How Do You Get Your Rights Back?

Well, one good way to start is by convincing a plurality of 1/2 the population that guns aren’t icky, evil, and the spawn of Satan.

For self-defense, women take up firearms

As violence rises, so does female gun use, advocates say

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A single mom wanting to protect her children. A mall worker fearing a dark parking lot. A real estate agent meeting strangers in empty homes.

They are Charlotte-area women. And they own guns.

More women, gun advocates say, are buying, shooting and carrying firearms — in briefcases, purses or even on their hips.

For some, it’s sport. But with violent crime up from five years ago and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police actively searching for a serial rapist, many women say it’s about self-protection.

Nationwide, violent crime is down, but that doesn’t mean that in specific locations it isn’t up.

“Things out there are tough, for men and for women,” Christy Barnes, a 22-year-old chiropractic assistant, said while practicing at a shooting range earlier this month. “I’d like to know I can handle myself.”

Local gun retailers and range owners say women are one of their fastest growing markets.

And the National Rifle Association says female participation in its programs is soaring. The NRA doesn’t ask members their sex, but 22,000 women across the country have taken its instructional shooting classes in the last five years.

The federal government doesn’t track gun sales by sex, and some gun control groups such as the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, question whether a national trend really exists.

Of course they do. A million armed mothers is not on their agenda.

The number of women with a permit to carry a concealed gun in Mecklenburg County has risen about 15 percent to more than 750 in the last two years, an Observer check of records found. The percentage of Mecklenburg’s concealed carry permits issued to women, however, has remained about the same.

At a gun show at Metrolina Expo on Saturday, customers said some sellers offered guns with fancy, even pink stocks, to attract women. There also was a table full of purses with a special pocket and holster hidden inside.

Operators would not let an Observer reporter in the show.

What?!? They didn’t slip someone in “under cover”?!?

The growing female market, experts say, can be attributed to many things, including more women heading households, more fear of crime, and less stigma attached to gun ownership.

And I say halleluja for that!

Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Gun Shop, says women — most with a husband twisting their arm — used to make up about 2 percent of his business. Now women account for about 15 percent, and he carries guns made especially for them and the purses equipped with a holster.

Hyatt said he has seen a slow, steady increase of female customers over the last 20 years — and then big jumps after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the chaos following Hurricane Katrina. He also saw an uptick in sales to women after police said a serial rapist attacked a Dilworth jogger last year.

This is now known as “Awakening.” I covered a few cases of it back in September in the aftermath of Katrina. Men were the primary beneficiaries, but women were awakened as well. Of course not everyone got the whole message, but you take what victories you can.

More and more people are understanding what it means to be a member of what Glenn Reynolds calls “a pack, not a herd.”

Dan Starks, who has taught firearms safety courses for 17 years said a firearm can give women the power to control almost any situation. And with crimes like carjackings and home invasions increasingly common, Starks says they need the protection.

That’s something else – while overall violent crime is down, the kind of crime is changing, somewhat. Carjackings are much more common than they used to be, for example.

“When you have a firearm in your hand, and the knowledge, skill and chutzpah to use it, nine times out of 10 you won’t have to use it,” he said. “Criminals don’t like armed citizens.”

Lauren Hargett, 24, said she gets nervous walking to her car in an underground parking area near where she works at SouthPark mall. She intends to get a concealed carry permit and practiced her shooting the weekend after a convenience store clerk was gunned down in a robbery in that same part of town.

“Every night you hear about something happening,” she said.

And, while violent crime is down to near 1960’s levels, that doesn’t mean those levels are particularly safe. Just lower than they’ve been in decades.

Hyatt said most of his female customers first buy a gun for protection. Some of them learn they like shooting, and then take it up as a sport. Since the NRA began offering women’s only hunting trips in 2000, spokeswoman Ashley Varner said, participation has skyrocketed from 500 to 6,000. Locally, gun dealers say, few women hunt and most who do go with a spouse.

Saturday afternoon, 11-year-old Lindsay Sigmon, walked out the exit of the gun show resting a long gun on her shoulder. Her parents, Gary and Shanna Sigmon, said they began teaching Lindsay to shoot at age 4 because they have guns in their home and believe everyone who lives there needs to know how to operate them safely.

Lindsay and Shanna, an English teacher, shoot at a cone for practice at home. “We go hunting (for deer), but never get anything,” Lindsay said. “I don’t know if that counts.”

At Firepower, an indoor pistol range and gun shop in Matthews, workers say about one in 10 who use the range are women, many of whom shoot for fun. Their regular customers include married couples and father-daughter pairs.

They wear safety glasses and ear protection, then take turns firing at paper targets in a small room with six shooting lanes 50 feet long. Bullet casing are scattered on the floor.

On Wednesday, a 72-year-old woman went in asking for information about the range. She owns two handguns, she said, and likes to shoot every couple of months so she hopes she’d feel comfortable if she needed to use a gun in an emergency. She didn’t want her name printed in the newspaper, she said, because she didn’t want people to know she’s got the guns.

