By STEPHANIE TAYLOR | The Tuscaloosa News
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Bob White tells the women in his beginning firearms classes that choosing a gun is like choosing a good pair of shoes.
“It might look pretty, but that doesn't mean that it's going to work for you,” he says. “You need to test it out, hold it and make sure it's what's comfortable for you, not what your husband, boyfriend or guy at the gun shop thinks you need.”
White is a Tuscaloosa Police officer who started his business, HAVOC Shooting Solutions, earlier this year. From its inception, he knew he wanted offer classes for women only to accommodate the growing number who are buying guns and learning to use them.
Definitive data related to gun ownership by women is scarce and differs by source, but it's evident the gun industry views them as a fast-growing market.
Pink and purple handguns can be found in every sporting goods store in Tuscaloosa, while bra holsters and concealed carry purses can be found on several online retail sites.
“We have steadily had more women coming in to the store,” said Jobe Wakekfield, an employee at Guns and Ammo on Greensboro Avenue. “I'd say that it's really increased in the last six months or so.”
One of White's recent classes for women included people wanting to learn shooting skills, safety techniques and laws about carrying guns. The group featured a real estate agent who meets strangers in empty houses and a mother whose young son has begun to take an interest in guns. There also was a woman who spends part of the year living in rural New Mexico and is more worried about encountering a mountain lion or bear than an intruder in her home.
“I started teaching ladies' classes because women need to learn about firearms as well,” White said. “An all-women class tends to be easier—no stress and they aren't being pressured. And women in shooting is getting very, very popular.”
Although she grew up around firearms, Deborah Smith almost never shot the handgun she had owned for years. So earlier this year, she and her daughter took one of White's classes.
“Taking a class really made me feel more confident,” she said. “I wanted to know that I would be able to handle different situations that might come up.
“There is a lot of safety information that you don't think about if you don't shoot all the time, and knowing that is important.”
In the class, Smith learned her grip was off and that she didn't like her gun. The next day, she purchased a Glock semi-automatic pistol, similar to an instructor's she had fired during the class and was more comfortable with.
White, who is one of TPD's firearms instructors, says teaching women to shoot is often easier than men because women have fewer bad habits to correct and are generally less resistant to changing them.
He offers intermediate classes where students can hone their skills, including tactical reloading, one-handed shooting and firing while moving. White believes all gun owners _ male or female _ should continue to practice, especially if they plan to carry their gun.
“If you're going to carry a weapon, you need to know how to properly maintain it and make it work,” he said. “You sink to the lowest level of your training if you don't practice. You can't put a gun down for four or five years and then expect to pick it up and be Superman when you need it.”
Brandi Lowery, 29, didn't grow up with much exposure to guns and relied on other forms of protection in the past. She said she always tries to be aware while remaining skeptical of her surroundings, a habit she developed when making late-night bank drop offs for retail jobs she worked in her late teens and early 20s.
“I remember working in the University Mall right after high school and when I started at Shelton State and I would literally hold my pepper spray in my hand from the moment I opened the door to walk outside until I was in my car with the doors locked,” she said. “A few friends would tease me, but I knew that being alert and equipped doesn't make you scared. It makes you smart.”
Lowery's husband bought her a gun last year and encouraged her to take White's class. After refining her shooting stance and learning what to do in cases of common gun malfunctions, she's now comfortable carrying her pistol in public.
“I carry my pistol because the evil of this world is very real,” she said. “I am way too intelligent to be naive enough to think that I could never or would never be put in the situation where I would have no choice but to defend my life. It happens to people every day. My life is precious, I love it and I will protect it at all costs – for myself, for my husband and for all my loved ones. I feel the same way about my family and my home.
“I want and need to be prepared to defend them shall the occasion ever arise.”
Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, www.tuscaloosanews.com