These Gun Owners Say Good Things About Our Future

by
posted on June 20, 2024
women shooting at outdoor range
Photo courtesy NRA Women’s Ladies Pistol Project

Women are embracing their Second Amendment rights like never before. Gun ownership overall has grown significantly over the last few decades, and women make up at least 25% of those saying they personally own a gun in various polls.

Incredibly, estimates tabulated by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) indicate that background checks for likely gun sales in 2023 were nearly 15.9 million. Of that, 4.8 million checks were estimated to be for new gun owners. Since women have accounted for more than 30% of first-time gun buyers in recent years, about 1.4 million women decided to purchase a gun for the first time last year alone.

And we don’t have to trust numbers from the trade association for firearms manufacturers, as a lot of data shows these trends. As for why, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 25% of female gun owners say self-defense is their main reason.

“Women are being told not to worry about crime, that it’s all in their imagination,” said Julie Gunlock, a conservative commentator and Director of the Independent Women’s Network. “We’re seeing, in the middle of the day in New York City, criminals hitting women in the face. We’re seeing an incredible increase in carjackings and other violent crimes, and they’ll say, ‘Oh no, violent crime is down.’ Well, when you don’t charge someone and you don’t arrest someone, um, yeah, the rates look really good. But women know.”

Whatever their motivations, it’s worth looking at the impact this demographic change is having and considering what challenges remain.

Culture, Politics and Purchasing Power
A unique July 2019 study, titled  Intersectionality in Action: Gun Ownership and Women’s Political Participation, found that female gun owners are more likely to discuss gun ownership with those who disagree with them than were women who don’t own guns. The study attributed this to an increased feeling of empowerment. This openness could help push back against misguided media narratives and the efforts of Moms Demand Action, Everytown and other anti-gun organizations that try to weaponize women against their rights. The study also found that women gun owners were more active in politics, including in contacting officials, contributing money, signing petitions and voting.

Female gun owners in politics can be particularly influential in inspiring other women toward political advocacy. Winsome Earle-Sears, lieutenant governor of Virginia, made waves in her campaign by including a picture of herself in mailed fliers holding an AR-15.

“I’ve heard from many women—especially women of color—who share with me that they are gun owners, even though many of them are lifelong Democrats,” Earle-Sears said when asked about the rising numbers of gun-owning women. “Black women are the fastest-growing group of gun owners in the U.S. Guns are equalizers, and I will continue to be a voice for Second Amendment rights.”

The Intersectionality in Action study also found that female gun owners can more easily be politically “mobilized,” as the study termed it, to fight against bad policymaking, partially because they participate in organizations like the NRA or Women for Gun Rights (formerly DC Project). Such organizations are very popular. The Armed Women of America (AWA), for example, has grown to more than 335 chapters nationwide.

“The camaraderie and support seen in women’s shooting events is incomparable and inspires them to take their training and knowledge of firearms to the next level,” said NRA Women Editor-in-Chief Ann Smith.

Women also have great purchasing power, with the media-research firm Nielsen estimating that women will be responsible for 75% of discretionary spending by 2028. This has an obvious impact on the firearms industry and American economy overall, via purchases of guns and related accessories; however, it has a subtler impact as well, thanks to Pittman-Robertson funding, which goes toward maintaining public ranges and public lands.

“I wouldn’t say that hunting and shooting necessarily changes women politically,” said Gabriella Hoffman, Independent Women’s Forum Center for Energy and Conservation Director, “but it can make them more skeptical of what they used to believe. And it’s facilitating an interesting conversation once they know about how Pittman-Robertson funds affect conservation.”

Women-specific events and organizations
Women-specific events and organizations, such as NRA Women’s Ladies Pistol Project, NRA Women on Target and the Armed Women of America, are key sources of camaraderie and education.


Removing Obstacles
As encouraging as all of this is, barriers to female gun ownership remain.

“It’s like with cars,” Il Ling New, a trainer at Gunsite, told America’s 1st Freedom in a recent interview. “When cars first came on the market, they were considered to be mostly for men. Now women use them without thought. That’s the goal.”

So how do we get there? Small but vital improvements can be made in every aspect of the gun-owning experience.

Training, for example, can be an important entry point to truly embracing gun ownership. Thousands of women try out firearms for the first time through programs like NRA Women on Target. And, in all NRA classes held from 2019 through 2023, women made up approximately 35% of students. An NSSF report titled Women Gun Owners: Purchasing, Perceptions and Participation, reveals that 73.4% of polled women gun owners had taken at least one training class, but the median number of courses taken was three. Several instructors told me that they felt women were more likely to return for advanced training as well.

However, despite seeking additional training themselves, women are not as likely to become instructors. In NRA instructor courses over the same period, women made up only 13% of participants. Attrition to that already-low number means that women seeking female instructors may not find them. Not having a female trainer available for basic courses may prevent some women from becoming gun owners at all; lack of availability at the higher levels may prevent them from advancing and thus prevent them from seeing gun ownership as a key part of their identity—and a woman only incidentally interested in firearms is less likely to fight for her right to bear arms or to try to convince others to try shooting.

“In some ways, it’s about encouragement,” Jan Ennenga, executive director of AWA, told us. “So now when you go to a class, you’re not the only female in the class. There’s more camaraderie, in a sense.”

Of course, women can and do take training from men—a practice several female instructors told me they encourage so students will get different perspectives. Unfortunately, many women come to the realization they need a gun only after they’ve experienced violence, usually perpetrated by a man, which prevents them from feeling comfortable in a male-to-female, teacher-to-student power dynamic, even with well-reviewed male instructors. Sexual harassment can also be a factor.

