MURFREESBORO May 31, 2014 10:03 PM
Nancy De Gennaro
The Daily News Journal
“I have two small children, my husband travels a lot, I drive a lot, and I wanted it because I just wanted to feel secure,” Beam said. “The world is getting crazier, and I wanted to know I can protect myself.”
And in doing so, she became a part of a growing trend of women who carry handguns.
Between 2011 and 2013, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security showed the number of women issued handgun carry permit in the state more than doubled.
Nearly 19,000 handgun carry permit holders — male and female — live in Rutherford County, exceeded in number only by Shelby, Knox, Davidson and Hamilton counties.
“I think that women are taking more control of their personal safety and deciding to educate themselves about the options that are available to them,” said Amy Davis, a licensed NRA pistol and firearm safety instructor and state-certified handgun permit instructor who started The Well Armed Woman Murfreesboro chapter.
The chapter is open to any woman 21 and older to “practice, learn and grow as shooters” as well as learn safe gun-handling skills.
What used to be “such a boys club” seems to have expanded to be more inclusive to women who are interested in learning about firearms, Davis said. That increased interest in guns has prompted local stores to be more welcoming to women.
Nick Parker with OK Corral Shooting Range in Woodbury said he’s seen increased traffic at his family’s gun range, and “there are just as many women” who are there to practice. Classes that once drew 5 to 10 students now have about 50 each.
More women becoming interested in owning a gun may also have to do with the political climate, but not necessarily because of politics and the legalities involved, said Carter F. Smith, professor of criminal justice at Middle Tennessee State University.
“I suspect the reason for increased permits for women is tied to the reason there have been increased permits for all. My suspicions are that there was a push, formal or informal, tied to a concern that constitutional rights to gun ownership were likely to be threatened. That seemed to come about from the general discussions following the events like the ones in Aurora, Sandy Hook, etc.,” Smith said.
In 2012, 12 people were killed and dozens injured in a movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.
The accused shooter, James Holmes, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and is set to face trial this fall.
Later that year in Newtown, Connecticut., 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and seven adults including his mother before taking his own life.
“More women are fearful because those conversations get their attention,” Smith said. “By the awareness of, ‘What could happen if?’”
Of those women issued handgun carry permits in 2013, the 46-50 age bracket garnered the biggest percentage, encompassing the older half of Generation X, Americans born between the early 1960s to the early 1980s. Smith said there are likely multiple reasons for those numbers.
“A variety of things are happening.
(Generation Xers) are getting closer to retirement age. Whether they are in a marriage of not, they are realizing they are less nimble and less physically able, by and large, to defend or flee than they were years ago,” Smith said.
Of that age range, many of those women are getting divorced and either “resigned or committed to going the rest of life solo,” Smith said. So those women are making “Plan B.”
He added, “Arming a woman increases her ability to prevent an attack and be able to defend herself more than simply arming a man. A gun is a great equalizer.”
That theory is what prompted Donna Barker of Murfreesboro to get her carry permit after she began dealing with an alleged stalker, for whom she sought an order of protection.
“I traveled a lot and (was) by myself, and I thought it was a wise thing to do,”
said Barker, who still has a conceal-carry permit.
Unlike Barker, who grew up around guns and was already was familiar with using them, firearms instructor Amy Davis did not grow up around guns and wasn’t exposed to them until she married a firearms enthusiast. So at first, she was a bit fearful of them.
“They were just so foreign that there were a lot of intimidating factors — not understanding how they work, being able to understand how to handle them safely. … I decided I wasn’t going to live in a house full of firearms and not know how … to handle them safely. So I asked him to teach me,” Davis recalled.
The intimidating factors Davis faced are what prevent many women from learning about guns, added Davis, who said some of that intimidation can come from men.
“Especially if a woman shooter is around her husband or boyfriend or father, there is an awful lot of pressure we put on ourselves to perform and please and that makes us more tense when we’re trying to learn something new. A lot of times I’ve seen fellows who have been really hypercritical of how a lady they are working with is doing,” Davis said.
Davis said she reminds the women in her classes and in The Well Armed Woman group that “if their fellas are giving them a hard time about something, usually with a little practice, they’ll be outperforming” the men.
“(A lot of female students) in my regular permit classes would express a desire to shoot without the guys because they felt intimidated …
or were too embarrassed by the guys shooting better. In reality, the ladies end up shooting better than the guys do,” said state-certified handgun instructor Dennis Mankin, who owns and operates Learn 2 Shoot Handgun Training Academy.
While the majority of his students are men, by popular demand, he added all-female classes to his schedule.
“More women are expressing a concern and desire to getting a permit,” said Mankin, who offers the nine-hour permit class for women only, along with a basic shooting skills class for women.
However, Mankin said he doesn’t think the increased number of permit holders “is based on sex at all.”
“They are realizing they are responsible for their own protection. Cops can’t be everywhere, and we all have to take personal responsibility and responsible for our own safety,” Mankin said.
But Mankin doesn’t believe in rights without responsibility, and that’s why he focuses on training because “with great power comes great responsibility.”
“My goal is to train as many people as I can to safely, legally and effectively handle a firearm, so they can protect themselves is the need arises,” Mankin said.
And once many women begin taking an interest in learning about guns and how to shoot, the fear of guns seems to dissipate, Mankin said.
“Familiarity replaces fear, knowledge replaces fear and when fear is replaced, apprehension goes away,” Mankin said.
Amy Davis said many of her fellow Well Armed Woman members say shooting guns ends up being a kind of emotional release instead of something to fear.
“Guns are not scary. There is nothing that I think should hold a lady back from learning about firearms and educating herself,” Davis said. “It’s a personal decision for everybody. But I encourage ladies to at least learn about firearms and if they decide to go ahead to get their carry permit, great.
“There are a lot of different ways to enjoy firearms.”