can get the experience of firing the larger calibers. Shooting the centerfire guns is at each student's option. Most fire them all, but some choose not to.
When someone has gone through our program, it's not uncommon for her/him to be shooting 1.5 to 2.0 inch groups at seven yards with the heavy calibers. A few months ago, a petite young woman who had never fired any type of gun before out shot everyone, including her husband, with the .44 Magnum -- putting three rounds into about an inch at 7 yards.
Going through our process most students shed a good deal of their initial anxiety. Some remain anxious to a degree but still manage to master their anxiety and perform well. In the last several years only one or two (out of perhaps a couple of hundred) could not complete the class.
"It is long been a principle of ours that one is no more armed because he has possession of a firearm than he is a musician because he owns a piano. There is no point in having a gun if you are not capable of using it skillfully." -- Jeff Cooper