If you’d happened to visit Recoil Firearms in Detroit on a particular Saturday in August, you would have been treated to the sight of a crowd hundreds-deep waiting to go inside.
It was no ordinary day for the shooting range; in fact, it was shut down to outside patrons entirely. This was a private affair, exclusively for women who want to learn how to shoot.
The safety briefing line stretched down the sidewalk—all the people were dutifully masked and patient, as volunteers checked their temperatures. The line for the range itself wrapped in the opposite direction, around a corner and to the end of the building.
This crowd was made up of hundreds of women, young and old, tall and short, black and white and everything in between. There were Trump masks and Obama masks, Black Lives Matter shirts and Make America Great Again shirts—all adorning people patiently waiting to be introduced to firearms.
The annual event is the brainchild of Rick Ector, a computer engineer who became a firearms instructor after his job was outsourced overseas. Rick recalls reading a story nine years ago of a woman being abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered. Her body was dumped in a garbage can.
It’s a horrific story that repeats itself with alarming frequency in Detroit. Dubbed the most-dangerous city in Michigan, and routinely ranking as one of the most-dangerous in the nation, the city annually records hundreds of carjackings, thousands of robberies and assaults and, in 2019, nearly a thousand recorded incidents of rape. The city surpassed the prior year’s homicides just halfway through 2020, even though they hired 300 additional officers.
Rick began carrying after his own brush with crime. In 2006, he was robbed at gunpoint in his own garage, prompting him to take advantage of Michigan’s freshly implemented shall-issue laws by getting his concealed pistol license. Bitten by the training bug, he began taking as many NRA firearms classes as he could find, and then instructor-level classes; he obtained his NRA instructor certificate—among many others.
Upon reading of another murdered woman, Rick hit on the idea of organizing an event specifically for women to learn to shoot. The first event drew 50 participants, the next year saw a hundred and it has grown ever since. Last year, over 800 women showed up. This year, Rick resolved to set an “outrageous” goal of 1,500 women over two days.
A jaw-dropping 1,938 showed up.
Rick credits the turnout to social-media promotion, word-of-mouth and the current social climate. He says the universal, nonpolitical nature of the event helps draw in and convert others to the cause.
“I keep the event intentionally nonpartisan,” Rick told America’s 1st Freedom. “People don’t always see the connection between politics and guns. Some people do; some people have had epiphanies lately where they were vehemently anti-gun and then saw what was going on in society and thought, ‘Hey, I need a gun.’ They’re finding out they have to go through this burdensome process to buy a gun and to get their concealed carry. I think lights go on.”
First, the ladies encounter Tanisha Moner, who runs the introduction and safety briefing. Addressing a room of roughly 80 participants at a time, Tanisha relates to the women how she was abducted, robbed and sexually assaulted at the age of 17. Her assailants eventually went to prison, but Tanisha was left with crippling anxiety about guns—anxiety, she says, that was only cured by facing her fear and going to the shooting range, and eventually getting her concealed-carry permit and NRA instructor certification.
It’s a story her audience can connect with; she says women often approach her afterwards and sometimes tell her about their own prior trauma.
“I fell in love with the event the very first day,” Tanisha said. “I can’t imagine not being a part of it. It’s amazing to see these ladies, who were in the same position I was in not very long ago. “
Tanisha next explains the four rules of gun safety, a little about gun anatomy, what to expect on the range and how to be safe. It’s a presentation she’ll repeat a dozen times throughout the day. Once the briefing is over, the women are released to line up for the range, and the next group comes in.
Roughly two dozen instructors are on the range full-time, patiently introducing new shooters to guns one by one. Several of them flew in from across the country to help. Other volunteers sweep brass, pair students with instructors and serve as extra pairs of eyes for safety. Tourniquets and medical gear, increasingly a fixture at gun ranges, can be seen everywhere, but in the event’s nine years, there’s never been an injury.
Much of the nearly 25,000 rounds of ammunition was donated by a local company, Fenix Ammunition, and by Michigan Gun Owners—no small feat in the midst of ammo shortages. Other groups donated safety glasses and ear protection, gun locks, food for volunteers and the flamboyantly pink targets.
Rick is a gregarious presence, sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, an NRA hat and a “Legally Armed in Detroit” shirt. He runs back and forth between instructing on the range and performing his duties as host. He welcomes new visitors with a broad grin and congratulates participants as they leave. He diligently ensures they get their free gun lock and pink hat.
After leaving the range, some women head straight to the gun counter to purchase their first gun. Some pose for photos with their targets, or compare their results, or shop for t-shirts, such as one sporting a gun silhouette with the caption “Aroma Therapy.” According to the shop, many more will stop by in the coming weeks to shop or sign up for classes.
“It’s so special when you see them come out of the range,” said Tanisha. “Their smiling faces show they feel so empowered and happy and excited. They’re always so grateful and appreciative.”
Rick says, at the end of the day, it’s about empowering women. “An insane number of women are raped in the city of Detroit. How can you prevent that? If there’s a rapist and a victim, a rape is going to happen. You can tell women to do all sorts of crazy things: Fake being crazy, stick your fingers down your throat to make yourself vomit, unleash your bodily functions and soil your clothing to seem unattractive, lay still and it will be over soon and you’ll live. To me, that’s unacceptable. Give a woman a gun, and the training and the ability to explain why you shot that rapist, and I’m okay with it.”
Tanisha says some of her students have ended up using deadly force to protect themselves. “This is Detroit,” she said. “They aren’t playing. People are alive today because of this training.”
Perhaps because it is Detroit, it isn’t so surprising that many minorities show up each year.
“This event is for everybody,” said Tanisha. “Guns are for everybody. My first day, I thought it would be all white Republican men, and I don’t fit that bill. The people who showed up in the early years were mostly older white women. Now you’ll see Latino women, more Black women, Muslim women in full Muslim garb and, of course, white women, people in wheelchairs, members of the LGBT community. They’re soccer moms, 12-year-old little girls who are Girl Scouts, they’re 80-year-old grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Last year we had an 88-year-old woman. It’s all over the place now, and I love it.”
Tanisha, who lives with her husband just outside of the city, says she’s never had any problems with local police. She praises Detroit’s police chief, James Craig, who in a 2014 interview with the NRA, went on record endorsing armed citizenry and acknowledging that the police are hard-pressed to protect everyone in the city.
“More Black people are getting into firearms,” said Tanisha. “They’re learning and finding out that the Second Amendment is theirs, too; it does not belong to just one group of people. It’s your Second Amendment, too!”
“I really enjoy making a difference in the lives of people who feel emboldened to take an active role in their own personal protection,” said Rick. “If you really are serious about wanting the pro-gun community to vote our way and see things the way we do, all we have to do is train them and teach them. When you buy a gun, it’s an epic journey. It’s a path that inevitably makes you an advocate. Eventually, it will change how you see the world.”
Getting serious about concealed carry and self-defense requires a simple, even unconscious premise: “I want to live.” To this, Rick, Tanisha and others like them affirm a principle deeper still: your life is worth protecting. They’re empowering women to conquer their fears and boldly take back their own agency over their lives.
It’s a message that resonates with anyone who has ever been harmed or oppressed. It’s the message affirmed for nearly two thousand Detroit women this past August. And it’s the message that the National Rifle Association continues to affirm; after all, there’s no better way to emphasize the value of a life than by affirming the right to protect it.