MACON — Lori Sanner, wielding the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum handgun made famous by Clint Eastwood as “Dirty Harry,” really doesn’t need to feel lucky, punk.
Instead, she feels trained, confident and ready to help growing numbers of women discover the joys and advantages of gun ownership. “The gun stores will tell you, a lot of their new customers are women,” Sanner says. “All of a sudden, women are starting to buy guns.”
And so having drawn a bead on the future, she returns her attention to the present and, taking aim, fires at a target 16 feet away. The boom is loud enough to make the fillings in bystanders’ teeth vibrate, and the pressure wave coming back from the gun’s discharge is like a push in the chest: bang, bang, bang went the Model 29 Magnum, and shred, shred, shred went the paper target, a tight grouping turning the bull’s-eye area into Swiss cheese.
Ears still ringing, Sanner puts down the borrowed gun. Sanner takes firearm ownership seriously and is at pains to point out that showing off with hand cannons is not what she is about, and it has nothing to do with the philosophy of the new Macon County chapter of a national organization called “The Well Armed Woman.” Sanner is the chapter leader and fires off its mission statement in one easy-to-comprehend burst: “To provide instruction and assistance to encourage responsible female gun ownership,” says the leader.
The chapter is based at The Bullet Trap indoor gun range in Macon, which is also doing much to encourage the distaff side of high velocity. The range (except for the bit where the bullets rip) is all soft furnishings and comfortable decor with a snack bar, and it resembles the kind of welcoming lobby found in those motels where guests can tell at once they are going to like their rooms.
Sanner got her training from veteran National Rifle Association instructor Neal Fleming, 74, (he actually owns that .44 Magnum) and went on to train as an NRA-certified instructor for “basic pistol” herself. She first got into guns three years ago after feeling nervous about living on her own and wanting to make sure she had some means to protect herself. Along the way, she also discovered target shooting was fun and realized it was a pastime that would appeal to other women, if there was a way to welcome them in.
“And then, through Facebook, I saw these Well Armed Woman chapters in other parts of the country,” recalls Sanner. “I thought, ‘Oh boy, that sounds like something I’d like to do.’ ”
Based in Arizona, the Well Armed Woman organization was founded by gun enthusiast Carrie Lightfoot, who decided the “camo and ammo” macho world of the firearm industry was way off target in attracting females.
“I created the Well Armed Woman LLC to be a complete resource without fluff or frills for women gun owners of all ages,” writes Lightfoot, a grandmother, on her website.
Sanner says that translates into local chapters that stage monthly meetings to teach gun handling and shooting skills and discuss all aspects of firearm ownership. More than 13 women showed up for the first Macon County chapter meeting March 1, and the next meeting on April 5 was booked solid with 15 shooters and another six participants who just wanted to attend.
“It’s been overwhelming, but I had a feeling there was going to be a lot of response,” says Sanner, who is retired from the banking business. “I knew what I was getting into.”
Dan Cooley, the owner of The Bullet Trap, says the desire to defend themselves is the big caliber reason why so many women want to know how to handle a gun. He also believes target shooting is also moving away from its traditional male-dominated status: “When I built this place, I had visions of it kind of replacing bowling as a family activity,” Cooley says.
Shooting isn’t striking that kind of popularity yet, but it’s on its way. “We’re seeing more and more family member participation, absolutely,” Cooley adds.
And with a federal judge ordering Illinois to craft some form of concealed-carry law by June, the popularity of handguns for self-defense looks to be locked and loaded on an upward trajectory. The Well Armed Woman organization is already abreast of this issue and has women covered with various holster designs ranging from specially adapted underwear to the $49.99 “FlashBang,” which actually clips under a bra.
Reader response to this on the Well Armed Woman website suggests it can work well, although the caliber of the weapon you are able to conceal unobtrusively does vary with bust size. Sanner, however, isn’t comfortable with the concept of intimately proximate mammary munitions.
“Not me,” she says firmly. “I am not wearing one of those.”