Soon after her 21st birthday, new mother Jessica Royal (then Cothon) obtained her concealed-carry permit (CCW) in Nashville, Tenn. She prayed that she would never need to pull a trigger in defense of her life. But after she endured years of abuse from her partner—including being beaten to a pulp, strangled to the brink of unconsciousness and even set on fire—that chilling moment came two days after Christmas in 2013.
It was a frosty but otherwise nondescript night that opened a new chapter of Jessica’s so-far traumatic young life.
“That night, he set out to kill me,” Jessica remembered, speaking in staccato as she recalled his hands gripped tight around her neck, the room blurring and her life flashing before her eyes, all while her three young children slept nearby.
Despite the fog surrounding the painful memory, some moments remain crystal clear. Jessica, then 29, squawked to her mother to call 911. But she knew it would take several minutes for law enforcement to arrive, and she saw something deadlier in her ex’s intoxicated eyes that night—something she hadn’t seen before, even on those nights of merciless pain and abuse.
“And then something came over me. It was playing over and over what my babies would do without me,” said Jessica. “I knew I had to fight with everything I had.”
Jessica stumbled to her feet and grabbed her concealed-carry gun from a nearby drawer. As her ex’s overbearing body stormed toward her, she pulled the trigger and a bullet ripped through the thigh of the man she had once loved.
“It was like something out of the matrix; everything was just floating,” Jessica said. “I had gone into survival mode. It was his life or mine. And I chose mine.”
Jessica’s abuser bled out, still threatening to kill her as he lay wounded on the hard floor. She was worried, but when police finally arrived, they treated her with the utmost respect—like the victim she long had been. Today, Jessica does not regret her decision. There is no guilt—only an immense appreciation for her renewed lease on life.
“My children gave me the strength to get through this ordeal, but what I tell other women is that whether you have children or not, you are worth it. Your life is worth it,” she stressed. “I am very happily remarried, and I am pregnant with my fourth child, but I still have my carry permit. And I still do carry.”
Jessica is hardly the only woman who has taken back her life by arming herself.
Just a few weeks earlier in that same dark December, some 500 miles away in Ohio, Marica Phipps stumbled naked through the snow—her body and soul crushed—after enduring another round of severe violence from her former partner and the father of her young children.
That was to be the last straw. Despite growing up in a strong Second Amendment-supporting family, Marica acknowledged that she had always felt somewhat intimidated by firearms, until she realized it might be her only hope to stay alive long enough to see her daughter grow up. After obtaining an emergency CCW permit, Marica took classes, bought her first small firearm and breathed something of a sigh of relief.
“It is not until you have almost had your life taken that you realize you will do everything in your power to protect your life and that of your kids,” she said. “But having a permit comes with tremendous responsibility, and I make sure others [survivors] are comfortable at the range first. As women, we have to lift each other up.”
And on the heels of the cataclysmic 2020—defined by a global health pandemic, protracted civil unrest and an election swinging in favor of pro-gun control politicians—it is hardly a surprise that there has been a surge in both gun sales and the granting of concealed-carry permits nationwide.
According to FBI data, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) received 39,695,315 background check requests throughout last year, compared to 28,369,750 in 2019. Some of these checks were for those seeking concealed-carry permits.
Meanwhile, a study by Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting estimates U.S. firearms sales in October at 1.9 million units, a 65% leap from a year earlier. Single handgun sales increased year-over-year by 81%, and single long-gun sales increased by 48% from the past year, as per the report; however, at least 17 states no longer issue specific concealed-carry information, as citizens in a growing number of states enjoy “permitless” or constitutional carry. Thus, the real figures are likely to be underreported. The Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC), a firearms and public safety research group, has also highlighted in previous reports that the number of women with concealed-carry permits increased by 207% between 2012 and 2018.
The oddly controversial notion of a woman carrying came into the limelight earlier this year when Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (R) vowed to “carry her Glock to Congress,” noting that crime rates are high in D.C. She went on to vocalize the views of a growing contingency of American woman, pledging that she “refuse[s] to give up her rights, especially her Second Amendment rights.”
