For years, gun stores were predominantly patronized by men. But these days, shooting ranges and shops selling firearms are seeing more female customers than ever before, and that has them changing the way they do business.
In one brand-new shooting range at Eagle Gun in Concord, N.C., shots from Sharon Skoff's handgun boom behind glass that separates the range from the rest of the shop.
"I just refuse to be a victim if I possibly can in life," Skoff says. "I actually went and got my concealed permit a couple months ago so I can carry."
Skoff, a 47-year-old flight attendant, says she shoots because she's scared.
"If you listen to the news at night, all you hear are women in parking lots — someone coming up, or threatening them for their purse or threatening their life, or raping [them]," she says.
A Huge Emerging Market
Store owner Mike Threadgill says there was a time when women like Skoff would have been out of place. Not anymore.
"The ladies are bringing in a lot of the money for the business," Threadgill says. "And if they do that, then I want to cater to them."
Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, says women are a huge emerging market. What's happening at Eagle Gun is happening at shops all over, she says.
The latest data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation shows gun store owners reported a 73 percent increase in female customers in 2009 from the year before. Parsons says the trend is even being reflected by the number of guns made just for women.
"You see firearms being developed that have smaller grips to fit a woman's hand," Parson says. "Maybe they're pink, or maybe they have pearl grips. And they're a little bit less intimidating."
The NRA says it's also organizing more hunting excursions for women than ever before. And the spike in sales is not just a North Carolina phenomenon. In Texas last year, almost 30,000 women obtained a concealed carry permit. Georgia has also seen an increase.
Changing Business Priorities
Instructor Dan Starks teaches gun safety courses in North Carolina. In a class of about 20 students, one-third are women. One of them is 54-year-old retired nurse Nancy Clontz. She's already been to a shooting range — with her book club — and soon she'll buy her first gun.
"Right now, I'm looking at a Kel-Tec P-3AT semi-automatic," she says. "And also a Lady Wesson revolver, a .380."
Clontz sometimes travels alone and wants to be able to defend herself. The National Shooting Sports Foundation says self-defense is the main reason women are getting into guns.
Threadgill says he added to his selection of female guns and accessories as part of his recent expansion. But how serious Threadgill is about female customers may be best illustrated by something his new store has that his old one didn't: a women's bathroom.
"Just the way that it's built, and the way it's laid out with the mirrors on the door, mirrors at the wall — I mean, they want to make sure their nose is powdered good when they come out and all that good stuff," Threadgill says. "So we want to cater to that. You won't find that in the men's restrooms."
To help finance his $2 million expansion, Threadgill sold range memberships. Of the nearly 700 purchased so far, women have bought about one-third. Threadgill says that means the changes he and other shop owners are making these days are right on target.