March 5, 2013— -- For the Sure Shots, a women-only shooting league in Austin, Texas, girl power equals firepower.
"You have to think defensively all the time," said Holly Gaylor, a mother of two. "You have to think about it when you are in your car, you have to think about it when you are at the grocery store, I mean, it just takes a second for everything to change."
Nationwide gun ownership is at an all time high and now a record 23 percent of women say they own a gun, according to Gallup polls. The surprising spike has spawned a cottage industry from pink assault rifles to bling-ed out revolvers, like the one tweeted by Kim Kardashian.
But make no mistake. The women of the Sure Shots are dead serious about the right to bear arms.
Gaylor is running through a series of intensive drills with the Sure Shots designed specifically for women who own and carry guns. The drills teach self-defense tactics, including how to shoot and reload in high-pressure situations. She said she joined Sure Shots to learn the best way to protect her family. If someone were to break into their home, she told her children that she and their father would be there to "defend" them.
"I also know that my 10-year-old will be able to pick up my AR and he will be able to use it," she said.
During one drill for advanced defensive pistol training, two women welding handguns run up to a piece of mounted plywood, duck and roll on the ground so they are lying sideways, and take aim at a target several feet away. Then they fire off a few rounds.
"We rocked that one girl, that was awesome," one woman said as the two high-fived each other.
In another exercise, the women have to carry a beach ball, which stands in for a baby, under one arm while holding a gun with the other and trying to defend themselves.
In the two years since the Austin Sure Shots formed, this sisterhood of local gun enthusiasts has quickly drawn hundreds of members, from 9-year-old Gia, who hopes to shoot in the 2020 Olympics, to 62-year-old Marcia Macha, who discovered her passion for shooting three years ago.
"It's tough," Macha said. "You got to be a tough Texan girl to do this."
Niki Jones, the Sure Shots' founding member, has a homemade assault rifle she named "The Snow Queen." Her guiding philosophy for the group is simple: Empower women to that they won't become victims.
"If I'm in an alley and an attacker comes up and has malicious intent I can't bare-knuckle fight him, but I can train with my gun and then if the time comes, I can use it to save my life," Jones said.
The gun industry markets directly to women with smaller, more female-friendly firearms, such as customizable handguns and high-powered rifles awash in hot pink, as well as loads of accessories for the fashion-conscious shooter. One product on the market is the Flash Bang bra holster, which can conceal a weapon on a woman's body.
There are so many new products that Los Angeles-based gun blogger Natalie Foster started a website called "A Girl's Guide to Guns," to help women navigate the world of shooting. Foster owns four guns, none of which is pink.
"They want a lot more information, anything from what gun to buy to what holsters to use, to what hairdo do you want to use to make yourself feel cute at the range," she said.
The National Rifle Association, which is overwhelmingly male, has started to court this new wave of potential members with new ad campaigns that feature female shooters and lines like, "This NRA women's network is designed with you in mind." The NRA claims nearly 30 million women own guns -- a number that critics say is grossly exaggerated.
But no one is disputing that more women than ever have been flocking to gun clubs like the Sure Shots. Although none of the Sure Shots women said they have had to use their guns to defend themselves in real life, they believe in preparing for the worst-case scenario. All of them said that they feel safer having a lethal weapon nearby.
"I keep a 12-guage pump action shotgun next to my bed," said Lia Scottino. "Being a single female, I have to consider those things and have to consider how to protect myself."
"I don't carry a gun because I live in fear," Macha said. "I don't live in fear because I do carry a gun."
But gun control advocates say that feeling safer because they own a gun provides a false sense of security. A woman with a gun in her home is almost three times more likely to be killed than a woman who does not have a gun in her home, according to Laurie Saffain, who works with Women Against Gun Violence, an advocacy group that was created in the '90s in a response to what it says were "fear tactics" used in marketing guns to women.
"For every time a gun is fired in self defense, there are four accidental shootings, there are seven homicides or assaults and 11 attempted or successful suicides," Saffian said.
Saffian believes that guns don't make women any safer, but reasonable gun control laws will.
"Let's come together where we can around common sense solutions and laws that are really going to make a difference for women and are going to save their lives," she said.
But universal background checks, even a ban on high-capacity magazines, are gun control measures Holly Gaylor of the Sure Shots firmly opposes.
"Nobody has the right to tell us what's good for the next person," Gaylor said. "I don't dictate what goes best for your family and you shouldn't dictate what goes best for my family … if you want to carry a 30-round magazine then, by golly, do it."