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She Can Shoot: The Rise of Female Gun Ownership
Women are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the firearms industry
By Stephen Gutowski
Robyn Sandoval is seeing a sea change at the gun range: The executive director of A Girl and A Gun (AGAG) Women’s Shooting League is noticing that women are showing up to shoot more than ever before. “Every week, basically, we’re approached by a new instructor or range that wants to have a women-focused training program in their area,” Sandoval told Discourse.
Her experience is part of a great ongoing transformation in the gun world. Over the past two years, more than 5 million women bought a gun for the first time. That’s about 37% of the 13.8 million new gun owners that the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s dealer surveys identified over that time period. That makes women, alongside minority gun owners, one of the fastest-growing demographics in the firearms industry.
Why Women Are Buying Guns
In just over a decade, A Girl and A Gun has grown to include more than 200 chapters at 300 ranges across the country. And that growth only accelerated as America entered a period of unprecedented gun sales beginning in 2020. It’s no coincidence that period coincided with unprecedented chaos, Sandoval said.
“With the riots and the pandemic, most everything was kind of still fear-based…they’re afraid that they wouldn’t have access to protection,” she said. “That first responders wouldn’t be able to respond. Or they’d be targeted for violence.”
Breaking down barriers. A Girl and a Gun Executive Director Robyn Sandoval: "We’ve broken through a lot of barriers so that people recognize that the everyday moms and women of all walks of life are welcome at the range." Image Credit: Robyn Sandoval
A 2021 AGAG survey shared with Discourse shows that 45% of its membership were new shooters. The top reason those new shooters gave for buying a gun was concern over rioting and civil unrest. 59% of the new shooters listed a fear of physical safety or new gun bans as a reason they decided to buy.
But those weren’t the only reasons women gave as they began to seek out training and competition. One reason was simply the realization that something like AGAG was available to them.
“Many of them have just learned that training is an option for them,” Sandoval said. “That’s something we’re seeing more and more is that a lot of women thought that you had to be an operator or have law enforcement experience, or that civilian courses were not available to them, or nobody in their social circle had taken them before. Now, at A Girl and A Gun, we’ve broken through a lot of barriers so that people recognize that the everyday moms and women of all walks of life are welcome at the range.”
That may be surprising to many people, but not Sarah Hauptman. She has been involved with gun-rights activism in Minnesota for years and recently started helping to run the holster company Phlster, which her husband founded in 2011. There’s a big difference between when she first started shooting and today, she said: Women are increasingly a fixture at gun ranges.
A path for women. Phlster owner Sarah Hauptman: "When your friends shoot, and you see female faces shooting, and you see people who look like you, it’s a lot more accessible." Image Credit: Nate Schultz
“It used to be you’d go to a shooting class, and you’d be the only girl there,” Hauptman told Discourse. “Now, more often than not, there’s several.”
That kind of representation matters, Hauptman said: It’s created a kind of snowball effect. “When your friends shoot, and you see female faces shooting, and you see people who look like you, it’s a lot more accessible,“ she said. “You don’t have to swim against the current to get into it. There’s a path for you.”
Hauptman said breaking down the barriers to entry also leads many women to embrace what she sees as the empowering nature of gun ownership. Hauptman herself did not grow up with firearms. She only became interested later in life after she and her mother decided to try out shooting and had a proverbial blast. “The fun got me into it and kept me into it,” she said.
But after the fun factor brought her to gun ownership, it was its practical utility that made her want to stay. And it even made her want to advocate for others to get involved.
“You kind of realize, ‘Oh, this actually gives me a lot of capability, and it is a kind of equalizer,’” she said. “Once you realize that you can control that power and make it part of your life and add to your ability with it, you’re not giving that back. You’re not letting anyone take it from you either.”
Hauptman said that’s why more women are turning toward firearms to provide for the safety of their homes—households for which they are more often primarily responsible. “I think more women are taking responsibility for their own self-protection,” she said. “More women are living alone. Whether they’re single moms or whether they’re just single women, more women are solely responsible for their own self-defense.”
