Dana Hunsinger Benbow, email@example.com:50 a.m. EDT April 25, 2014
Martina Schuett has crimson red nails that match her lipstick. She owns a spray-tan business and dotes over her 1-year-old daughter.
She also has a semi-automatic handgun slipped inside a holster in her pants.
“It’s nice to be able to have that confidence and be an equal. That’s what guns do. They are an equalizer,” said the 30-year-old Schuett, Indianapolis. She is the owner of Tans By Tina and carries a Ruger LCP .380 at all times. “I am never going to be able to fight off a man by myself. But I can with a gun.”
Protection and empowerment: Those are the driving forces behind an explosive trend in Indiana: Women with guns.
While safety is the top reason women are packing heat, plenty say they’re getting gun permits for other reasons — to hunt, target shoot and as a way to connect with their gun-loving husbands. Think date night at the shooting range.
The number of women with gun permits in Indiana has jumped 42.6 percent since 2012 — from 86,617 permits two years ago to 123,536 through the first quarter of this year.
Earlier statistics aren’t available because the Indiana State Police Firearms Licensing Division didn’t track by gender until 2012.
During the same period, the number of firearm licenses issued to men rose 14.6 percent, an increase to 434,253 from 378,995.
The trend for women is mirrored nationwide. When the National Rifle Association’s annual convention hits the city Friday, 25 percent of its 70,000 attendees will be women, said Jeremy Greene, director with the NRA’s marketing division.
That’s nearly 18,000 women hanging out at a gun convention. A decade ago, it would have been a feat for 5 percent or 10 percent of the attendees to be women.
So, the NRA has added female-focused events, including the Women’s Leadership Forum Luncheon and Auction on Friday morning, and — a new event this year — a Women’s New Energy Breakfast on Sunday.
And then, of course, there will be the pink, the purple and the glittery merchandise being sold at booths.
Retailers and manufacturers aren’t letting this demographic slip by. There are bra holsters, guns decked in pink camouflage and chic purses with secret gun compartments.
Glock has a series of sub-compact and slimline handguns for women. Nonaka has a purple-toned model. Many manufacturers have female-specific styles. In Las Vegas, there is The Gun Store, an indoor shooting range that caters to bachelorette parties with pink AK-47s.
“I’ve lost track of how many pink and sparkly and purple and sparkly guns we’ve done for women,” said Brian Ludlow, owner of Indy Trading Post, where buyers can get guns custom-painted. “The women, they are accessorizing their firearms.”
Just this week, he painted a gun bright turquoise for a woman. But he says some women are adamantly against “girlie-colored” guns. If they’re really going to be equals, they are fine with a black pistol.
As Ludlow talked women and guns over the phone from his shop Tuesday, two women walked in looking to buy guns.
“More and more and more we are seeing women in here,” he said. “We’re seeing so many more women coming into the shooting range, too.”
That’s no surprise to Paul Helmke with the School of Public & Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.
“The NRA and the gun industry have been aggressively marketing to women for a number of years,” he said. “They know that long-term demographics are not running in their favor — less boys hunting with their fathers, less young men caught up in the gun culture, decline of people living in rural areas — so they are trying hard to build a new customer base.”
Women are being fed the fear factor that owning and carrying a gun will make them safer, said Helmke, a former mayor of Fort Wayne and a gun control advocate.
Helmke said people who have a gun in their home are more likely to be injured or have their family injured by that firearm than they are to use it on a bad guy.
“Though those who carry are more likely to be injured than those who don’t,” he said.
Women are taking measures to learn safety skills.
Nationwide, female shooting clinics offered by the NRA have seen a 50 percent jump in participation, to 12,000 in 2013 from 8,000 in 2009.
Another growing educational gun program for women is called The Well Armed Woman. Its motto: “Where the Feminine and Firearms Meet.”
Since its founding in 2012, The Well Armed Woman has grown to 183 chapters in 42 states with 4,600 paid members.
Not only is the program designed to equip women with gun knowledge and skills, it’s a place for camaraderie.
“Guns, that whole world is such a man’s world,” said Vonda Young, a software development manager and leader of Westfield’s The Well Armed Woman chapter. “Unfortunately, from a female perspective you do still see a lot of chauvinism. In their minds, it’s still a man’s world.”
Women who go to chapter meetings range in age from 21 to mid-70s. They are stay-at-home moms. They are professional women in the fields of healthcare, IT and law. Young has had pregnant women attend. She’s had female members of a motorcycle club show up.
Young’s chapter has grown to 50 members since the first meeting in February. The monthly meetings have gotten so packed, she sometimes splits the class into two nights.
But don’t mistake Young, 49 and divorced, for a lifelong gun user. She used to be vehemently against guns. Her 27-year-old son talked her into getting him a gun for Christmas several years ago. Then, he lured her to the shooting range. She fell in love.
She now has four guns in her home and always carries one in her purse, a Walther PK380. “I’ve found if I’m having a bad day, one of those grumpy days, I can go to the range and blow through 50 target rounds, and I feel better walking out of there,” she said.
For Laurie Spear, 55, guns are a hobby. Her husband is a gun guy and a hunter. She also likes to follow the law.
“Whenever we would go out, my husband would ask me to carry his gun in my purse,” said Spear, who works in logistics. “I thought, ‘If we ever get pulled over and I didn’t have a permit, I’d be in trouble.’ ”
So her permit came for practical reasons, but it didn’t stop there.
She attends The Well Armed Woman each month to “learn how to really use it.”
“Some of these women are incredible shots,” she said. “It’s a pretty empowering thing. I think if you are going to have them in your home, you need to know how to use them.”
And, lately, plenty of women are keeping guns in their homes and taking them out in public.
“Women are moving into the role of self protector, when historically they were the protected,” said Carrie Lightfoot, an NRA certified instructor and owner of The Well Armed Woman. “Life has really changed for women, and they are realizing that they must learn to protect themselves as the men in their lives and law enforcement can’t be there.”
Women aren’t alone when it comes to getting guns for safety, said Capt. David R. Bursten with the Indiana State Police.
“In general, men and women elect to obtain their license to carry a handgun for the same reason,” he said, “to legally carry their handgun in public places for personal protection.”
That’s exactly why Schuett got her gun permit soon after her daughter, Angelina, was born in March 2013.
“I realized I would feel really silly if I were out with her and (my husband) wasn’t there to protect us, if something should arise, God forbid,” she said.
She carries her handgun on her person to make sure her daughter can’t get at it, protecting her from an accident as well as any bad guys.
“I have a little girl to think of.”