BY JADE MATHIS | PHOTOS BY JIM KINSMAN
Three years ago Rebecca Melton decided it was time to do something she had been thinking about for some time. She applied for and got her concealed carry permit from the State of New York, then purchased a 9mm handgun.
“I told my husband this was something I wanted to do for myself,” Melton said. “I wanted to get my permit while I still had the opportunity.” Melton went on to say that after she got her permit, three of her friends did the same.
Melton and her friends are not alone; the image of the typical American gun owner is quickly changing. What was once thought of as a male-only activity is quickly catching on among women across the country.
Surprised? Don’t be. Over the past few years the number of women purchasing and shooting guns for sport has increased exponentially. There are variety of reason for this renewed interest including the growing availability of various disciplines of recreational shooting, the greater interest in self-protection, political activities in Washington and most of all the availability of programs specifically geared toward women and new shooters. Most women who shoot say they do it not only for self-protection, but because it relieves stress, helps them find peace and concentration and most importantly— feel feminine.
“Learning to shoot a hand gun helped me to conquer one of my fears,” explained Melton. “I found the experience to be very liberating and empowering.”
In the “Living on the Edge” segment by Diane Ohlik of CNBC Business News, it was reported that nationwide gun sales were up 14 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, and this growth is largely due to women getting more involved and increasing their participation in shooting sports. Ohlik reported that 47percent more women participate in some facet of shooting now than they did 10 years ago, and according to a recent Gallop poll, a surprising 23 percent of all women own a gun. Many shooting ranges across the country offer ladies night or other special programs to increase opportunity and bring groups of women together in the sport. Manufacturers have also responded with special offerings for women. Although women can shoot any firearm that is properly sized for them, there are increasing offerings of handguns with pink or lady rosewood grips, pink guns and cases, and other accessories and equipment that display a feminine touch, if desired.
Colleen Herlehy, CEO of The Write Source, says she purchased a firearm primarily for protection. “My husband travels a lot and I want to protect myself.” Herlehy said. “I think all women should learn to safely handle firearms whether they plan to own a gun or not.”
Perhaps most important might be that many women have found that becoming involved with shooting offers the opportunity for some pure enjoyment, as well as facilitating a greater degree of self-confidence. Certified instructor, past competition shooter and NRA Women On Target Clinic Director Jim Kinsman, of Farmington, sees this repeatedly in people who contact him to discuss lessons or to ask how they can become involved in shooting.
“I find that the over-whelming majority of women are primarily interested in learning to shoot handguns. Second and third preferences are the shotgun sports (trap, skeet and sporting clays) and then rifle shooting,” Kinsman says.
In increasing numbers women are opting to purchase a handgun for personal protection to carry with them, as well as to have readily accessible in their home. Possessing a handgun or any other firearm is a very personal decision that should not be taken lightly. Kinsman states that “it is imperative that anyone getting a firearm for protection or self-defense be thoroughly trained in its use and operation, and practice with it on a regular basis.” A few lessons with a qualified, knowledgeable and patient instructor can help an individual progress very quickly, and can teach them some exercises that they can easily practice safely, on their own and in their own home, but ‘with the curtains closed’ Kinsman explained with a smile. Practice and repetition help develop muscle memory and enable the shooter to be confident, safer, quicker and more efficient with their use of the firearm. New York State residents must be at least 21 years of age and have a clean criminal record to obtain a handgun permit through their county clerk’s office, which allows the permit holder to possess and/or carry a handgun. Anyone 14-20 years of age can shoot handguns, but cannot possess or own them until they turn 21 and obtain their own permit.
Nationally, federal background checks done on gun-buyers in spring of 2012 showed an increase of twenty percent over 2011, and the 22nd straight month-over-month increase. The NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) reported the growth in firearms numbers have been ‘driven by an unprecedented number of Americans choosing to exercise their fundamental right to keep and bear arms.’ NSSF Senior Vice President Lawrence G. Keane said “To millions of Americans our industry’s products represent liberty, security and recreation.”
As a result of the exploding popularity of shooting with women, Kinsman started offering the NRA’s popular Women On Target program four years ago at the Victor Rod & Gun Club. The classes are limited to 30 women and fill quickly, often resulting in a waiting list for the next class. The all-day shooting clinic consists of a couple of hours in the classroom reviewing all of the basics, safety rules, and the operation of different firearms, gun selection and ammunition properties. Then the women spend the rest of the day in small groups of four to five each, rotating through six or seven stations, each offering a different specialty, including the shotgun sports of trap and skeet shooting, a high-end air rifle station, a .22 caliber rifle station, a handgun station, and the opportunity to observe several demonstrations.
Dianne Steeley, has attended the clinic all four years. In fact, she was such a regular attendee, that Kinsmen asked her to come and assist at the event.
“I had been around guns all my life but never shot one,” said Steeley. “This was a great way to have the opportunity to shoot all types of guns and learn how to handle them safely.”
The women who attend the Women On Target clinics are anywhere from 14-83 years of age. “I love seeing the ‘more mature’ ladies coming out; you’re almost never too old” he says. He has seen some surprisingly excellent shooters in their late 70’s or 80’s. He also tells stories of those who come engulfed with a fear of firearms, but who leave with broad smiles and stories to share, or even brag about.
Anyone with questions, lesson inquiries or who wants to discuss learning to shoot firearms can reach Kinsman at (585) 733-4890.