That’s borne out in AGAG’s data too, which shows 37% of its members are single. “More women than ever before are actually becoming the first gun owner in their home, as opposed to it being more male-driven in the past,” Sandoval said.
Less Pink, More Practicality
The gun industry has taken note of the increasing prominence of female shooters. Sandoval said the market has evolved for the better in recent years. Gun companies are now doing much more than just making superficial appeals to female shooters.
Ten years ago, it was a “pink it and shrink it” mentality when it came to product development. But now, there are really thoughtful products that women want to use, that are developed for women, that fit women’s hands better, that fit their bodies better, that give them more options for concealed carry. It used to be where women’s choices in concealed carry were pretty limited to really small guns, and now, most women, regardless of their size, can carry a full-size, even decked out with lights and optics.
Sandoval singled out Glock’s introduction of slimline models, such as the Glock 43 a few years ago, and Walther’s recent release of the PDP F-Series as examples of major industry players emphasizing designs that appeal to women. While those guns are also popular with men, their design took the unique needs of women into consideration. Sandoval said Walther consulted with AGAG on the design of the PDP F-Series, and the company’s process included measuring the hands of a thousand women to better tweak the layout of the pistol’s trigger and controls.
Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said those kinds of considerations are becoming more and more common in the industry. “Designs of handguns for personal protection are incorporating features long sought by women, including smaller frames, lighter springs, redesigned magazines for easier loading, and shotgun and rifle stocks designed to more readily fit the needs for women with length of pull,” he told Discourse. “The AR-15, due to its easy adaptability and customization, has been a rifle that can easily fit the needs of women gun owners by simple and small adjustments.”
Sandoval also praised the latest innovations in concealed-carry options made with women shooters in mind, including those from Hauptman’s company and its competitor Dene Adams. “The Phlster Enigma has been a game changer in the industry,” Sandoval said. “That’s rocked the training world. Dene Adams also has really great products. I love that [Dene Adams products] have Kydex holsters in them to make everything safer. There’s a lot of activewear and concealment wear out there that don’t have the safety controls in place that instructors want to see.” She said the Kydex inserts help cover the trigger of the firearm to stop the trigger from being pulled unintentionally.
Both Sandoval and Hauptman emphasized that certain gun features that appeal to women, like the thinner grip of the Glock 43 or the Enigma’s beltless holster system, for example, are just as appealing to many men. In fact, while the Enigma has quickly earned a sort of cult status among female concealed carriers, it is even more popular with men.
“Our product is 100% gender neutral,” Hauptman said. “It works on basic physical principles that can be applied to any body type. The reason that it’s popular among women is because women are just less likely to wear belts.”
She said Phlster’s goal is to make it easier for everybody to carry regardless of their gender. However, women have long been underserved in the gun-carry market. So being able to more directly address their needs has helped the company gain an enthusiastic following.
“More women are successfully carrying, and they’re not giving up,” Hauptman said. “They’re not saying, ‘I can’t get it to conceal, so I can’t carry.’ And they’re not saying, ‘I can’t get comfortable, so I can’t carry.’ And they’re not saying, ‘I don’t feel safe.’”
Instead, they’re more easily surmounting the barriers that traditionally kept women from owning firearms. Hauptman hopes that brings more of them into the gun-owning community, and, ultimately, into gun-rights activism. “If we can make it easy for people to carry and have a stake, then those people have a much higher chance of going on to become advocates and preserving the Second Amendment for everyone,” she said.
Polling has consistently shown women are more supportive of gun restrictions than men. Women have also traditionally lagged behind men in gun ownership. As more women become gun owners, though, they may be affected by another long-term polling trend where gun owners are less supportive of gun restrictions. If more women become gun owners, and they become less supportive of gun-control laws, it could have a significant impact on gun laws at every level across the country. These trends are definitely worth watching in the years ahead.
The future of female gun ownership is bright—and it will likely continue to shine, Hauptman maintains. “I don’t know if as many women at their core will ever be as interested in shooting as men,” she said. “But I think the snowball effect is probably going to continue for a while.”