Interest in firearms and shooting among women growing
MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
DETROIT — One a recent Saturday morning, Debra Robinson, 52, of Macomb Township, Mich., drove two hours to spend the day learning about and practicing shooting guns.
The married mother of two adult children admits that it was a little intimidating to point and shoot a gun at first. “It’s a deadly weapon,” she says. “I didn’t grow up playing with guns. I’m a quilter.”
But Robinson wants to learn to shoot — for personal protection and for fun.
“Our home was burglarized once while we were at work. The kids are grown up and out of the house. So now I have the luxury of time, and I want to learn while I can.”
Robinson signed up for the six-hour class almost as soon as she saw a newspaper notice about it. It’s a good thing she signed up quickly, because the women-only class reached its maximum number of 25 students well before the deadline. There was a waiting list of women who wanted to learn more about guns.
The class is among several offered through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources project, BOW (Becoming an Outdoors Woman), that encourages women to do just that. The response was so great that organizers Tonya Sies, a member of the Linwood-Bay Sportsman’s Club, and BOW coordinator Sue Tabor are already planning a second class in March.
The popularity of the class comes as no surprise to people working in the business who’ve seen growing interest in guns among women in recent years. Experts say women are taking more gun classes, buying and packing pistols and larger firearms, and they’re having fun with guns at target ranges and gun sporting events.
“Since 2001, more than 57,000 women have attended our (Women on Target) clinics across the country,” says Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association. “And we know anecdotally from our NRA-certified instructors that they’re seeing more and more women enrolling in their classes. Gun clubs are now having Ladies Night Out at the range.
And shops are carrying more products tailored to women.”
Mark Cortis, owner of Wild West Academy in Royal Oak, Mich., said “There are still way more men coming in, but we have several women in almost every class now. It used to be husbands bringing their wives or guys are bringing their girlfriends. Now, we get quite a number of women coming in on their own.”
Several factors are driving women to the gun range, experts say.
“The first and foremost reason is women no longer want to feel vulnerable,” Parsons says. “They want to feel responsible for their own personal safety and the safety of their families. Just by their physical size, the perpetrator is going to be bigger and stronger. A firearm is the great equalizer.”
Kathy Jackson, author of “The Cornered Cat” (White Feather Press, $20), a gun safety and information book for women, agrees.
“These days, no one expects a knight in shining armor to swoop in and protect you. You have to protect yourself,” says Jackson of Chehalis, Wash., who specializes in teaching shooting and safety clinics for women.
While safety may be the initial attraction, many women are finding they enjoy the challenge, power and immediate gratification that come from firing a weapon.
Lori Hardy, 47, of Chesterfield Township, Mich., got a concealed pistol license about three years ago. In addition to carrying a pistol for protection, she often plays sporting games at area ranges — something she wouldn’t have imagined doing three years ago.
“I fell in love with the sport,” says Hardy, who along with her boyfriend regularly joins other couples for gun sporting games.
“I never thought I would own a gun — ever, and my mom is still freaked out about it. But owning a gun is not necessarily about hurting someone; it’s an appreciation of the sport.”
‘Something about the power’
Amy Denyer-Grey, 40, of Lansing, Mich., an events planner, spent a recent Sunday gun-shopping with a friend.
She began learning to shoot more than a year ago. Recently, she took a CPL class and is now in the market for her own firearm.
“I was very anti-gun until about a year and a half ago,” she says, trying out pistols at Target Sports in Royal Oak. “I’d never held one until then. Once I held it, I don’t know, there was something about the power of the gun in your hand. And I did pretty well from the very first time. When I hit my first bulls-eye, it was incredible. It made me want to do it all over again. And it’s a great stress-reliever.”
Sies, the organizer of the gun class in Linwood, Mich., is such a believer in the value of women learning to use a gun that she encouraged her mother, an aunt and two female cousins to attend.
Sies initially took a CPL class on a whim with her husband three years ago. “He was looking for someone to go with him, and I said I’d go.”
Now they go to their local gun club about once a week. They play different games, including her favorite — a game in which various scenarios are set up that require the players to take action to protect themselves. “You might be sitting in a car and you’re attacked. You have to go through how to save a loved one or yourself.”
She carries a concealed weapon every day now. Why? “For the sense of comfort and being able to care for yourself,” she says. “I think it’s important that every woman understand guns don’t need to be something to be afraid of.”
When carrying a gun, women more than ever can choose from a variety of products aimed at them: purses, jeans, jackets, thigh holsters, vests, boxers and maternity tops. There also are more websites offering gun products for women.
“The selection on the Secure Purse site is at least three times larger than it was three years ago when I began looking,” Sies says.
She also was pleased to recently discover chickholster.com, which makes thigh holsters. “I’m intrigued because it will allow me to wear dresses while carrying a concealed weapon,” she says.
For an extra $3, the company will add a flower to the $50 holster.
Gun education instructor and author Kathy Jackson says both the quantity and quality of products targeted to women have improved.
“A few years ago, if you went looking for something for women, it was either really cheesy or made for a man and splashed with pink paint,” Jackson says. “Now, there are some really nice purses out there that make it safe for you to drop your firearm into your purse and hold it safely.”
By the numbers
Applications for Illinois FOID cards rose significantly from 2007 to 2009 (the last year for which statistics were available):
Source: Illinois State Police
Illinois residents who want to acquire or buy a firearm are required to get a Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card.
Applications are available online at the Illinois State Police website or at stores that sell firearms. It costs $10 to apply, and a FOID card is valid for 10 years before renewal is required.
Illinois does not recognize “conceal and carry” permits from any state, and it is the only state that does not allow residents to carry concealed weapons.
People who want to take hunter education classes — which include tips on firearm safety — can find out when classes are scheduled in their home counties at http://www.dnr.state.il.us/safety/map.htm