Conservationist Gabriella Hoffman
Conservationist Gabriella Hoffman

Even if they have not experienced threats, however, women new to gun ownership tend to seek out other women, knowing they are more likely to communicate comparably and to understand the physical and mental differences between the sexes. Men may conceptually know that women—and particularly older women—might struggle to rack a slide, for example, or to carry concealed on their smaller frames, but, since they’ve rarely dealt with the specific limitations themselves, they might struggle to help.

Women are less likely to speak up in mixed-gender classes, too, according to Gabby Franco, an Olympic shooter and instructor. Though she encourages women to seek training from both genders, she acknowledges the value of female instructors and women-only courses: “The dynamic is different. Women feel more confident with other women, and women see more gray areas while men are often absolute.”

This is even more true if the instructor is like them. “I’m a mom and a grandma, not a Navy SEAL,” said Dawn Dolpp, an instructor and chapter leader with AWA. “But that’s exactly who they want—they want somebody just like them.”

To help women transition into gun ownership, trainers, both male and female, might conduct classes a little differently than they have in the past. For example, many upper-level courses don’t focus on what average civilians need. Travis and Ashley Worlock, who run ATAC, or Appalachian Tactical Acquisition Course, emphasize what they term “armed survival,” in which your sole goal is to get yourself and loved ones out of danger. They limit their course to four people to ensure each student has their needs met, which generally makes women feel more comfortable. They use only suppressed .22-caliber pistols so students don’t get fatigued over the course of the day. Finally, they use a 365-degree training course (with careful choreography of shooting directions) to make the training more realistic—something women really seem to want in advanced training.

“A ‘train as you fight mentality’ has proliferated throughout the firearms industry,” said Travis, “but it is being ignored in the very essence of what it should mean.”

“It seems that women now want that higher-level training,” added Ashley. “We noticed that shortcoming—there was not very much advanced training for women—and we wanted to address that.”

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears
Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears

NRA instructor Robin Evans, who founded Chicks with Triggers, told us she’s made it her mission to offer realistic training and to help women feel comfortable all the way through the gun-ownership process. She, too, offers one-on-one training, uses .22-caliber pistols and works women up to whatever level they are comfortable with. She lets them try all the most-popular guns, goes to the range and gun store with them, teaches them to disassemble and clean their guns and offers training on concealed carry techniques and gear.

“When you’re with a bunch of women, you’re allowed to let your guard down versus you being the only woman in the class, right?” Robin told us in a recent interview. “My classes are mixed with guns and gossip. It allows everyone to take their guard down and so we’re not like drill sergeants, like we’re not joining the military tomorrow; it’s okay to relax.”

Retail and Manufacturing
The level of comfort translates to the retail experience, too.

“You walk in any gun shop and 99.9% of the time, it’s a man behind the counter,” said Dawn. “And you know, there are 400 black guns, a pink one, a turquoise one … . Women new to it don’t always know what to ask and a lot of them aren’t even comfortable asking. I’ve been harping on gun shops: Please stop steering every single female that walks through the door over to the revolver section! And that was a hard sell at first, because they’re like, ‘Oh, you don’t know what you’re doing here; let me take you down here to these guns that have fewer mechanical parts.’”

This problem of being steered toward small revolvers is another comment I heard repeatedly. Yet, the previously mentioned NSSF report on women gun owners indicates that semi-automatic pistols are the most-commonly owned gun for women at 56% (followed by shotguns). Many of the revolvers so often suggested have long, heavy, double-action triggers and significant recoil paired with a short barrel, which makes them non-ideal for any new gun owner.

Dawn said she starts her students with .22 caliber, as most instructors do. “After a couple of those, they work through about a dozen nine millimeters,” she said. “The last one they shoot is a .38 revolver—and I have never once had any woman say, ‘Yep, that’s the one for me.’”

“This is one of the reasons I assembled our annual NRA Women Ladies Pistol Project,” said Ann Smith. “We let them come together as group, while allowing each woman to find a handgun that’s right for her, not what someone else told her is right.”

Gunsite trainer Il Ling New
Gunsite trainer Il Ling New serves as an examples in advanced training.

If they can’t offer such a program themselves, gun stores might benefit from establishing a relationship with an instructor who does. To draw more women, a relationship with a female instructor is a great idea, as are discounts on training and hiring knowledgeable women to work in the store.

Manufacturers are also starting to rethink some of their strategies, increasingly trying to meet women’s needs in gun designs and to avoid trivializing the experience. Some women may love a bright pink gun, of course, but most women buy guns that suit their needs and fit their hands and bodies the best, with further considerations being quality and price—just like men do.

Marketing to Women
Besides these changes in firearms training, retail and manufacturing practices, marketing to women is improving, though its scope remains limited. According to a study published in the Journal of Macromarketing titled Advertising Frames and the Legitimation of the Armed American Woman, women’s firearm advertising has broadened considerably. In the late 20th century and first few years of the 21st century, ad messages showed mostly women under threat or as sexual objects. Now, however, firearms advertising to women has at least four common, more legitimate “frames,” which the study’s authors label “the Serious Student, Capable Carrier, Domestic Defender and Action Hero.”

These frames are improvements, but what most advertising still lacks is “normal women engaged in normal activities, like meeting a friend at a café,” said Il Ling. “We should see guns as tools that take care of a problem.”

Once women have become comfortable with firearms, they become a positive force in supporting the firearms industry. Moreover, women have a large influence regarding what activities their family engages in and on their family’s discretionary spending. The more women embrace the right to bear arms as a core piece of their identities, the more they’ll positively affect a pro-freedom culture, get politically involved themselves and pass their understanding on to others. Taking a deep look at ways to smooth the path is thus incredibly worthwhile for all those who value their Second Amendment rights.

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