“Guns are not the problem in America. Men like my attacker … are the problem.”
I’m not sure many women can point to one incident that inspired them to become a full-time concealed-carrying gun owner. For many, it’s a series of events including formal education and personal experiences that add up over time to finally persuade a woman to take her personal protection into her own hands.
Much like women, the process is complex, spanning weeks or months, even years, in which she works to provide herself with the particular answers she needs to become comfortable with her decision. But one of the main reasons I encourage every woman who carries to keep telling her story is that sometimes, all it takes is one chance encounter to transform someone into a full-time concealed-carrying gun owner.
A Life-Changing Moment
Someone like Kristi McMains. She grew up around guns in southern Indiana, had passed a firearms training course, legally obtained a concealed-carry permit and had purchased her first firearm. While she did carry her Beretta with her when she started living alone in Louisville, Ky., she had not been vigilant about carrying consistently.
That is, until she saw Kimberly Corban on the CNN Town Hall “Guns in America” with Anderson Cooper on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. “As a survivor of rape and now a mother of two small children, being able to purchase a firearm of my choice and carry it wherever me and my family are, seems like my basic responsibility as a parent,” Corban said as she addressed then-President Obama during the event.
“I have been unspeakably victimized once already and I refuse to let that happen again to myself or my kids.”
Something in Kimberly’s courageous statement resonated with Kristi, and in that moment, she made a commitment to carry her rearm consistently. Thank God she did.
Just 19 days later, with her Beretta in her purse, a man stalked Kristi through a shopping center. When she entered the parking garage alone, he emerged from the shadows, clutching a knife. With this monster bearing down upon her, stabbing her with his weapon, Kristi pulled out her firearm and saved her life.
“Guns are not the problem in America,” said Kristi. “Men like my attacker—who are willing to violently change one person’s life for no reason except for pure evil—are the problem.”
In the wake of that violent attack, Kristi shares her story with other women, encouraging them to take responsibility for their personal protection.
“Be safe at all times. Be aware of your surroundings. Trust your instincts. Always be able to protect yourself. Refuse to be a victim, and instead be a fighter and a survivor. Live to tell your tale and make a criminal regret the day he chose you as a ‘soft target.’”
McMains’ path to becoming a full-time concealed-carrier resonates with many women. Most of us didn’t have mothers who carried guns or were avid hunters. We’re trying to navigate how to become the worthy role models and trailblazing pioneers our daughters and the next generation of female gun owners need us to be.
Today, there’s no shortage of information readily available for women looking to become proficient concealed-carriers. The massive influx of female gun owners over the past 10-15 years has birthed organizations, women-only firearm training courses, Facebook groups, and even Ladies Nights at the local gun range.
But how did we get here?
A Surge In Interest
Women’s interest in guns began increasing in the 1980s, coinciding with more women entering previously male-dominated professions like law enforcement and corporate America. As women became more independent, taking control of their careers, finances and living arrangements, home defense and personal protection became an increasing concern.
In October of 1989, after covering the Gun Rights Policy Conference for Machine Gun News, Sonny Jones was inspired to launch Women & Guns—a groundbreaking magazine written exclusively for female gun owners. Sonny wrote almost the entire first issue herself, 16 pages of black and white print with no ads, with a focus on an in-depth feature article on concealed- carry options for women.
Catering to established female gun enthusiasts and eager to tap into a new market of women who were interested in but intimidated by guns, Smith & Wesson introduced the LadySmith line of revolvers marketed specifically to women as lightweight and designed for smaller hands in 1989. Gun manufacturers quickly jumped on board, seizing the opportunity to gear their marketing campaigns to the strong, independent women of the ’90s.
Beretta ran an advertisement for one of its semi-automatic pistols in which it referred to the firearm as “homeowner’s insurance.”
“It’s ok for women to be CEOs of companies and go into space as astronauts, so why shouldn’t they own guns?”
