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Originally published Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 7:27 PM

More women are using guns for fun and protection

Experts say women are taking more gun classes, buying and packing pistols and larger firearms.

Detroit Free Press

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DETROIT — One a recent Saturday morning, Debra Robinson, 52, of Macomb Township, Mich., drove two hours to spend the day learning about and practicing shooting guns.

The married mother of two adult children admits that it was a little intimidating to point and shoot a gun at first. "It's a deadly weapon," she says. "I didn't grow up playing with guns. I'm a quilter."

But Robinson wants to learn to shoot — for personal protection and for fun.

"Our home was burglarized once while we were at work. The kids are grown up and out of the house. So now I have the luxury of time and I want to learn while I can."

Robinson signed up for the six-hour class almost as soon as she saw a newspaper notice about it. It's a good thing she signed up quickly, because the women-only class reached its maximum number of 25 students well before the deadline. There was a waiting list of women from all over Michigan, who wanted to learn more about guns.

The class is among several offered through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources project, B O W (Becoming an Outdoors Woman), that encourages women to do just that. The response was so great that organizers Tonya Sies, a member of the Linwood-Bay Sportsman's Club, and BOW coordinator Sue Tabor are already planning a second class in March.

The popularity of the class comes as no surprise to people working in the business who've seen growing interest in guns among women in recent years. Experts say women are taking more gun classes, buying and packing pistols and larger firearms, and they're having fun with guns at target ranges and gun sporting events.

"Since 2001, more than 57,000 women have attended our (Women on Target) clinics across the country," says Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association. "And we know anecdotally from our NRA-certified instructors that they're seeing more and more women enrolling in their classes. Gun clubs are now having Ladies Night Out at the range. And shops are carrying more products tailored to women."

When Michigan's law went into effect in 2001 allowing most adults who are not felons to carry a concealed firearm if they have a concealed pistol license, or CPL, which requires taking a gun education class and other stipulations, the vast majority of those taking classes through the Wayne County Sheriff's Office were men, said Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

"Now the typical class is 40 percent to 50 percent female," he says.

Mark Cortis, owner of Wild West Academy in Royal Oak, Mich., said "There are still way more men coming in, but we have several women in almost every class now. It used to be husbands bringing their wives or guys are bringing their girlfriends. Now, we get quite a number of women coming in on their own."

Several factors are driving women to the gun range, experts say.

"The first and foremost reason is women no longer want to feel vulnerable," Parsons says. "They want to feel responsible for their own personal safety and the safety of their families. Just by their physical size, the perpetrator is going to be bigger and stronger. A firearm is the great equalizer."

Kathy Jackson, author of "The Cornered Cat" (White Feather Press, $20), a gun safety and information book for women, agrees.

"These days no one expects a knight in shining armor to swoop in and protect you. You have to protect yourself," says Jackson of Chehalis, Wash., who specializes in teaching shooting and safety clinics for women.

While safety may be the initial attraction, many women are finding they enjoy the challenge, power and immediate gratification that come from firing a weapon.

Lori Hardy, 47, of Chesterfield Township, Mich., got a concealed pistol license about three years ago. "It makes me feel safe," says Hardy, a manager at MotorCity Casino. In addition to carrying a pistol for protection, she often plays sporting games at area ranges — something she wouldn't have imagined doing three years ago.

"I fell in love with the sport," says Hardy, who along with her boyfriend regularly joins other couples for gun sporting games.

"I never thought I would own a gun — ever, and my mom is still freaked out about it. But owning a gun is not necessarily about hurting someone; it's an appreciation of the sport."

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KNOW YOUR GUNS

Educate yourself. Take classes. Gun safety classes are offered by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and many police departments. Also check gun stores and clubs. Expect to pay at least $100 for the 8-hour CPL class that is required to get a license to carry a concealed pistol.

Practice. Go to gun ranges and practice target shooting.

Research websites that offer online information and direction, such as those of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Ownership at www.mcrgo.org and the National Rifle Association at nra.org

Read and know Michigan laws. Find info on the site of the Michigan State Police: www.michigan.gov/msp. Two books specifically for women are "The Cornered Cat: A Woman's Guide to Concealed Carry" by Kathy Jackson (White Feather Press, $20) and "Personal Defense For Women " by Gila Hayes (Gun Digest Books, $21.99). Jackson also has a website: www.corneredcat.com

For more information about the B.O.W. (Becoming An Outdoors Woman) program and upcoming classes run by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, visit www.michigan.gov/bow

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MORE THAN EVER, GUN SITES KEEP WOMEN IN MIND

Women are packing heat, and makers of guns and gun accessories are taking notice.

Now, more than ever, there is a wider variety of products aimed at women who carry guns. Think purses, jeans, jackets, thigh holsters, vests, boxers and maternity tops. There also are more websites offering gun products for women.

"The selection on the Secure Purse site is at least three times larger than it was three years ago when I began looking," says Tonya Sies, a member of the Linwood-Bay Sportsman's Club and organizer of a recent state-sponsored gun-education class for women in Linwood, just north of Bay City, Mich.

Sies also was pleased to recently discover chickholster.com, which makes thigh holsters. "I'm intrigued because it will allow me to wear dresses while carrying a concealed weapon," she says.

For 3 extra bucks, the company will add a flower to the $50 holster.

Gun education instructor and author Kathy Jackson says both the quantity and quality of products targeted to women have improved.

"A few years ago if you went looking for something for women, it was either really cheesy or made for a man and splashed with pink paint," Jackson says. "Now, there are some really nice purses out there that make it safe for you to drop your firearm into your purse and hold it safely."

"When I first started in this business about a decade ago, only two companies offered purses for women. Now I can come up with a dozen without even thinking," Jackson says. "And it's clear there's someone creating the purse that actually cares about the aesthetics. They're much more attractive."

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