For self-defense, women take up firearms

Center Daily Times

(Local Paper in the Penn State area)

April 2006

This is a cache of

For self-defense, women take up firearms
As violence rises, so does female gun use, advocates say

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

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.

“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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.”

Knowledge is Power

When I’m teaching self-defense, the question women ask most is whether
to consider buying a gun.

A tough, necessary question one must ask, is “Am I willing to take
another person’s life in self-defense?”

There is no easy answer, but if you move forward you must get training

* Laws regulating firearms (local, state and federal).

* Safe handling, cleaning and storage of firearms.

* Proper shooting techniques.

* Purchasing and transporting firearms.

* Fit. The firearm must fit your hand to allow proficiency.

* The use of deadly force in self-defense.

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