Seeing this event was like watching gun-control activists’ twisted narratives unraveling before your eyes. In downtown Detroit, there were hundreds of women lined up to learn how to defend themselves with a handgun. They want their freedom; their independence; their right to live without fear.
For 10 years now, Rick Ector has been on a mission to teach women in the Detroit area how to shoot. The engineer-turned-NRA-instructor and his group, Legally Armed in Detroit, have collaborated with local groups, the National Rifle Association, area gun ranges, ammunition manufacturers and dozens of volunteer instructors to create a unique training experience in which ranges are closed to all except attendees. These participants learn hands-on fundamentals of firearms.
All the participants are women.
This annual event is certainly trendy. New research from the National Shooting Sports Foundation shows women are a large and growing segment of the firearms market; in fact, women were nearly half of the 8.4 million first-time gun purchasers since 2019.
“The interest has been there before,” says Rick, who got involved with firearms after being robbed at gunpoint in his own garage. “But there’s a perception that black people are being targeted or have an increased risk of being victims of so-called racial violence. I’m not sure there’s a factual basis for it, but that’s the perception. Myself personally, I look at violence as violence, and I couldn’t care who it is, because the end result is the same.”
“For years, many black people weren’t aware that the Second Amendment belongs to them, too,” said Tanisha Newton-Moner, a lead organizer of the event. “Our education on guns was that only bad guys and police officers had them. Now that we’re collectively learning more about the Second Amendment and our rights, we’re absolutely choosing to exercise them.”
The effect may be more pronounced in places like Detroit, where various cultures intersect. Just to the east lies Windsor, Canada, where commuters cross the Ambassador Bridge every day for work. A few miles southwest lies Dearborn, home of the largest population of Muslim Americans in the United States. Large pockets of Polish, Italian, Mexican and Greek populations live nearby as well, and inside city limits, almost 80% of residents are African American.
This diversity showed up on range day. Attendees sported Gucci and Louis Vuitton purses, weaves and dreadlocks, tattoos and T-shirts with phrases like “Black is Beautiful” or “Shoot like a Girl.” A variety of instructors had medical kits and holstered pistols. Downrange were flamboyantly pink silhouette targets. Various brands of 9 mm pistols sat waiting—many outfitted with custom grips, modified triggers and mounted red-dot sights. These were next to gleaming, enviable piles of donated 9 mm ammunition.
Why Do So Many Come?
Detroit’s a rough town, and some attendees have lost family members or have been traumatized by robberies, kidnappings or domestic violence. For some, it’s an act of courage just to show up. Instructor Candi Petticord recalls one woman who broke down after her very first shot and confided that her alcoholic husband used to shove an empty gun in her mouth and pull the trigger while threatening that one day the gun wouldn’t be empty.
A survivor of sexual assault and violence herself, Tanisha is the ideal person to break this ice. “I always share some of my history,” she said. “Usually, one person will raise a hand and speak up about their own trauma, and then others share their experiences.”
For Tanisha, carrying concealed is a gateway to reclaiming a sense of dignity. “I was tired of being afraid of guns,” she said. “Sometimes it takes people reaching their breaking point before they’re willing to buy a gun or learn to shoot. It can be different for different people. Until then, you have to understand that someone might be afraid. You need to work very patiently with some people.”
Behavioral psychologists call this exposure therapy. The basic idea is that voluntarily approaching the thing that scares you may help relieve fear, a little at a time.
What They Are Taught
First up, the ladies got a safety briefing. After that, they were treated to a private individual lesson and a chance to test their new skills. Most took to it quickly. They shot targets placed five to seven feet away and were given their targets to keep.
The ladies then returned to the showrooms, where they congregated, comparing results and shopping for firearms and accessories. Meanwhile, podcasters interviewed guests and participants, while tables of pro-gun folks, such as campus-carry advocate Antonia Okafor, Chicago Guns Matter’s Rhonda Ezell and the NRA-ILA’s Grassroots tent were there to offer further chances at education. Other tables were laden with pink “Legally Armed in Detroit” shirts. A reporter or two mingled with the rest. Gubernatorial candidate James Craig arrived to support the event.
Over the years, Rick Ector’s crew has trained thousands of women from the Detroit area how to shoot and how to carry a concealed handgun.
“I’m just wanting to protect my family,” a participant named Tareda told America’s 1st Freedom. “I’ve shot before, but this is a refresher for me. I have two small children and my mother, so protecting my home and my family is a must for me.”
“It’s not often that you see a lot of women out here wanting to have a firearm,” she noted. She already teaches her kids the fundamentals of gun safety. “I’m definitely going to teach them as they get older that this is something that’s very important, and that it’s not a toy, and that it is for safety,” she said. Tareda isn’t a gun owner, but said, “I will be, very soon!”