In July 1992, a full-page advertisement from Colt Manufacturing, Inc. was published in the southeast regional issue of Ladies Home Journal. The ad, which showed a mother tucking her child into bed above two semi- automatic weapons, bore the headline: “Self- protection is more than your right ... it’s your responsibility.”
Gun control advocates argued the ad, and ones like it, were used to scare women into believing they needed a firearm for personal protection and argued that such ads were intended to trick women into buying guns. In response to this manufactured public outcry, the editors of Ladies Home Journal apologized for publishing it.
But the industry didn’t back down to the noisy few.
Women & Guns launched a counterattack with a cover line that read, “Are You Too Stupid to Read This Magazine?”
An official with Smith & Wesson used the controversy to launch a renewed effort to market to women, calling it a sign of progress in the women’s movement: “Firearms are one of the last bastions of male dominance,” he said. “Today, in 1992, it’s OK for women to be CEOs of companies and go into space as astronauts, so why shouldn’t they own guns?”
Gun companies encouraging women to empower themselves by purchasing guns for self-defense enraged many in the feminist movement, including Betty Friedan, whose call to action prompted the foundation of Women Against Gun Violence. Friedan called the attempts to equate female gun ownership with feminists a “horrifying, obscene perversion of feminism.”
Thankfully, the industry’s continued efforts to appeal to women worked. Not only did they begin purchasing firearms, but they began hunting, joining shooting sports, and carrying guns for self-defense in far greater numbers.
Life or Death
Today, it’s common to hear the argument that firearms and gun rights are “women’s issues.” When it comes to self-defense or protecting their children and their family’s lives, all any woman has to do is put themselves in the shoes of women they likely know who have been victimized in one way or another.
In 2017, women are increasingly staying single well into their 20s and 30s, working odd hours, living alone or as single mothers, and realizing that when seconds count, a firearm could mean the difference between life and death.
In Dayton, Ohio, 911 dispatchers confirmed a woman was forced to call into the emergency system twice in a 60-minute period as a man actively attempted to break into her home.
The first call was made at approximately 3:00 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 10, 2015, when a stranger banging at the door jolted her awake.
The first 911 transcript reads:
Caller: Someone is trying to break into my house!
Dispatcher: Can you see someone or hear someone, what’s going on?
Caller: Someone is banging on the door.
The emergency dispatcher asked the terrified woman a few follow-up questions, but eventually ended the call after instructing the woman to “Keep an eye out for the officer and call us back if you hear anything else.”
For more than an hour, the homeowner was tortured with the sounds of a home intruder relentlessly attempting to break into her house. When she ultimately discovered 22-year-old DeBrandon Dickerson breaking into an upstairs window, she was forced to take matters into her own hands and shot the would-be assailant.
The second 911 call transcript reads:
Caller: Someone broke into my home, I shot one!
Dispatcher: Someone broke into your house and you shot them?
This time, the dispatcher remained on the line until help arrived. A third emergency call came into dispatch regarding the break in—this time from a relative of Dickerson who found him with a gunshot wound to his chest.
Dayton Police said at the time of the shooting, there were seven officers and one sergeant on duty, but all were working other calls.
Modern women understand that ultimately, their personal protection is their responsibility, prompting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to become gun owners every year, many of whom go on to obtain concealed-carry permits.
But not every story has a heroine’s ending.
On the night of Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in the driveway of her Berlin, N.J., home, 39-year-old Carol Bowne was brutally stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend. This unspeakably tragic story is made even more inconceivable by this fact: Fearing for her life, Bowne had filed a restraining order against this man—and applied for a firearms permit in an effort to defend herself. Not days, not weeks, but months prior to her death.
According to reports, Bowne submitted her application for a gun license to the Berlin Township Police on April 21, and checked on the status as late as June 1, just two days before her murder.
