On Friday night at the venerable Iroquois Rod and Gun Club, the targets hanging in the shooting range were pink, and one of the shooters wore a tiara. It was the monthly meeting of the Schenectady chapter of The Well Armed Woman, a national organization founded in 2012 by an Arizona woman put off by the sexism she encountered when she looked into buying a gun. There are now more than 200 chapters of The Well Armed Woman in 44 states.
Single moms, stay-at-home moms and professional women were there. Don’t be fooled by the pink. The goal of chapter founder Jessica Braun is for her members to understand their pistols’ functionality.
Braun, 33, started shooting when she was 4 years old, in the Midwest, where she grew up among men and women who knew how to handle guns of all kinds. She became a competitive markswoman. When Braun, a CPA, moved to the Capital Region in 2005, she applied for a pistol permit. She met few women who were interested in shooting, so when she heard about The Well Armed Woman she asked Iroquois Rod and Gun Club President Jim Retajczyk if the club would host a chapter. It was the first women-only venture for the 90-year-old club.
“It was a no-brainer,” Retajczyk said. “Shooting sports are not just a man’s or a woman’s sport.”
The group began meeting in March and draws between 10 and 25 women to each monthly session. They spend an hour talking about a variety of topics, and safety, and then shoot for an hour. Braun said learning about self-defense is the reason most women attend the meetings, but they also like target shooting and enjoy the camaraderie. They shoot from behind tables 21 feet away from their targets because, Braun said, a grown man can cover 21 feet in three seconds. To stop an attacker, a shooter needs to be able to draw from a concealed holster and fire within three seconds, she said.
Jodi Vaccaro, 33, a stay-at-home mom, learned to shoot after a break-in at her home while she and her then 1-month-old son were in the house. Sarah Fessenden, who celebrated her 35th birthday on Friday by wearing a tiara, was embarrassed that her husband knew how to shoot and she didn’t. Now she’s working toward the certification needed to be an instructor. Fessenden is a dental hygienist and her other hobbies include crocheting. She carries a pink backpack with a patch sewed onto it showing an armed Jesus Christ. The letters are WWJS: What Would Jesus Shoot?
Beverly Bailey, 57, joined The Well Armed Woman with a friend, Mary Hernandez, 59. Both women are state workers looking at retirement. They wanted to know how to protect themselves. Bailey just bought a Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver. Learning to shoot is a confidence booster, the women said.
On Friday, Bailey had a good night, which means she had a tight grouping of shots in the center of the paper target.
“That one I’m taking home,” Bailey said. “I’ll put it on my bedroom door.”
“On the inside? You should put it on the outside,” Hernandez said, laughing.