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In 1920, 24-year old Tennessean Harry Burns cast the single deciding vote on the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Members of our modern American society can’t imagine women not voting, not being soldiers and not being cops. So, why’s it so strange or newsworthy that a woman might own, carry and use a gun?

Beats me. But maybe I’m biased, sheltered or possibly just a backwards hillbilly. You see, I grew up in the Scotch-Irish settled Appalachian Mountains. There, a woman with a gun was not unusual. My mother hunted and taught me and Sis to do the same. She was never afraid to load her shotgun, and my sister frequently carries a pistol and knows how to use it.

Protection & More

The mainstream media likes to make a big deal out of women gun owners—especially if that gun happens to be a pistol they keep for personal protection. For example, a staff writer for the Dayton Daily News reported as recently as February 3, 2012, that, “More than one in five who have applied to carry concealed handguns in [Ohio’s] Butler, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties are women, and owners of local gun stores and shooting ranges say women are increasingly participating in training and target practice.”

Is this really news? Maybe. It’s probably good that it is reported, as it kind of puts bad guys on alert. However, guns—in their broadest sense—are not gender-specific items. They are merely tools used for protection or as a pastime. This puts them in the same category as a cell phone you might use to call 911 or to waste your time on while playing some $2 app. When was the last time you read a news story breaking down cell phone ownership by gender?

My friend Jerry Dove owns the local firearms emporium where I live. He also teaches concealed carry classes full of men and women. In fact, Jerry tells me about half his students are women. I talk with instructors all over the country and the message is the same—more women are becoming gun owners and shooters.

Training Heroes

Maybe the real news is that women are starting to take more responsibility for the protection of themselves and their families. According to Buz Mills, owner and operator of Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona, “We have seen a 500 percent increase in women wanting to attend Gunsite to learn how to use a handgun for personal protection.” Gunsite, founded by Col. Jeff Cooper, is considered by many (including myself) to be the premier firearms training academy in the United States—if not the world.

I asked Buz why he thought this was so. He believes women are becoming more concerned with their safety. Not to say it is a fear-driven response—it’s more like making sure the lock on their door works or that they have candles in the house in case the power goes out. Buz believes, like I do, that women are beginning to feel less dependent on the opposite sex for, well, everything. They’re recognizing guns are not evil inanimate objects but just tools—tools they can learn to operate, just like an automobile.

In recent years, The National Shooting Sports Foundation’s (NSSF) First Shots program has helped introduce thousands of first-timers to shooting at their local ranges. Nearly half have been female. According to a three-year-old article by Bill Brassard, “The NSSF reports that after attending a First Shots seminar at their local range, 47 percent of women have met their local requirements to purchase a handgun, 26 percent said they have already purchased a handgun and 58 percent said they are planning to purchase a handgun in the future. When asked what their primary reason for purchasing a handgun would be, 86 percent said personal protection.”

Or maybe the news is really that humans are becoming more interested in guns for safety and recreation. This could be due in part to the proliferation of television shows like Top Shot, which do a great job of illustrating the fun that shooting can be. It’s not all about personal protection. A December 2011 CBS report states, “Female participation in target shooting in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the last decade, growing to nearly 5 million women since 2001…They say they shoot not only for self-protection, but because it relieves stress, helps them find peace and concentration and—feel feminine.”

These ladies have role models, too. Women like Kim Rhode, a four-time Olympian and six-time National Champion skeet and trap shooter. And there’s Julie Goloski-Golob, who has a laundry list of amazing contributions she’s made to women in the shooting sports. She’s also a World and National Champion Shooter and Army Female Athlete of the Year. And, hey, don’t forget Annie Oakley.

Ready to Learn

Entire families are actually getting into the gun scene and Gunsite is proof. Buz told me there’s one large group that comes to Gunsite every year for their family reunion. Gunsite also hosts bachelor parties (no alcohol of course) and even honeymooners. Gunsite can and does cater to the special needs of shooters. Buz says a lot of kids come to Gunsite with their parents and there’s no age restriction. All the youth must do is prove they can meet the course requirements and follow instructions. Two years ago, there was a 15-year-old girl in a Gunsite class with me.

I have a bit of experience with women and guns—partly as a firearms instructor, but more importantly as a husband. During my 13-year police career I tried unsuccessfully to supply my wife with a handgun, teach her to use it and convince her to carry it. Then, last year, with a bit of urging on my part she decided to go to Gunsite all by her lonesome. Guess what? She did well, had a great time and is currently planning her second trip.

I guess you could say she was converted. She was not anti-gun, she was just not a shooter—but she is now. I asked Buz Mills if a lot of the women attending Gunsite were apprehensive about the concept and process. He assured me that as many as half are. The next obvious question was how do they feel when they leave? Buz said, “We convert them all. They all leave knowing a gun is a tool—a tool they are capable of using to save their lives.”

So, what is the news? It’s that gun ownership and use is becoming more popular for everyone and more culturally acceptable for women. That’s something to be happy about and reason enough to spread the word. After all, an armed society is a polite society. And it’s about time. Women have been voting for almost 100 years. As a former military and law enforcement firearms instructor, I recommend all new shooters—male or female—attend Gunsite’s 250 Pistol Class. For more information, visit gunsite.com or call 928-636-4565.

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