When the hand that rocks the cradle holds a gun.
Written by Beth Alcazar
Photography by Eric Dejuan
On February 12, 2013, instead of scanning the typical social media posts about upcoming dinner plans or costume-clad pets, I started to observe a disturbing trend in the news feed as local friends and fellow parents began commenting—at a dizzying rate—about an incident occurring at my daughter’s school, Chelsea Middle School. The incident in question wasn’t about a sixth grade food fight, a badly behaving teacher, or an outbreak of online bullying. There was a man with a handgun in the school, holding five young girls hostage at gunpoint in the gym—our gym, where we’d watched my oldest child play basketball all winter long. My heart sunk. I immediately felt sick.
This was not some sensational media hype borrowed from the national headlines. This was not a horror story from light years away in a community of which I’d never heard. This was six miles from our home, in our school. And while some parents sheltered their children and chose to hide the details from their families, I saw it as a necessary opportunity to revisit our family’s discussions about guns. I saw the incident as an important validation for the many reasons why we have firearms in our home—and why I choose to concealed carry.
I actually grew up in a home without firearms. I personally never even touched a gun of any kind until my senior year of high school, when my boyfriend at the time thought some handgun shooting practice in his backyard would be a fun date. It was fun—exhilarating, even. But it did scare me a bit. And I knew from that moment on, as far as guns were concerned, I needed to be cautious but informed, reserved but ready. Unfortunately, with dangerous people and violent criminals in our world, that hands-off philosophy doesn’t make a lot of sense. And as a mom, I’ve realized that I’m not just my children’s guide, disciplinarian, teacher, boo-boo kisser, shooer-away of monsters, comforter, cheerleader, and counselor…I am also their first responder. And I want to be prepared. One way to do so is to carry a firearm.
Of course, concealed carry for women is not all that unusual nowadays. More and more females of all ages and experience levels, from moms and grandmothers to college students and businesswomen, are getting involved with shooting for home protection, for self-defense, and for fun. According to a recent article by AWR Hawkins, “Women have emerged as one of the fastest-growing demographics of new gun buyers and concealed-carry permit holders in the country, and in the process, they have become a driving force in the shift in American attitudes from pro-gun control to pro-gun rights.”
Thanks to the influx of women who are now involved with firearms, the image of the “typical” gun owner is changing. No longer is the NRA member, the action-pistol competitor, the firearms instructor, or the concealed-carry gun owner automatically a middle-aged male. Women are making their mark in the industry. Just consider the following statistics:
•In 2005, 13 percent of women were gun owners. By 2014, that number had jumped to 31 percent (Statistic Brain).
•In 2012, 69 percent of women favored stricter gun-control laws. Currently, that number is down to 55 percent (Gallup).
•In 2012, 80 percent of gun retailers reported an increase in female customers (CNN).
•Women now account for 37 percent of new target shooting participants (National Shooting Sports Foundation).
•In 2014, 58 percent of women believed that guns make a home safer, with only 34 percent believing that guns make a home more dangerous (Gallup).
•In 2003, 36 percent of women reported having guns in the home; that number is currently up to around 42 percent (Gallup).
To verify the increase in women shooters, you can also just look around. Local shooting ranges are often filled with women, with the ladies even outnumbering the men. There are more personal protection classes designed for women, attended by women, or taught by female instructors, courses such as the NRA’s popular Women on Target program and the United States Concealed Carry Association’s personal protection class.
Various manufacturers are also taking notice of the growing female market and are making products just for women. And I’m not talking about the old “make it pink/make it shrink” substitute. There are more compact firearms for smaller hands and for easier, on-body concealment. There are more holsters with women’s unique needs and preferences in mind. There are various ammunition options, including lighter recoil and personal-defense ammo from Hornady, who donates a portion of proceeds to breast cancer research. There are also countless accessories, books, training aids, and storage options available to help women become safe and proficient with a gun.
In addition to female-specific firearms products, there are also organizations, groups, and teams popping up all around the nation, all with the goal of bringing women together for learning and training. The Well Armed Woman, for example, has chapters in 49 states and focuses on monthly meetings that empower, equip, and educate women in all things related to gun safety, ownership, use, and concealed carry. And ladies are thriving in these environments. In fact, women are quite skilled at—and comfortable with—soaking up inspiration from their fellow female friends, especially when guys are absent from the situation. They don’t have to be concerned with being too ladylike or being too tomboyish; they can just relax, focus on the task at hand, and give 100 percent to new, unusual, or unfamiliar activities.
It’s refreshing to see women make connections and find strength as they embrace their Second Amendment rights. They have acknowledged that being educated about—and competent with—guns is an added layer of safety. They have recognized that teaching their children to respect firearms is a necessity. And they have witnessed that a gun in the hands of the proper person can mean the difference between a terrible and inexplicable tragedy and a controlled and diffused situation.
The hostage event that took place with an intruder wielding a gun and holding five young girls at my daughter’s school is a perfect example of the latter. Thankfully, there was an armed Shelby County deputy—a school resource officer—stationed at the middle school in the wake of the Newtown shootings. He was able to negotiate the release of the girls in about 20 minutes, without any further violence or physical injuries.
Whether women have chosen to carry a gun because of a harmful relationship, a risky situation, or a frightening experience, or if they simply want to even the odds and have a better chance at self-defense, females are continuing to break the shooting industry’s traditional, “boy’s club” mold. And scores of American women are purchasing, training with, and carrying firearms in the name of female empowerment because we refuse to stand by, idle and helpless, and become victims or allow harm to come to our families or to our children.
I am so proud to be just one of millions of women (and mothers), who are, every day, growing in numbers and growing in strength. You know the saying “I am woman; hear me roar”? I believe we may need to bump that up a bit with, “We are women; hear us thunder,” because women are taking the firearms industry and the concealed-carry lifestyle by storm.
“I will never be a helpless victim again. Years ago, my husband and I were mugged at knifepoint. While we escaped physically unharmed, I lived with an almost paralyzing fear for a long time afterwards. After having children, my need to be proactive against another possible attack increased in urgency. My decision to carry concealed is not one I take lightly. I train regularly, even competing in matches to hone my skills. The most important lesson I have learned is how to avoid a violent encounter by always being aware of my surroundings. I hope I never have to use my gun to defend myself or my family, but if I do, I will be prepared.”
“I don’t carry because I’m scared. I carry because there is evil in the world, and it’s getting worse every day. I carry because there are idiots out there intent on causing harm, even death, to others; I want to be prepared to defend myself and others. I was a victim of one of the bad guys many years ago, and I want to do what I can to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Carrying just makes sense.”