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Women shooters & the NRA.

In 1990, the NRA made an important discovery. Somewhere, out in the streets of America, there were 15 to 20 million gun owners - almost 15 percent of the competitive shooters in the country - who were not being represented.

Why? Because they were female.

Knowing this, the NRA created the Women's Issues and Information division to better serve this country's gun owners of the fairer sex. At the bead of this branch is Liz Swasey, a woman who has some very strong ideas about women who already own guns and women who are now looking into the possibility of taking an active role in self protection.

"Many analysts have called the recent rise in gun purchases by women a trend," Swasey said. "We prefer to see it as a shift, a change in the way women think rather than just a passing fad."

In her position as director of the Women's Issues and Information branch of the NRA, Swasey has been in a lot of gun shops all across the country. In her travels, she has been ignored, talked down to, and outright snubbed. She said that gunshop owners who do not take female customers seriously are putting themselves in danger of missing the fastest growing segment of the gun buying public.

"Gun dealers need to be very careful when selling to women," Swasey said. "When they wait on a female customer, they shouldn't speak like they are selling a gun to a child or a moron. Women are every bit as intelligent and interested in firearms as men, it's just that most women don't have the background in gun safety that men do."

She said that, while most male gun dealers mean well, they tend to "overexplain" their products to female customers, making them feel foolish in an already unfamiliar environment.

Swasey advises dealers to point out the basics to their women customers without treating them like second-class buyers. "Many women don't know the difference between a revolver and an auto, but a simple explanation is all that's required. They're smart enough to see the difference."

According to Swasey, the firearms which women purchase are rather specialized. Whereas men often want large, heavy handguns to control recoil and fit their larger hands, women want smaller guns, often revolvers, with a lack of sharp projections which might become entangled in a purse or handbag.

"Show your female customers light, smaller handguns with a 2-inch or 3-inch barrel. If they're using it in self defense, that's big enough. Anything larger will weigh down their purses and be uncomfortable to carry," she said.

Swasey also points out that uncomfortable grips are one of the most common complaints which women have regarding handguns. Dealers should point out that the grips can be changed for something that fits their hands more naturally," she said. "That's very elementary to most gun owners, but it's something women aren't aware of."

Apart from custom grips, women customers are also interested in accessories like purses or handbags which allow them to carry their guns confidently. Swasey said that standard purses have too many zippers and buckles to make a gun readily accessible, but there are several on the market designed for women who carry guns. They offer features like reinforced straps which resist cutting, center pockets which allow the user to keep a hand on the gun, and fleece lining to resist damage to the weapon.

The biggest hurdle which dealers must leap is not learning how to sell guns to women customers, but getting them into the store. Most women think of gun shops as intimidating places where those who aren't knowledgeable about firearms are scorned. Swasey said that there are several simple methods which dealers can use to dispel these images.

"Remember, what women want is information," she said. Dealers can teach or sponsor gun safety and self defense classes for women in order to increase their customer traffic. They should also give away free literature about gun ownership."

The NRA offers several brochures at no charge to dealers, such as It Can Happen To You, a pamphlet dealing with assault and crime prevention, and Firearms Operation, which details the basics of safe gun use and storage.

"Offering these thin s sends two messages to women," Swasey said. "First, it lets them know that they are welcome in that part icular establishment, and second, it makes them feel that if they do business there, they are going to be treated with respect."

Gun ownership isn't for every woman, however, and gun owners must be ready to point out a woman's self defense options rather than just push a gun on her. Swasey said, "Many women are hesitant to carry a weapon which has the ability to kill someone. They have heard about options like Mace, red pepper gas, knives, alarms, and other things and they want explanations about all of them."

How should dealers handle questions of this type? Swasey said, "Women need to know that their most effective weapon is their brain, not something they stuff in their purse. Sprays, whistles, self-defense training, and clubs all have their uses, but women need to be aware of their limitations. Gun dealers should be ready to discuss these limitations with women, as well as the limitations of carrying a firearm, then let the customers make an informed decision."

One other piece of information must be presented to female customers, and that is the options of carrying the weapon.

"A gun is useful only if it is accessible," Swasey said. "If a woman's gun is in her nightstand and she is attacked on the street, her investment is not going to do her much good. Even in states which restrict or deny citizens the right to carry weapons in public, women can always carry a weapon when they're in their home, and that's exactly where most assaults occur.'

On a more general note, Swasey also said that women - as well as all gun buyers - in states which place restrictions on concealed carry permits must realize that they can act to change the laws. "Encourage them to write to their legislators and demand an answer to the question, Why do the laws state that the lives of a banker carrying money or a jeweler carrying gold are more important than the life of a woman walking down the street in her neighborhood?"
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:National Rifle Association
Author:Farrell, Scott
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:Targeting a new market for firearms.
Next Article:A new look at the military .45.

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