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Cashing in: Retailers, ranges take aim at female gun owners

They pack heat, and they know how to use it. Nationwide, more women are said to be purchasing firearms.

According to a study released this year by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 74 percent of U.S. gun retailers saw an increase in female patrons from 2011 to 2012, with women making up 20 percent of total gun sales. Since 2005, female gun ownership in America has doubled. That same study found that the number of women who practiced target shooting jumped 60 percent to 5.2 million.

TAKING PRECAUTIONS

Leigh Hitt has owned a handgun for several years, given to her by her father. She said she grew up in a household with about 12 guns. The gun she was given had a tendency to jam, she said, so she upgraded to other models, and now her “daily carry” is a Glock 9mm semiautomatic. She obtained her concealed carry permit in 2011 and said she has a handgun on her “nearly all the time.”

Why does she feel the need to carry every day?

“I became a single mom, and I had a little boy,” she said, “and there are crazy things happening in the world. I felt it was up to me to protect myself (and him) in some of those situations you hear about in the media all the time. I’m no superhero. I appreciate people who are — who run to the gunshots and not away — and I don’t know if that’s necessarily my (method of operation), but I do feel empowered that if my son or I were in a situation that threatened our safety, that I could defend myself. If it required using my firearm, then I feel competent to do that.”

Hitt is the co-owner of Hot With Heat, which teaches women gun safety and qualifies them to apply for a concealed carry permit. Besides classes geared toward women, it offers T-shirts with silhouettes of a woman about to aim a gun.

The business also helps women choose what type of concealed carry holster to employ. Hitt uses the “flash bang” kind, a tongue-in-cheek name because it attaches to a bra.

Hitt said she would use the gun only if there were no other option and she was most concerned about having someone come into the house she shares with her significant other.

He is in law enforcement, and she said it’s possible the undesirable people he interacts with as part of his job could follow him home.

“That’s foremost on my mind, that scenario,” Hitt said.

NEW GUN REGISTRATIONS ON THE RISE

The Metropolitan Police Department reports that 4,347 women registered new weapons in 1994 in Clark County. In 2014, new registrations by women had grown to 7,053.

Some women said they like testing themselves at the range, while others cited personal safety as their reason for owning a gun. That safety included asking that their last names not be used for this article.

Karen S. is recently widowed. She said she and her late husband enjoyed competition shooting with handguns and rifles and owned about 24 guns.

“Our home is a fortress,” she said.

Karen said she had no interest in guns until she met her husband about 23 years ago and learned he competed in shooting and built muzzleloaders. Back then, she would accompany him to his events as a spectator. She got involved in the sport only in the last six years. It prompted her to get a concealed carry permit, she said, adding, “I never carry one or have one in the car with me.”

Karen said she could not think of a situation where carrying her gun on her would be necessary. At home, it’s a different story.

She said the possibility of a home invasion is “always paramount in my mind” and that the guns make her feel safer now that she’s alone. If someone invaded her home, the perpetrator could easily shoot her guard dog, a German shepherd, she said, leaving her vulnerable if not for her weapons.

“If someone broke in, I’d have the gun pointed at the bedroom door and not (hesitate) at all,” Karen said. “I have several at my bedside.”

Karen said she appreciates guns and the “whole new world” they’ve opened up to her — taking classes, making new friends and testing herself at the range as a hobby.

“I see myself as an ‘apprecionado,’ with a love of the gun world,” she said, adding that she’s not a pro-gun activist. “I see it as a freedom, that’s not to spout it off, but I see it as a right. I meet intelligent people (through sport shooting) who have the same respect as me.”

Why did the female shooters at the Clark County Shooting Complex think more women were buying guns?

“I think it’s the state of our union,” Karen said. “I think it’s the lack of confidence we have in our government, that if you’re going to protect yourself and your loved ones in your home that you have to know how to do it safely. And you’d better have something to do it with.”

Not everyone can legally purchase a gun here. As of Oct. 1, 2007, Clark County requires individuals who are in the county for more than 60 days to register their handguns with local law enforcement. Registration of newly acquired handguns must be done within 72 hours after taking title by purchase, gift or other transfer. No state permit is required to purchase a rifle, shotgun or handgun.

RETAILERS CATERING TO FEMALE DEMAND

Bob Irwin estimated that easily 20 percent of his customers at The Gun Store, 2900 E. Tropicana Ave., are women, “if not more.” He cited “crimes against women” as a possible reason.

“It seems every week there’s something in the news of some woman being attacked on the sidewalk or (on the way to her car),” he said. “There are all these stories of women disappearing, being found later, dead, chained to a tree.”

Clippings of some of those types of newspaper stories are displayed at his business.