That’s another thing: unless a woman has a pathological fear of firearms, the majority of them discover that shooting is fun, and it’s empowering. Back in November of 2004 I wrote a couple of pieces about Slate columnist and NPR contributor Emily Yoffe, the “Human Guinea Pig,” and her exposure to shooting. The first was about her Slate article, “Guinea Get Your Gun,” subtitled “How I learned to love firearms.” The second piece was a transcript of her NPR interview on the same subject. The interviewer sounded almost shocked by the fact that she enjoyed – and was good at – shooting, but her experience is the norm, not the exception.

Zack Ragbourn, with the Brady Campaign, said guns don’t necessarily improve your safety. If you have a gun at home, according to the campaign, it’s at least 20 times more likely to end up accidentally shooting someone than it is to protect you from an intruder.

Well, that’s down from “43 times more likely to kill someone in the home than an intruder.” Thank Dr. Arthur Kellerman for those bogus statistics. Note that the authors of this piece check to see if the ratio of female-to-male permit holders in their county has changed in the last two years, but accept (and present) the Brady Campaign mouthpieces’s “fact” as gospel.

Anne Tucker, 50, said she’s been shooting since she became an adult. She grew up watching Westerns. When she was a kid her brother shot her grandfather’s guns, but she didn’t get to do it. Now, she carries a gun on her belt. And six years ago, she gave up her job teaching job skills to disabled people to work at Firepower.

She’s drawn a gun twice in self-defense but never actually pointed one at anyone. Mostly, she said, she enjoys shooting for sport.

“I like hitting a very small target from a very long distance,” she said. “It’s kind of like golf.”

Depending on the sport, it very well can be.

Then there’s this one, from the opposite coast:

Women put finger on the trigger

Contra Costa Times

Call it a post-Sept. 11 thing or a bonding thing.

Laura Nicoli calls it stress relief.

“You can go back to work the next day and not want to shoot anyone,” the Rodeo resident said through an infectious laugh that bellowed from her small frame.

Nicoli is one of many women making their way to the gun ranges as rifle associations and gun clubs make efforts to cater to the rising demographic.

“We’ve really had a phenomenal growth pattern,” said Mary Sue Faulkner, director of the National Rifle Association community service programs division. She referred specifically to the Women on Target program, which has grown from 500 participants in 1999 to 5,600 last year.

One thing is clear: this isn’t your grandfather’s gun scene. At places like the Martinez Gun Club, family night on Wednesdays offers dinner and shooting.

The Women on Target program is just one of several steps the NRA has made to handle women’s interests. Its Web site offers a Women’s Programs page for seminars in areas like self protection and female-specific hunting and shooting opportunities. Even the current NRA president is a woman. Sandra Froman has served since April 2005.

Magazines like “Women & Guns” and the NRA’s own “Woman’s Outlook,” which boasts a circulation of 55,000, offer equipment and clothing tailored for women.

“Here, we can barely keep up with the demand for those volunteers that want to provide shooting opportunities for women,” Faulkner said. “Shooting is fun and I think once women pull the trigger — go skeet shooting, go to the pistol range — I think they’re hooked. It’s for the fun, but also for self-protection, that’s an issue too.”

John Geisness, an NRA-certified training counselor who lives in Martinez, said he noticed a jump in women wanting to learn how to handle a firearm properly after the fallout of Hurricane Katrina.

“There were a fair amount (of women) after 9/11, but the media really showed what was going on with the hurricane and people became more concerned…we’re seeing more people interested in hand guns for self protection,” he said. “The majority of the people I see are females between the age of 35 and 55 that have never owned a gun before and they realize education is the key to understand the safety and operation of a firearm.”

Geisness teaches day-long NRA instruction courses throughout Contra Costa County in basic pistol, rifle and shotgun courses. There is also a shorter course on home firearm safety available.

At least weekly, almost daily, Zendo Deb details another failure of a restraining order over at TFS Magnum. Via Deb, here’s another piece about women and shooting sports, and for some local flavor, here’s another one about Tucson native Debbie Ferns out actively recruiting female shooters down in Louisiana, Author touts shooting for women. Ferns is the author of Babes with Bullets: Women Having Fun With Guns.

I bet that title makes Sarah Brady cringe!

UPDATE: And here’s another piece on women, guns, and fun; a profile of NRA-certified instructor Cathy Ash of Barlow, OH. Money quotes

For more and more American women like Ash, knowing how to handle and properly use a firearm offers empowerment, self-confidence, security, and fun.

“I love it all, just so long as it goes bang,” Ash said of her guns.

“Actually, it’s very empowering to know how to handle a firearm safely,” Ash said. “Your confidence level soars and it’s loads of fun.”

“It’s still overwhelmingly boys and always has been,” Stone said of shooting. “For most women, husbands and fathers have always taken care of the gun cabinet. Now women and girls want to learn.”

(Via Tam & Deb.)

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