'The Well-Armed Woman' is helping women join the world of gun ownership

CREATED May. 3, 2013

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MILWAUKEE - Wisconsin women are arming themselves. It's part of a nationwide movement that has women coming together over guns, and all of this is happening at the same time the United States is having an emotional debate about firearms.

Women are still very split on this issue. Some are completely against guns, but others say they want the right to protect themselves and their family. Giving women that option is the idea behind The Well-Armed Woman.

A packed classroom at Deerfield Pistol and Archery in Dane County is the site of the first meeting for The Well-Armed Woman, and group created by an Arizona woman. It is a way to help other women navigate the world of firearms, which, until recently, has mostly been a man's world.

"We're seeing huge numbers of women come together, realize that they're part of a huge community and now they have a voice," said owner Carrie Lightfoot.

Tessa Rodriguez is one of Wisconsin's chapter leaders. She's glad to finally see this support for women.

"They don't want to go to the range and shoot when there's a bunch of men sitting around," she said.

For some, shooting's a hobby and a way to let off steam, but many of these women are also thinking safety.

"It's better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it," Rodriguez explained.

Her husband is on the road for work, so most days, it's just her and her young daughter. Knowing how to use a gun makes her feel safe. Sherri McDermott is also thinking protection. Her children are grown and her husband travels.

"Being able to use what's available if I have to, and hopefully I'll never be in that situation," she said.

For whatever reason, more women are packing heat these days. When Deerfield Pistol and Archery opened in 2001, women made up 5 percent of its clientele. Now it's around 40 percent.

"It wasn't until probably four or five years ago more common to see women at the range, and now they're everywhere. Which is fantastic," says Caitlin Kulmann, an NRA certified instructor at the center.

Times have changed when it comes to women and guns, and many are stepping through what is now an open door.

The Well-Armed Woman has chapters in 26 states, including two chapters in Wisconsin. Members meet once a month to learn safe gun handling skills and to train together.