Another participant named Stacey said she just wanted some practice. She had a gun, and a permit to carry, but said she finds solo trips to the range a little challenging. “As a female,” she said, lowering her voice, “it’s kind of hard to go somewhere and practice without the other people thinking that you need their help. I don’t need your help. It’s kind of intimidating walking into a gun range. But this is like, ‘Oh there’s gonna be a bunch of them, so they won’t single me out.’”
Another participant, who preferred to be unnamed, had no prior experience with guns. “I was kind of scared of guns,” she said. “My mom was scared of guns, and she kind of put that into me. With everything going on today, and being a single woman living alone, I think it’s important to have some kind of knowledge. I’m interested in getting my carry permit now. I think today was kind of liberating.”
What’s driving this newfound interest from women in firearms?
“I think women are getting more involved because they’re watching the news,” Rick said. “In the last year especially, they’re seeing a lot of unrest around the country. In a lot of cases, on orders from local leadership, law enforcement wasn’t doing too much. It’s very unsettling; it rattled a lot of people, especially women.”
“Some women are starting to understand that they’re their own first responder,” said Tanisha. “They’re understanding their husbands and boyfriends won’t always be around.”
Candi then said, “Women are buying more guns because society is destroying our men, and we know we have to step up and protect ourselves, our kids and in some cases, our husbands. For me personally, my aha moment came when I found out a friend suffered a home invasion. She was beaten severely and had to watch her daughters being raped. I looked at my seven beautiful daughters and thought, there’s no way on God’s green earth someone’s going to walk into my house and touch my babies. Both of us will go down first.”
As a woman of color, Candi admitted the road hasn’t always been easy. “Gun people are some of the best people out there. They’re so warm; they’re so compassionate; they love what they do and they want to share it with the world. And yeah, some of those good old boys initially made fun of me. I was about 75 pounds heavier when I started, and I knew some of them had that Aunt Jemima stereotype and were wondering what I was doing on the range. They weren’t laughing for long once they saw me shoot!”
The Event has Evolved
Over the years, Rick’s crew has trained thousands of women at Top Gun and Recoil ranges. In 2020, close to 2,000 participants turned out. This past year saw about half as many, which was less than expected, but still a resounding success. The year before saw more social unrest and increased crime, plus competing events at the time were shut down by the pandemic. Last summer’s event was different, but range officers and managers agree that what was lost in quantity may have been gained in quality. Instructors had more time to spend with each student, especially for the timid or anxious.
“We actually had time dedicated to making the experience more personalized to each woman’s individual needs,” Tanisha said. “For years, we saw steady growth, but hadn’t taken the time to realize what was being sacrificed. It’s also a positive because it reflects where we are as a nation-a lot calmer than last year where people were generally scared.”
Both ranges reported sturdy sales on both days despite being closed to the public. Participants received complimentary range passes, and over two dozen customers have already returned to redeem them. Between the two ranges, almost as many new guns were also sold.
“I was still satisfied with the weekend,” Rick said. “This incredible event continued its excellent safety record, as no injuries of any type occurred during the entire weekend. It could become a model for others, and I’m eager to see that happen.”
For people who want to get involved or to duplicate these results, Rick suggested starting small. “I don’t think this is something you can do on a big scale right away. Our first event only had a few dozen women. You have to start by identifying what resources you can leverage. Facilities, manpower, equipment like guns and ammunition, media, social media, advertising. There’s a lot that needs to be done, so you need to start at a very manageable level and grow strategically.”
Tanisha echoed that sentiment. “If you don’t have your resources in order, forget about it. It’s not a cheap thing to do. You need a gun range. You need guns and ammunition, which isn’t easy right now. Targets, eye protection, ear protection. That’s the bare minimum. Next, you need a whole lotta help. No matter how great you are, you can’t do it by yourself. Network with other instructors in or outside of your area. Line up instructors, safety officers, someone to check registrations. You need a classroom teacher who gives a welcome, icebreaker safety briefing. It should be someone who can entertain them a little bit before teaching the fundamentals before you ever go on a range.”
Then there’s publicity. “Make sure women are aware of what you’re doing,” Rick said. “If you do it correctly, they’ll show up. Watch your calendars so you aren’t competing with other big events. Weather is hard to plan for, but you have to take it into account.”
For the dauntless souls who pull off the event every year, the results are certainly worthwhile. Instructors learn from one another, ranges get publicity and new customers and women from all walks of life are informed and empowered about self-defense and the Second Amendment.
“You have to start before you’re ready,” Rick said. “Step out on faith that you’ll be able to do something at some level. As you journey and progress, the universe will conspire to assist you. You’ll meet people you never met before, hear things you’ve never heard. You have to take it on faith that if you start, you’ll learn as you go, and you’ll find the resources you need. That was my story.”
This appeared in the February 2022 issue of America's 1st Freedom.