The national upswing in female gun owners and women applying for concealed carry permits is being felt in the state of Washington. Statewide, the number of women holding the license increased nearly 62 percent increase, to 129,428 from 80,016. The Evergreen State has 535,596 people with active concealed pistol licenses.
The number of men with active licenses is steadily increasing as well, but since January 2013 through the end of April, the only period for which the department has data available, the number of women license-holders in Kitsap grew about 71 percent, to 6,419 from 3,748.
And in the state’s most urbanized areas, women are increasingly becoming licensed to carry pistols. King County saw the number of women holding the license grow by nearly 39 percent during the same period.
The idea for the West Sound Women’s Safety/Defense Expo & Fashion Show came when organizers said they noticed increasing interest in self-defense from women, and heard from women that they felt intimidated at gun shops. This prompted them to create a place where women would feel more comfortable. This past Saturday, that place was the Baymont Inn in Bremerton, WA.
One of the organizers of the event, David Raymond of Bremerton, said it is a sign of changing expectations about the role of women in public and private life. The purpose of the event was not to present guns as the only means of self-defense, Raymond said, but it did intend to be a less-intimidating way for women to know their options.
“They just don’t want to be a victim,” he said. “Women are not hiding behind a man anymore, thinking, ‘He will protect me.'”
Hannah, 22, who asked that her last name not be used, is a victim of sexual assault. Her perpetrator was released from prison and has been trying to contact her. Her husband is in the Navy and is gone for months at a time and was supportive of her applying for the license.
“I did think about it really hard and kind of went back and forth a couple of times, but I knew in the end it was probably a good idea,” she said. “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”
For Rebekah Layng, 28, of Bremerton, driving that increase is a growing feeling of insecurity in public. Recently, while in Silverdale, she saw two men fist-fighting in public, adding to her unease.
“It makes sense in the world today, just walking down the street, you don’t feel safe,” Layng said. She had a license in the past, and plans to renew it soon to carry her 9 mm semi-automatic.
A Navy veteran herself, Rebecca qualified on nearly a dozen weapons in the service and received her concealed license about three years ago. She asked that her last name not be published.
“If you are a female and would feel more feminine carrying a pink or purple weapon, good on you,” she said, noting the trend of marketing firearms to women by finishing them in colors beside the usual black and chrome. “But please tell me you know how to use it, and you aren’t carrying it as a quote-unquote fashion statement.”
Griff Woodford, one of the sponsors of the event Saturday and owner of Garrison Defensive shooting school in Belfair, said training and education is critical. Woodford said most of his students are women, and he doesn’t believe training should be different for men or women. In fact, he said, training and education should be ongoing for both.
“There is a difference between an armed and trained citizen, and not just a (concealed pistol license) holder,” he said. “It’s not like in the movies, one shot to the chest and they fly against the wall.”
In addition to training by shooting on the range, Woodford said his lower-level classes focus on what state law says about using force to defend oneself and ways to avoid needing to pull a gun in the first place. He impresses upon his students that shooting another person, however justified, will change a person’s life and rarely in a good way.
“You are gearing up to fight for your life on the worst day of your life, that’s why you are learning this stuff,” he said. “You are responsible for this now because you are the one who is armed, you are the one who is trained and that takes time, actually.”
He strongly advises against carrying guns in purses, saying it is unsafe, but acknowledged the difficulty faced by women who want to carry, as women’s fashions generally do not accommodate carrying a pistol on their hip or under a jacket.
He is encouraged that more women are becoming interested in carrying, and sees it as a result of a more equal society.
“It’s absolutely magnificent when somebody comes through the door here, riddled by fear, terrorized by a past event, and that light bulb turns on: ‘I don’t have to be scared anymore. If I just work hard at this I can take care of myself,'” he said.