The Gun Store sees women daily, he said, with about 50 percent coming in alone and the rest with a male companion. Irwin said about half who purchase their first gun come back to buy another.

He said most women express a desire to have a gun in the house should their home be targeted for a “hot burglary” (one committed while the home is occupied).

Rachel Richards, a salesclerk at The Gun Store, showed off a pink SCCY 9mm automatic. Since the pink gun first appeared on the market about 10 years ago, all gun manufacturers have come out with their own versions in various shades. Some make them in purple. The store estimated that 60 percent of women opt for the fashion-forward guns.

“The pink guns, it’s the first thing they see, and it’s the one they automatically go for,” Richards said.

WOMEN MORE LIKELY TO BE VICTIMS OF GUN VIOLENCE, STUDY SAYS

Serena Evans, a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, is fighting against the so-called “campus carry” bill, which would allow students to carry guns on campus.

“Guns can be used for protection, but with women, you’re more likely to have that gun taken and used on you,” Evans said. “I’m not opposed to guns. Growing up, my dad taught me how to shoot guns. But I’m more opposed to guns on campus. I don’t see a need for them. The whole platform for AB148 is that it would decrease sexual assault, when, in reality, UNR just did a campus safety survey thing, and 80 percent of the reported sexual assaults took place off campus. … I think there’s a bigger issue about what consensual (sex) needs to look like. Include it in sex education.

“My whole thing with guns is, yeah, they can be used for self-protection, but I don’t think retaliating with more violence is the answer.”

According to the FBI and the Office on Violence Against Women, every day in America, five women are murdered with guns. It also found that between 2003 and 2012, 65 percent of female violent crime victims knew their attacker, while only 34 percent of male violent crime victims knew theirs.

Nevada has the eighth-highest rate of women killed with guns, according to an analysis released in March by the think tank Center for American Progress. The short study, compiled with ProgressNow Nevada, analyzed data from the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It found that women in Nevada face a higher risk of gun violence than men in the state — women were shot dead at a rate 38 percent higher than the national average, while the same statistic for men was 3 percent lower.

DECIDING TO BUY A GUN

The NSSF reports that the firearm most commonly owned by women is a semiautomatic pistol, with 56 percent of women reporting that they own at least one. Shotguns ranked second, with 50 percent of women owning at least one.

When a prospective buyer wishes to legally purchase a firearm from a licensed seller, the vendor runs a background check through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Also known as NICS, the system was used to conduct more than 1 million firearm background checks in Nevada from Nov. 30, 1998, through Dec. 31, 2012, according to the FBI. Some 488,224 checks were related to handguns, and 449,578 were used for rifles or shotguns. Most of the others involved gun permits or prospective multiple firearm purchases.

According to a 2011 meta-review by David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, 680 Americans were accidentally killed with guns annually between 2003 and 2007. Half of those victims were age 25 or younger.

He also found that children ages 5 to 14 in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to die from an accidental gunshot discharge than children in other developed countries.

The risks of owning a gun are so scientifically incontrovertible that in 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy recommending U.S. pediatricians urge parents to remove all guns from their homes.

Erika Soto Lamb, communications director for Everytown for Gun Safety, a New York-based nonprofit that advocates for federal, state and local laws intended to prevent gun violence, said her organization is not anti-gun, noting that some of its members are gun owners. Everytown looks to ensure that laws keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them, such as felons, criminals and domestic violence perpetrators, she said.

“We’re not anti-gun; we’re anti-gun violence,” Soto Lamb said. “We take no position on the woman carrying the gun for self-defense, but we’ve done some research to understand the relationship between guns and violence against women. What we’ve learned is that violence against women is directly related to weak gun laws, those that allow guns to be acquired easily by dangerous people.”

Soto Lamb said the gun lobby is using on-campus sexual assault as a reason to “fear monger and convince young women on campus that they need to arm themselves to prevent rape.”

“This isn’t a surprise,” she said. “The NRA, for a long time, has become a gun-marketing organization. The days of NRA being a sportsman and hunting group are long gone. Now, they are a lobby for gun manufacturers. They need to create new markets — we see that in pink guns and (concealed carry) purses and stoking fear among women to buy guns — … again, we’re not anti-gun; if women want to carry, they have every right to, with passing a background check and passing the required training, but this feels like another way in which the gun lobby is using fear to convince people that they need to arm themselves in order to protect themselves.”

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a three-part series about women and guns. Part two is set to run May 21 and examine the decline since the 1980s of the number of American households with at least one gun in the home. Part three, scheduled for May 28, will look at the increase in support for gun rights versus gun control and how women have become part of that push.

To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949.

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