Carrie Boswell grew up around guns. Her father was a Department of Public Safety officer and hunter. Unlike a lot of women, Boswell was comfortable with firearms and participated in Cowboy Mounted (horseback) Shooting competitions. But it was not until her life was threatened that she realized her single-action pistols were not going to cut it for self-defense.
“It was a domestic violence situation that made me decide to take a tactical pistol class,” said the Flagstaff hair stylist.
A friend was living with her at the time, a friend with a volatile ex-husband. “It was that unstable environment of being threatened constantly by somebody who had the know-how and emotional capability at the time to threaten the life of her and her friends that made me take action.”
Boswell trained in Queen Creek and decided to be a resource for other women who wanted to learn how to protect themselves. She joined The Well Armed Woman (TWAW), a national non-profit educational organization, and became a chapter leader for Northern Arizona. She took more courses, entered more shooting contests and became a certified firearms instructor.
Women Training Women
Two years ago, Boswell started G.R.I.T. (Girls. Responsible. Informed. Trained.), a business that teaches women about guns. Boswell’s hair salon clients, like Elise Wilson, witnessed her transformation.
“I watched Carrie really get extremely confident, go through training, compete in IDPA [International Defensive Pistol Association], and saw how excited she was when she started to teach women,” said Wilson, co-owner of AspenPro Media in Flagstaff and a fellow Cowboy Mounted Shooting competitor. “I could just see how she lit up talking about guns. Six months ago, we were out riding. She encouraged me to become an instructor and co-leader with her [TWAW] chapter. After that ride, I signed up for everything.”
Since then, Wilson has become a state co-leader of TWAW and has conducted classes to teach women to shoot. “A lot of my friends are afraid of guns. I think women teaching women is really beneficial because women come with a fear of shooting and are kind of afraid to get tough with the gun. When they first start holding them, they act like they are breakable. Men don’t get that. But we understand it’s a big leap to go from that fear to confidence.”
Wilson was also once intimidated by firearms. “It started when Rob and I first got married. He had guns. He would go out of town and always tell me, ‘You know where the gun is. Just grab it and point and shoot if you need to protect yourself.’ I would always say, ‘I’m not touching that thing!’”
Eventually the couple would go shooting. “It’s one of those things we can do together and we really enjoy it,” said Rob, a Navy veteran. “But it also helps me feel more at ease, knowing she’s capable of taking care of herself. Just like women are raised to be defenseless and need a man to protect them, men are raised thinking, ‘I have to protect my wife.’”
Like other women who conceal-carry, Wilson says she feels safer when she hikes or rides alone. And, by the end of a day of training other women, she says her students are handling guns like they are in charge. “When women become confident in handling guns, it seems to make them way more confident in everything. It’s extremely rewarding to be a part of their journey.”
One of her students is Lauren Gantzer, a 24-year-old fitness coach at High Altitude Personal Training in Flagstaff. “It felt really good to go through the class, to learn safety, how to park the gun, how to hold it, what to do when it malfunctions and how to clean the gun. I definitely want to eventually purchase a firearm myself for personal protection. I want to get better at it [shooting] and be more confident in my abilities if I ever have to use a gun in a situation. That’s why I took the class, but I learned I actually really enjoyed shooting. I had a blast!”
The Well Armed Woman Starts in Arizona
Carrie Lightfoot of Scottsdale created The Well Armed Woman. “I found myself in this role as a, then, single woman with my youngest child having flown the nest. I came to the realization that I was vulnerable and I wanted to do something about it.”
Friends took her shooting. “We started with a .22 and worked up to a higher caliber. Right away, I knew I could do it. I was pretty good and I crossed the [mental] hurdles that I could use it if I had to, and also reconcile using a gun to protect myself with my faith.”
In 2012, she began her search for information and products to help her become educated and equipped. But, she says, it was an intimidating journey navigating through the foreign land of firearms with a language all its own.
“There were no resources for women. What I did find was really condescending and insulting and over-sexualized. There was nothing for regular, smart women who have questions.”
She fired off a message on Facebook to see if other women were sharing her frustration and if they would be interested in a program where they could try different guns, calibers and ask questions. They were. Within two days, she was flooded with responses. “Clearly, women were waiting for something.”
That is when she started The Well Armed Woman. In three years, Lightfoot’s efforts have grown to 265 chapters, 13 in Arizona, and more than 7,500 members across the country. TWAW teaches women about the safe handling of firearms, legal issues regarding guns and how to become proficient shooters.
“Our brains process information differently and the male-driven firearms industry didn’t understand that,” explained Lightfoot.
A Growing Force in Firearms Industry
Sherrie Seibert recently opened the Insight Firearms Shooting Center in Prescott with her husband, Matt. She says there has been a steady rise in recent years in the number of women buying guns and getting training.
“Women are becoming some of the biggest spenders in the industry. That’s absolutely why we have invested and expanded the business. Women are looking for a sense of empowerment, safety, security and confidence. They are realizing they can defend themselves. We don’t have the same physical strength that men typically have, or the size and stature. If someone chooses to aggress upon us, the firearm can be the only equalizer.”
Besides self-defense, Seibert says women are learning to use guns for other reasons like target shooting and hunting. In fact, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) reports women are the fastest growing segment in shooting sports.
“In the past decade, the number of women owning firearms and participating in target shooting and hunting has soared,” said NSSF President and CEO Steve Sanetti in a news release following findings of a 2014 study.
The research focused on women ages 18 to 65 who owned at least one firearm. More than a third of the study participants were new gun owners, having purchased their first firearm within the last three years.
“The women’s market is a force in our industry, and manufacturers, retailers and shooting ranges are making changes to their products and services to satisfy women’s tastes and needs,” said Jim Curcuruto, NSSF director of industry research and analysis.
Among the report’s findings:
- The most commonly owned firearm by women is a semiautomatic pistol.
- Women say their purchases are mainly influenced by fit, quality and practicality.
- Women purchasing a gun in the last 12 months spent on average $870 on firearms and more than $400 on accessories.
- The majority of women report they are not driven to buy a gun on impulse, but rather considered their purchase for months before deciding.
Lightfoot says making the mental and emotional decision to own and carry a gun is a hurdle for women to overcome. “We’re life givers, nurturers. Women have to get over the anxiety when they decide they aren’t going to be a victim and they are going to learn how to use a gun. A woman can’t make that decision when she’s being attacked, so it’s really important women grasp the real ugliness, the vile ugliness. It’s hard to put ourselves in that mental place of violence and rape, but we really have to force ourselves to go there.”
Lightfoot also found that traditional guns and holsters often do not fit the female body. TWAW offers products to accommodate women’s smaller ankles and shorter waists. The growing market has spawned other women-owned businesses such as Boswell’s G.R.I.T. and FancyPantsHolsters.com, based in Paulden, that designs individually tailored holsters for women. (See related story.)
“Women have to have the ability to protect themselves; they have to,” said Lightfoot. “Who’s going to do it? There are single women, women traveling, and very independent women. It’s not like the old days when we were protected by our men, and police can’t always be there. We have to be prepared. The face of crime is so ugly. The tools they use are powerful. Women are primarily the prey of violence. Most violent crimes target women because of our stature. We have a bigger target on our back. It’s not my task to make every woman have a gun. That’s not the right choice for everyone. But they must be able to protect themselves and the gun is an option.
Members of the TWAW Flagstaff Chapter meet once a month to practice their skills. For more information, visit www.TheWellArmedWoman.com. FBN
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN