Clad in a pink T-shirt that reads “A girl and a gun,” firearms instructor Charneta Samms shows a group of women how to get a proper grip on a pistol.
Around them, shots ring out and casings pile on the floor at a shooting range near the eastern US city of Baltimore, where more and more of the visitors are women.
“Unfortunately, the world’s getting a little bit crazy,” said Samms, 49, who runs the local branch of A Girl & A Gun, a women-only gun club.
“And so I think it’s important for women to be able to defend themselves,” she told AFP.
Like Samms and her trainees, a growing number of women are choosing to own guns, taking an increasingly prominent role in the popular American pursuit. The change is happening amid rising social and political turmoil in the United States following the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the women attending Samms’ training course on a recent evening is Kenya Watkins, a high school geometry teacher from Baltimore, a city whose notoriously high crime rate inspired the legendary TV series “The Wire.”
Watkins, 49, says it was the fear for her safety and the safety of her daughter, who was 24 at the time, that prompted her to start firearms training.
“I didn’t want her to be anybody’s victim, being a young African-American woman living alone in Baltimore city,” she told AFP.
Like Swiss cheese
For decades, the typical gun owner in the United States was a rural white man with conservative political views. But that is changing as more women purchase guns and learn how to use them.
Over the past 10 years, the share of gun owners among American women more than doubled, from 12 to 25 percent, while the share of men who own firearms rose only slightly from 37 to 40 percent, according to Pew Research Center.
And the surge in firearms sales in 2020 — when the country was grappling with the uncertainty of Covid-19 and soaring crime in many US cities — was particularly notable among women: they made up almost half of new gun owners, according to a research paper published last year in the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Nurse Adrian Williams said she came to train with Samms because she is only five feet (152 centimeters) tall and wants to be able to defend herself if attacked. Now, with a handgun in her hand, she feels more confident.
“It’s amazing. And it’s empowering,” said Williams, 45. “The pistol is the equalizer. That is what is going to give me a chance to save my life or my loved ones.”
Marcia Threatt, a sign language interpreter in her late fifties, acknowledges that some of her friends were surprised by her hobby.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, I couldn’t believe that you would be that type of person’,” said Threatt. “I don’t look like the demographic, you know, of the typical person.”
Watkins, the Baltimore geometry teacher, has since moved to a safer neighborhood. But she keeps coming to train with A Girl & A Gun, firing round after round into a shooting target and riddling it with holes like Swiss cheese.
Russ Leith, a 68-year-old retiree who works as a safety officer at the range three times a week, says he is glad to see more women come here.
They are “easier to work with than men, they want to learn,” said Leith, wearing noise-canceling headphones. “Guys can be more macho about it.”