At home on the range: More women in the United States turning to guns for protection

In 2012, Terry Marsh’s husband was away on business and she and her two sons were in Wake Forest having what felt like a normal night at home, she said.

But a man was circling her home, leaving footprints in the fresh pollen-covered grass; she just didn’t know it yet.

Around 1 a.m., she saw his face outside a window, Marsh said. He was looking for a way in. She screamed and grabbed a baseball bat as her two dogs began barking.

All she had to defend her family was that bat, she said.

As he rattled the front door, she called 911.

“The police force is stretched thinly around where I live, so by the time they get out to you whatever is going to happen is going to happen,” Marsh said. “Fortunately for us, there was a police officer in the area, so when I called 911 he was five minutes down the road.”

Marsh thinks the intruder ran off into the woods.

After that night, the 59-year-old supervisor at Home Depot decided she would never put herself or her family in that position again.

“It’s a very helpless feeling knowing you can’t protect yourself or your family,” Marsh said. “If I had a gun or a way to protect myself it would have given me a little bit of power and I’d have felt secure.”

So she bought a gun.

Terry Marsh poses after an all women’s training class at Triangle Shooting Academy in Raleigh Thursday, August 1, 2019. A 2015 survey by public health researchers from Harvard and Northeastern universities found that female gun owners are increasing while men gun owners decrease. Travis Long tlong@newsobserver.com

Female gun ownership

There are an estimated 20 million female gun owners in the U.S., according to The Well Armed Woman, a membership and training organization for women gun owners.

A 2015 National Firearms Survey found the percentage of women who own guns is rising while the percentage of men who own guns is falling . About 12% of women owned guns, up from 9% in 1994, according to the study in The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences. About 32% of men owned guns, down from 42% in 1994.

Gun ownership carries benefits — protection against intruders and and deterrence to crime — but also risks, a study in the American Journal of Public Health found.

Guns are used in suicides more often than homicides, the journal reported, and having a gun increases the risk for both the gun owner and others in the household.

The National Violent Death Reporting System found 2 out of 3 accidental shooting deaths occurred in a person’s home and half of those killed were accidentally shot by a friend or family member.

Still many people, especially women, say guns help them feel safer.

Women are far more likely than men to report owning a gun for protection, as opposed to recreation. About 1 in 4 women say the only reason they have a gun is for protection.

On July 31, Marsh and 10 other women in clear eyewear and pink, neon green or black earmuffs filled a bay at the Triangle Shooting Academy’s indoor range off of Interstate 540 in Raleigh.

One woman wore an Elton John T-shirt, another was in a Merritt’s Grill “bacon bacon bacon” T-shirt and brought a red velvet cake to share with the other women.

It wasn’t by chance they were all there — they were among over 100 women in the Women of Triangle Shooting Academy program.


Why did we write this story?

We received a press release from Women of Triangle Shooting Academy, which made us want to know more about women gun owners.

With growing concerns about gun violence, mass shootings and domestic terrorism, we decided to explore a group of responsible gun owners who train frequently and practice safe shooting together.

We found out women are more likely to own guns only for protection compared to men, according to the Pew Research Center. At the same time, we found what research shows: guns in the home carry significant risks of accidental shootings and suicides.

With gun ownership among women on the rise, we thought it worthwhile to let local women say in their own words why they are arming themselves.

Semi-automatic trained

Some of the women in the group work in retail. Others at schools. Some are retired, while others are housewives, program coordinator Nancy Wilson said.

Marsh took a lane toward the end of the bay with her 9 mm semi-automatic handgun on the table, muzzle facing the shooting range.

Her tan Army-style backpack hung next to her with three iron-on stickers: an “I ♥ GUNS & COFFEE” with the Starbucks symbol in the middle; a Betsy Ross American flag and a Triangle Shooting Academy badge.

For my 21st birthday, I asked (my parents) for a pearl necklace and a handgun,” said Kecia Taylor, who started shooting eight years ago.

She completed a day-long concealed carry course so she could get her permit. But afterward, Taylor felt like she needed to learn more.

She went to shooting ranges to practice but didn’t receive formal training until she moved from Goldsboro to Raleigh and found the Triangle Shooting Academy.

“We’ve got women of all ages,” Marsh said. “I’ve even tried to get my mother in here. I tell her there are women here that are your age who are learning how to shoot — and she’s 82.”

With more than half of adult women living alone in the U.S. and 69 percent of those women over the age of 65, safety is a common concern, the American Psychological Association has reported.

The shooting academy offers basic, intermediate and advanced drills led by certified instructors, some of them retired CIA, SWAT, and Raleigh police officers, Wilson said.

Firearm training, safe gun ownership

The National Shooting Sports Foundation found 73 percent of female gun owners have taken at least one firearms class, but the survey showed women generally relied on family and friends instead of professionals for instructions.

The Triangle Shooting Academy is trying to change that.

“Having this type of program teaches us that we can defend ourselves just as well as anybody else,” Marsh said. “I don’t have to rely on somebody else to come to my aid if I’m taking my training and doing what I’m supposed to do. I can defend myself. This is an area of training that is sorely lacking for women.”

Marsh began going to the shooting range about three years ago.

She wanted to learn how to be a safe gun owner, protect her family, and meet people who share a passion for shooting.

And Marsh and the others believe they are doing that.

“I saw they had women shooting together and it made it less intimidating than having a bunch of guys around you,” Taylor said. “The training has taught me how to shoot properly, safety, and think about circumstances that you don’t consider but would face if you needed to for self-defense.”

As part of a final exercise during the training session, Marsh shot at a body-shaped target moving toward her from 25 yards away.

Each of her shots hit the target’s chest.

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Jacquelyn Melinek covers metro news for the News & Observer, where she works to update readers about the latest in government, crime, schools and other local news stories. She is a Stembler Scholar, graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the School of Media and Journalism and grew up in Westchester, New York.