Ivonne Michaels, a 42-year-old longtime firearms supporter, agreed with Boebert. “It is all about safety,” she said. “I have seen several friends purchase firearms and acquire their permits. The indoor range we frequent has expanded their ladies-only classes. Despite what Hollywood and modern feminists tell us, we still feel vulnerable, so securing ourselves and our families is a priority. Especially since ‘defund police’ policies started taking off in some cities.”
The most-recent available research, conducted by Pew in 2017, shows that women are more likely than their male counterparts to cite protection instead of recreation as their principal reason for owning a firearm—27% of women noted security as the main reason for buying a gun, while only 8% of men cited that as a rationale.
Moreover, the CPRC documented a 34% rise in concealed-carry demand over the past four years.
“Demand is so high that it has overwhelmed many jurisdictions this year, resulting in waiting lines,” CPrC’s November 2020 report noted. “Permits for women and minorities continue to increase at a much faster rate than for either men or whites.”
Amanda Hardin, CEO and lead trainer at Lipstick Tactical, also believes the increased interest in women obtaining permits springs from a desire to protect oneself.
“Some women have been victimized. Others simply want the added layer of protection of being able to defend themselves with any and all means necessary, should it ever become necessary,” she said. “I have personally had three incidents where I was aggressively approached by a man and concerned I would have to defend myself, but all three times, the event ended without escalating. That is another huge thing about learning to carry: learning how to de-escalate a situation.”
But Amanda does have some fervent words of advice for newcomers. “Train way beyond your state’s requirements. Owning a gun, having a valid concealed-carry permit, and knowing how to safely shoot on a controlled range from a table ready position is nothing like shooting in a close-quarter self-defense situation,” she said. “Find a class focused specifically on self-defense with a handgun and take it, then practice. Be ready.”
This view is also something embraced by Arkansas-based domestic violence survivor and advocate Allyson Hottinger, who urges fellow survivors to get their concealed-carry permit if comfortable, and then to continuously train so they can be prepared for the worst.
In her case, after enduring years of horrific abuse, a police detective urged the frightened mother to carry concealed.
“A lot of survivors, like myself, have our houses set up like prisons: extra outdoor lights, cameras, doorbell cameras … but in reality, if our abuser wants to kill us, there aren’t any outdoor precautions that are going to stop him,” Allyson said. “For me, making the decision to carry a gun wasn’t because I had in mind to kill my abuser, but it was because I had made the decision that if it came down to him or me, I was no longer going to be a victim of his abuse.”
In her personal experience, Allyson said that enduring years of protracted abuse made her weak, but carrying brought her strength back. On social media, she made it a point to illuminate that she is a concealed-carry permit holder—and has not heard from her abuser since. She is also a devoted runner; thus, keeping a firearm only in her home would not suffice.
“I am a huge advocate for gun rights. It might not be an option for everyone, but for the majority of survivors, it is,” she said.
The uptick in concealed-carry permits issued to women across the country has also invigorated a new, female-friendly component of the overall firearms industry.
“I have a ladies’ group at a local range, and it’s always standing-room only. Once they find out they control the firearm, feel the recoil and hit the target, they go home and tell their friends and next time bring them along,” said Dawn Hillyer, a trainer and founder of accessories line HidingHilda.com. “The other thing is there is a camaraderie among women who carry. There are groups and resources, people to answer questions, no intimidation.”
It was the Indiana native’s own chilling brush with a stalker that sparked her initial foray into the concealed-carry world several years ago, and she has never looked back. “I was a sitting duck. I finally decided it was time to stop cowering in the corner and take back some control,” Dawn said. “And it changed my life. I took it back.”
Dawn also shed light on the relatively new phenomena that women who carry no longer need to sacrifice style for safety or risk the outline of their weapon poking out from their clothing. The options these days are endless—from corsets, underwear, waist packs and purses, to hidden pockets in dresses, sweaters, jeans and boots. Options come in almost every color, style, size and price point.
And there are other perks, too.
“We enjoy shooting—range therapy is real—and we are not afraid to share pics, talk about firearms and more. It is becoming more and more normalized with the help of social media,” she said. “That there is a rise in women who carry is an understatement. It’s more like a women’s movement.”