Women gun owners speak out on gun control

Ladies' night at the range
Sam Holtman, left, and his wife Gabby Stenger with housemates Kayla Olsen and Calline Cronin attend a recent ladies' night at Bill's Gun Shop and Range in Robbinsdale. Olsen and Stenger were first-time shooters. They plan to display their target on the refrigerator of their Brooklyn Center home.
MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian

Women are a growing market for gun sales in this country, but a gender gap persists when it comes to their attitudes about gun control. Polls show women are more likely to favor certain gun restrictions.

Last month's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., during which 20 first-graders and six educators were killed, has sparked a nationwide discussion about how to reduce gun violence.

On a recent ladies night at Bill's Gun Shop and Range in Robbinsdale, women shooters spoke about how the Sandy Hook incident influenced their thinking about guns.

"All right ladies, let's pick out some guns here," firearms instructor Chelaine Crego says to a group of 20-something housemates from Brooklyn Center.

Crego goes over safety rules, how to use a gun, and shooting form.

"Push your butt out a little bit — there you go, just like that," she tells one woman.

This is Kayla Olsen's first visit to a gun range. The 23-year-old has never shot a gun.

Joking during ladies night
In this photo taken Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011, Pam Aspnes, left, jokes with Brittni Marczewski during ladies night at Bill's Gun Shop in Robbinsdale, Minn. Women are a growing market for gun sales in this country, but a gender gap persists when it comes to their attitudes about gun control. Polls show women are more likely to favor certain gun restrictions.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"This was something that was on my bucket list, so one thing crossed off." Olsen said.

Women account for 14 percent of the permits to carry issued in Minnesota over the past decade. Women are the largest untapped market, said John Monson, owner of Bill's Gun Shop.

"I would say for our business, it's probably close to 20 percent, which is pretty hard to accomplish," Monson said. "I will tell you that I see a much larger percentage of women in the store, definitely. That number increases every year."

Women's interest in the sport has been growing, and in a sales spike after the Sandy Hook shootings, both men and women crowded Monson's three stores, nearly cleaning him out of inventory.

"I will tell you that I see a much larger percentage of women in the store, definitely. That number increases every year."

Monson said he is not surprised by Gallup poll data from late December showing women are more likely than men — 69 percent of women and 54 percent of men — to favor limits on high capacity ammunition magazines, as President Barack Obama is proposing.

"Think of the issue at hand: There were children that were hurt. So, every one of these women are a mother or sister or daughter," Monson said.

"They're more sensitive and more "feely" than guys are. Their emotional output isn't to say 'you can't take mine,' it's to say, 'if I have to give mine up so someone else doesn't have to suffer, then I will.'"

Monson was set back in his marketing to women shortly after the Sandy Hook incident. The annual "gals and guns gala" planned for Saturday night was cancelled after radio station KS95-FM withdrew sponsorship.

Station manager Dan Seeman said the timing of the event just did not feel right after Sandy Hook.

"This was not a statement from KS95 on guns, this was a statement really on controversy," Seeman said. "We don't like to get involved in controversial topics... we're here to entertain and have fun, and play Katy Perry songs."

The station has not ruled out sponsoring a future event on gun safety, Seeman said.

At Bill's Gun Shop, the Sandy Hook shootings has some mothers thinking differently.

Positioning the hands
In this photo taken Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011, shooting instructor Teresa Reiter, left, helps Breanne Ciepielinski position her hand on her gun during ladies night Bill's Gun Shop in Robbinsdale, Minn. Women are a growing market for gun sales in this country, but a gender gap persists when it comes to their attitudes about gun control. Polls show women are more likely to favor certain gun restrictions.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Kristi Nelson of Maple Grove brought her 14-year-old daughter and a friend out for a night of target shooting.

"It's good to know, especially with the shootings that have gone on in schools and other areas, that it's better to know how a handgun works, and how to use one," Nelson said. "And I think if there's a gun involved — whether you're in a school or a mall or even at a friend's house — if somebody takes a gun out, it's better to know how it works than to know nothing about it."

On the range, the two teens use .22-caliber and 9 mm handguns to inflict some considerable damage to a paper target.

Sheila O'Riley and her adult daughter, Kelly Roering, both of Minneapolis, are out together tonight to practice their marksmanship.

Roering is trying out an HK45, a new pistol she is considering buying. She thinks owning a gun is a good thing — within limits.

"I still am a firm believer and supporter of the Second Amendment, and feel it's a good right to have and it should be supported," Roering said. "But I think maybe it should be adjusted in the sense that not everybody should have such easy access to it, and gun safety control is very necessary to the sport."

O'Riley is an NRA member who owns handguns and rifles and has a permit to carry, but she said Sandy Hook has increased her concern about the widespread availability of guns.

"I wish there were more... more ways to check someone's mental health background," O'Riley said. "Even though guns can be purchased legally and there's still a lot of people that can get them and there's no guarantee that they won't have a mental health crisis somewhere down the line."

Obama's proposals for curbing gun violence this week included several executive orders aimed at improving mental health coverage, and strengthening the background check system.

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