Nov. 14, 2005 -- When she moved from California to Arizona, Judy Dutko, had a short list of must-dos upon her arrival in her new home: obtain a driver's license, join a church and register for a gun.
"I refuse to be a victim, so basically that's why I got interested," said Dutko who is in her 50s. "Most people will go through their life and never have a problem but if you're prepared, then you can take care of a situation."
The retired history teacher is part of what appears to be a growing number of women who view carrying a weapon as an essential part of their safety, which has led the firearms industry to offer women only training classes, magazines and clothing for female gun owners.
"We get calls from women who didn't grow up around firearms … yet they have an interest in their personal safety … and it kind of goes from there. We've seen such an increase in participation in our programs," said NRA spokesperson Kelly Hobbs. "It does seem to at least stem from that interest in protecting their families and themselves."
Although, critics claim guns may not improve your safety.
According to the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, if you have a gun at home, it's at least 20 times more likely to end up accidentally shooting you than it is to protect you from an intruder.
Still, women like Dutko feel safer with a firearm.
While there is no one statistic regarding female gun ownership nationwide, just look at the product racks in an outdoor sports store and it's apparent women are shopping.
"I have a holster purse," said Dutko. "They're very sharp. I don't want to look masculine I don't want to wear fatigues, plus I don't even hunt … but there is more and more out there for women."
"We got really serious about it about three years ago," said Browning technical apparel product manager Mark Francis. "We tried to react to the demand that we're getting … more dealers are saying more women are getting into the sport."
When the 109-year-old, Utah-based gun company began offering shooting clothes and hunting apparel for women, it had to create more than just specific sizes. The women demanded more colors then the men, with changes each season. "It just follows the fashion trends. If lavenders and pinks are in, that's what they want," said Francis.
Gun Owners With Sass
One night, Mary Thompson, 68, was driving home and noticed a car that seemed to be following her vehicle.
"I recognized that if these fellows had been able to get me off the road, I was a dead duck," said Thompson.
She was not a gun owner, but decided it was time she armed herself for protection -- now Thompson pops a pistol in her purse when she feels her safety may be at risk. When she started going to classes and researching firearms, she found few resources specifically geared toward ladies in this somewhat masculine field.
She met other women who also felt left out and began forming the organization Second Amendment Sisters, known more simply as SAS, for which she now serves as president.
The group offers women's only firearms classes, and Thompson said she also uses the group to change the stereotypes about women and guns which range from Hollywood images of sexy spies, to some unflattering images.
"What we still fight is the image of the big-haired, snaggle-toothed, chewing tobacco woman from the Deep South," said Thompson. "We don't hear much of that anymore."
While she said it is not aggressive in encouraging women to arm themselves, the group is dedicated to a strong, literal interpretation of the Second Amendment.
"We are a one-issue organization and that issue is self-defense is a basic human right," said Thompson. "We believe that women are often targeted by criminals because usually we're smaller, weaker, and we are interested in educating women and offering them the possibility of owning and carrying a gun if that's what interests them."
Dutko has a more personal reason for supporting gun rights: "I taught U.S. history. I'm a strict constitutionalist. The Second Amendment is No. 2!"
From Protection to a Pastime
What Thompson didn't expect when she began carrying a gun for security, was how much fun she would have aiming at targets.
"Its fun to target shoot, its fun to skeet shoot, all sorts of things," said Thompson. "It's amazing how many, many times women have gone from being almost hysterical about it to becoming very good shooters and loving it."
"Personally I like to go to a very controlled environment," said Dutko. "I like to go to a shooting parlor where you have an individual booth."
The sport is a competitive one where Thompson said women clearly have a place. "We have better hand to eye coordination and No. 2, we listen to instruction," said Thompson.
They are certainly not alone in this activity. The NRA offers women-only hunting trips, and according to Hobbs, the association's firearms training classes for women have grown from 13 clinics five years ago to the current offering of 200 classes nationwide. She's also noticed firearms companies catering to this group.
"They realize that women do enjoy the shooting sports and they're willing to spend money on products specially designed for them. And that's everything from eyewear to clothing, firearms, purses designed to carry firearms," said Hobbs.
"One of the places here in town -- ladies shoot free on Thursday," said Dutko.
But others question this marketing as nothing more than a push for more business.
"They are actively marketing to women these days … focusing on the idea that you're women so you're smaller then men," said Zach Ragbourn. He's a spokesman for the Brady Campaign and said it's "troubling that they would use fear to sell a product that doesn't improve your safety … whether or not carrying a gun is an effective deterrent is still an open question."