RANDOLPH — Michelle Franzoni stepped up to the shooting range portal with her case, which had the word “Glock” bedazzled on the front in pink.
Inside was her pink and zebra-striped 9mm firearm.
“It’s less intimidating that way,” said Franzoni, 35, of Mendham Township.
Less intimidating was one of the driving forces behind creating a new Mendham chapter of The Well Armed Woman, a women-only firearm club designed to educate and empower women with guns. The group will hold its first meet and greet this month.
“You can customize your gun to fit your personality,” said Franzoni, who also has an AR-15 rifle that’s black-widow themed, which she keeps in a case shaped like a casket that has a bedazzled skull and crossbones and says “Zombie Hunter” on the front.
Franzoni first shot a gun just four months ago, and is now founding the first Well Armed Woman chapter in New Jersey.
“I never liked guns, but my husband wanted one for self-defense,” said Franzoni. “We took an NRA (National Rifle Association) safety course and came to the RTSP shooting range in Randolph to test out the gun he planned to buy. I left the owner of a Glock.”
Franzoni has three kids; a 16-year-old girl, 1-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy. Only the 16-year-old knows about the guns in their house, which she said are kept in a safe that is unlocked through her fingerprint.
“I don’t want to tell my younger kids about the guns in the house until they are old enough to understand,” said Franzoni.
Gun education is another factor that drew Franzoni to The Well Armed Woman. A third was that she liked the idea of women banding together in a male-dominated area.
“I like to shoot by myself, but most women won’t walk into a range alone,” said Franzoni. “If women get together and learn from one another, that fear will go away. Women feel more comfortable with women sometimes. We travel in packs.”
Friday, Franzoni went to RTSP with two members of the Mendham chapter, Sherry Grasso and Cathy Egan.
Grasso, 60, of Hackettstown is by far the most experienced of the three. She’s been shooting for eight years and now enters competitions in which she said she’s regularly the only woman.
“I was getting older and I didn’t want to be an easy victim,” said Grasso, who heard about The Well Armed Woman when a pink flier from Franzoni dropped off at RTSP. “I thought, ‘this is great.’ ”
Egan, 47, of Bloomfield, shot a gun for the first time Friday, and was a little nervous.
Upon entering the shooting range, Grasso asked Egan if she’s like to shoot with her 9mm or the.22.
“I’m don’t know,” said Egan.
“The 9mm’s got more of a kick. I’m going to start you on the .22,” said Grasso.
Meanwhile, in the adjacent port, Franzoni started with her zebra-striped Glock before trying out her rifle for the first time.
“I got it a month ago but it just came back from being customized,” said Franzon. In addition to her pink gun, she was sporting pink earmuffs, pink glasses, a pink Well Armed Woman hat, and pink highlights in her hair.
It took a few rounds for Franzoni to get used to the rifle. Her first few shots all went to the right of the target.
While Franzoni was busy learning about her new firearm, Grasso continued to teach Egan, who was a quick learner.
“She’s doing good for her first time,” Grasso said.
Egan credited arcade shooting games on the Jersey Shore boardwalk for her beginner’s luck.
Egan’s and Franzoni’s husbands are colleagues, and Franzoni convinced her to come to RTSP at the group’s holiday Christmas party.
“She told me we were going to shoot, and I thought ‘what, shots of tequila?’ ” said Egan. “I was always like ‘no guns no guns,’ but now I’m not afraid of guns. I’m afraid of people. I never wanted a gun in my house but now I do.”
While Franzoni may have talked Egan into going to the range Friday, her mind began to change long before that.
“I was home alone one night, and my dog went crazy out of nowhere. It freaked me out,” said Egan. “I called the police and had to just sit and wait for them. I felt like a sitting duck. I would have felt safer with a gun in my lap.”
Franzoni agreed that in the four months she’s owned a gun she’s felt more independent and protected.
“Our husbands work long hours, and I’m out in the wilderness of Mendham. You feel safer with it,” said Franzoni, who added having a range like RTSP so close to her home is great, too. “You walk in and get a coffee, chitchat, and then you shoot. It’s our version of a country club.”
Egan saved her first target to take home and plans to bring her 10-year-old daughter to the range soon.
“My daughters will learn how to shoot a gun,” she said, before asking an employee how old one has to be to enter the shooting range. They said 10 years old is the minimum. Egan has seven children varying in age from 3 to 20 years old.
“They will be educated about safety and how to handle a gun,” she said.
Meetings for the Mendham chapter of Well Armed Woman will be held monthly and are open to all women 21 years and older. RTSP will host the monthly meetings, and likely will consist of one hour in the classroom and one hour in the range.
“Well Armed Woman is designed to educate, equip, and empower. We’re hoping to get some speaking guests for the classroom,” said Franzoni.
The first meet-and-greet will be at Franzoni’s home, not the range, to make sure everyone feels comfortable.
“We’re hoping to get a lot of women as word spreads,” said Franzoni. “Well Armed Woman can give them confidence, and educate them about firearm safety while providing them a comfortable atmosphere to learn.”
Chapter members must pay annual $50 dues, which covers expenses, insurance and events and includes goodies and discounts. Range fees and ammunition and rental costs are not included. First-time meeting attendees are not required to join.
“Well Armed Woman can help people get past that initial fear. It’s like a support group,” said Franzoni. “Plus you’ll have a good time and hopefully develop some new friendships.”