Typically, the firearms industry has closely followed the law enforcement and military markets. If we look at the law enforcement and military profession as a whole, it has been a predominantly male-driven climate. Conversely, evidence shows that women are less power oriented than men and are less motivated to dominate others, which leaves them less likely to take actions to attain power. This statistic can be used to help understand the disconnect with women in the firearms world. Societal pressures also weigh heavily on the misconceptions and fears associated with women and firearms.
A 2011 report released by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) showed that one in four women claimed to own a firearm compared to one out of every two men. As stated in the Harvard Business Review, “It appears that even the most physically fit women may be at a disadvantage if it came to defending themselves against a male. A firearm has been touted as a tool to ensure safety without having to rely on someone else.” Firearms proficiency offers women an additional sense of safety and empowerment.
As a firearms instructor at the Sig Sauer Academy, I have personally seen a dramatic increase in women attending firearms training courses. In the past several years the population of women attending classes has risen approximately 30 to 40 percent. The majority of women attending classes are seeking training for personal protection or home defense. Most women come to class with a preconceived notion and/or a fear associated with firearms and their ability to handle them. Typically, after a basic handgun class, most leave with a newfound respect and confidence when it comes to using firearms.
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I correlate this initial fear to “the fear of the unknown.” It is common to be nervous or have anxiety when trying something for the first time. I often ask students to think back to the first time they slid into the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle. Most people experience emotional anxiety and liberation when learning how to drive for the first time. Once Driver’s Ed is behind you and you become more comfortable with time in the driver’s seat, those emotions dissipate. Passing that driver’s license test is an empowering moment. Having a driver’s license in the United States is considered a responsibility as well as a privilege. It is a privilege that, if used irresponsibly, can cause an innate fear across the driving public. Vehicles in themselves are not considered weapons—it is when they are used irresponsibly that they are viewed as being dangerous. We are offered the same privilege and constitutional right in gun ownership and licensing. Without proper education and training, irresponsible gun ownership may occur. It is the publicized media stories about the irresponsible gun owners that reinforce societal fears associated with firearms.
Societal pressure, intimidation of a male-dominated field and fear of the unknown combine to drive the initial fear of handling a firearm. Females fear being in the minority in an entry-level class. They fear not being able to keep up in what they view as a male-dominated platform. It’s the pressure of not being able to perform. Moving past the misconceptions and taking the steps to properly learn about firearms will help alleviate those initial fears. Breaking down the basic fundamentals allows females to understand that a firearm is a tool. Through education, we can move beyond those fears. Through consistent training and education, we can break the mold of firearms being solely the purview of men. A firearms license—just like a driver’s license—does not have a sex attached to it. These licenses are privileges awarded to us simply for being citizens of the United States. Size, sex and gender do not apply when talking about the fundamentals of firearms handling.