Although New Jersey state criminal code requires applications be granted within 30 days, Bowne was unable to defend herself with the firearm she wanted, and needed, to carry for protection. She did “the right thing” and followed the law, but in the end, an impotent restraining order and a complete dependence on her local police department resulted in her tragic death.
Women are acutely aware that restraining orders are often ineffective, or worse, often only serve to anger and increase aggression from those threatening them. The reality is if Carol had owned a firearm, she would have at least had a fighting chance against her attacker.
Women Lead The Way
Realizing the influence the female population had on the public’s impression of gun owners and their ability to sway the way people viewed Second Amendment rights, the National Rifle Association began serving women directly in the 1980s. In 1990, they opened the Office on Women’s Issues and Information and launched a massive public relations and recruitment campaign in October 1993 called “Refuse To Be A Victim.” Still going strong in 2017, this program teaches the tips and techniques needed to identify dangerous situations in order to avoid becoming a victim.
“Women are the fastest growing segment of firearms buyers in the country, and the NRA is a natural home for women firearms owners,” said NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen. “Increasingly, women today don’t want to rely on a spouse or neighbor for protection. They want to be able to protect themselves and their families.”
The influx in female shooters paved the way for organizations like NRA Women, The Well Armed Woman, Girl’s Guide to Guns, A Girl and a Gun, HerHandgun, Shoot Like a Girl, Girls Really Into Shooting (G.R.I.T.S.) and The Cornered Cat.
In a survey conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 73 percent of firearms retailers reported seeing more women in their stores in 2013 compared to 2012.
That story has been widely reported, from outlets as disparate as The New York Times to American Rifleman. But there’s one question no one seems to have a singular, clear answer for: Why?
Explaining The Surge
Part of the reason more women started coming into their own with firearms was a boom in the hunting industry. In the early 2000s, hunter safety instructors began enrolling more women than ever: mothers taking the course with their sons, wives eager to hunt with their husbands, daughters looking to hunt with their dads and single women interested in harvesting their own meat.
Between 2001 and 2013, the hunting industry witnessed an astonishing 85 percent increase in female participation, ushering 1.5 million new women into the hunting sports.
That’s exactly how I got my start in the industry as well. I grew up in a hunting family, was taught gun safety by my father at an early age, was the president and CEO of AIM Hunting, active in Second Amendment politics, and loved shooting sports. But I always used my dad’s or my husband’s guns, not my own.
When my son became interested in hunting in 2010, I decided to take a hunter safety course with him at the local high school. It was there, connecting with women of every age and walk of life in my own community that I realized just how powerful the women’s movement had really become. I met a widow, taking the course so she could sit in her husband’s hunting spot at their family cabin. A college student trying to reconnect with her father through hunting when she went home for Thanksgiving break. A mother accompanying her daughter and son, so they could head into the woods and work together to fill their freezer for the winter.
For us, hunting was the gateway to becoming not only a gun owner, but a concealed-carry permit holder as well. Becoming comfortable with firearms in an inclusive environment like hunter safety promotes independence and oftentimes inspires women to branch out to shoot and buy more firearms, like handguns.
A National Support Network
In my home state of Wisconsin, completing a hunter safety course qualifies you for a concealed-carry permit. I sent in my application right away and bought my first handgun, a Smith & Wesson M&P SHIELD 9 mm.
By that time in my career, I had moved on as co-founder/co-editor of the popular website Guns & Curves, to become the first female editor of the Second Amendment news site, Bearing Arms. My years in the industry may have made me aware of how I should carry. However, I wasn’t prepared for the reality of incorporating that knowledge into my everyday life. Like many women, when I received my permit, I was faced with the seemingly daunting task of finding the best way to carry and trying to fully accept the responsibility of carrying a loaded firearm.
But what was once an overwhelming and intimidating process has become a reasonably common and easily manageable undertaking: Just find a local chapter, connect with women in your area, and have instant, personable resources who have practical advice to help new female gun owners find their own way.
