LIMA — In the United States, the interest and use of guns for recreation or self-protection among women is growing. Gun clubs and Conceal Carry Weapon instructors are responding to the demand, and see the need for women-only events and courses.
According to a poll on gallup.com, gun ownership among women in the United States jumped from 33 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2011 — a 10 percent increase in just two years. In comparison, men reporting ownership on the same poll increased only one percent in the same timeframe.
In an effort to help other women feel at ease, CCW Instructor Stephanie Alvarez of Pink Ice Gun Classes began offering classes to women only.
Alvarez is an Alaska native who moved to Ohio in 2004.
“My stepfather, who raised me, owned a gun shop so I have always been comfortable around guns,” she said. “But when I moved to Ohio I had to get a conceal carry; we didn’t need one in Alaska.”
When she participated in that CCW class, she didn’t have a single female classmate.
“Sure enough, I was the only girl. Everyone was looking at me like, ‘Oh great, a girl with a gun,’” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said she obtained her instructor license in May. She has a particular passion for teaching older women, empty nesters and widows.
Alvarez explained that along with the CCW classes, she also offers a personal protection class that can be added to a CCW course.
“We go more into making plans in their home,” Alvarez said. “They learn if someone comes in this door or that door, where do you go, and where their safe room is. They learn what things to use around the house for protection versus things that can be used just for concealment.”
Alvarez said, “I hope a woman never has to use her gun for protection, but I hope they can at least feel safe in their home after the course.”
Alvarez said she was recently invited to co-teach in Sandusky alongside the male instructor who trained her.
“He gets more women there when there is a woman instructor,” she said. “Women learn better from other women … when they can be comfortable and talk.”
“When we were done, all the girls came over and gave me hugs. He said, ‘Well, there have never been hugs at my class before,’” Alvarez said.
Because many women have made requests, Alvarez said she also offers couples classes to include husbands or boyfriends. All of her classes are taught at her home in Ada, and are all upon request.
“My classes are very small. I like having only five or six at a time. I do a lot of hands-on with them,” Alvarez explained.
Sheri Markley, special events director for the Lima Sabres Shooting Association Inc. also sees the sport changing.
“Shooting used to be just an all-guys kind of sport. Now I’m seeing a lot of women interested in it,” Markley said.
An event Markley coordinates is called NRA Women on Target. It’s a women-only event held twice a year at the Lima Sabres on Hanthorn Road in Lima.
The day consists of general safety instruction and gun mechanics, range shooting, and lunch.
“We go over what a misfire sounds like, how to check the gun before you fire again, mechanics of how the gun operates, how to load and unload, how to aim, and how to shoot safely,” Markley said.
There are also various guns at those events. Among the guns available were a .22 Rimfire handgun, a 9mm handgun, a shotgun, and a M1 Garand rifle.
“They get to shoot the big stuff and the little stuff,” Markley said. “That way, they get a variety of things to try.”
On the day of the event, the Lima Sabres grounds — which consist of several shooting ranges — is closed to its regular members in order to open for the women-only event.
The club has ranges specific to the various guns and can use the large rifle range, and trap shoot with the shotgun, for example.
“Women come for more instruction, to get better aim, and for the opportunity to learn other guns,” Markley said.
There were more than 120 women in attendance at the last event, which was held Sept. 28. Because of funding from the NRA and a grant they receive, Markley said they were able to offer the event free of charge.
The shooting ranges at the Lima Sabres are available for groups to use, such as Apollo Career Center’s law enforcement program (police academy).
India Rettig is a female student in the program. She said she grew up with a hunting background, so was familiar with shooting prior to beginning the academy, but became more interested in becoming a police officer when she became an adult.
Learning about guns and gun safety is important to Rettig.
“I like to be in control of something that powerful, but mostly, I want to be able to protect myself and my family,” Rettig said.
Rick Kohli, an instructor at Apollo, said, “We always push the safety issues and practice safety habits on the street or at home.”
Speaking on women in the academy, Kohli said, “One to two females (in the program) is pretty normal. It’s open and welcome to women, but they still make up a small portion of the business (law enforcement). I think they’re making great strides, though.”
Referring to her CCW women-only courses and personal protection classes she teaches, Alvarez added, “I’m not in it for the money. I just want women to feel comfortable and safe.”