Not only are new women always looking for advice from others, women who have been carrying for years are eager to help those coming up to join the ranks. This is what makes national organizations like The Well Armed Woman (TWAW) and the NRA’s Women On Target so successful and helps contribute to the increasing number of women who carry.
“I became a TWAW chapter leader to be a resource for women looking to safely and successfully incorporate firearms into their lives,” said Jessica Keffer. “I’ve worked with so many women from purchasing their first firearm to ongoing training as concealed-carry permit holders. For each of them, becoming a gun owner is a huge decision. Women tend to analyze everything from price, size, weight, fit, feel, holster options and carry positions. They spend countless hours researching their options. For most women, the biggest part of the process is accepting the responsibility that comes with firearm ownership, and it’s a privilege to be able to mentor them through that!”
According to the NRA, 73 percent of female gun owners have taken at least one firearms training class. Participation in target shooting soared to 5.4 million women in 2013, up 60 percent from 2001. Since the federal government doesn’t break down background checks or concealed-carry permit applications by demographic, it is difficult to pinpoint just how many American gun owners are women, but estimates vary from 12 to 17 million, spanning the political spectrum.
“Women are definitely drivers in the market right now.”
Certainly the years President Barack Obama spent in office, combined with the 2016 “gun run” over fears Hillary Clinton would take the White House, greatly contributed to the growth in gun owners, both new and repeat. But in May 2017, the NSSF reported 988,473 background checks had been performed so far this year, a 6.5% increase over the same period last year, indicating the firearms industry is still very much growing. It’s no secret why: The industry is changing and there is no stereotypical “gun owner” in today’s society.
Stacy Washington, a conservative black Air Force veteran, radio show host and gun owner, says the increase in female gun owners and concealed-carry permit holders isn’t about politics, but about “personal safety and protection.”
“A firearm is an equalizer for women because women have a harder time defending themselves when they’re attacked by a man; men have more body mass,” she explained.
“Women overall—in particular, minority women—are looking toward guns to protect themselves against crime,” Detroit firearms instructor Rick Ector told Fox News. “Women are definitely drivers in the market right now.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Mary Stange, a professor of women’s studies at Skidmore College and co-author of Gun Women: Firearms and Feminism in Contemporary America, said “There’s this idea that women are more affiliative[sic], more peace-loving, more pacifistic, which should then make women as a group gun averse.”
But the reality is that millions of women have actively rejected that notion, by buying their own firearms and training to use them. Thank goodness.
“My gun saved my life,” says Kristi McMains. “One could save your life, too.”
The Right-To-Carry Pioneer
The success of the right to carry movement has many authors, but if the countless participants had to be narrowed to a single name, that name would be Marion Hammer. Ms. Hammer’s involvement in the gun rights movement began as a volunteer in 1968, inspired by the enactment of the Gun Control Act by Congress that year. She moved to Florida in 1974 and by 1978, she was named Executive Director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, NRA’s in-state affiliate.
For more than a decade, Marion worked the halls of the Florida Legislature to make the Right to Carry a reality, and in 1987 her efforts paid off when then-Governor Bob Martinez signed the state’s landmark bill into law. Florida became the model for the nation and proved that arming responsible citizens was a safe practice that would reduce crime rather than increase it. Within 10 years of the passage of Florida’s Right-to-Carry law, 30 states had similar statutes on the books and today, 42 states enjoy similar laws.
Marion Hammer became NRA’s first woman president in December of 1995 and has served on the Association’s Board of Directors since 1982. To this day, Ms. Hammer is a daily presence in Florida’s capitol, defeating anti-gun legislation and dismantling statutory and regulatory hurdles that stand in the way of law-abiding gun owners. To tell the story of Right to Carry, one must begin in Tallahassee—and start with Marion Hammer.
On behalf of all of us at the NRA, thank you for being among the first to join NRA Carry Guard.
A generation ago, law-abiding citizens carrying concealed firearms in public were a relative rarity on the American landscape.