by Chip Lohman
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
To steal a line from the 1968 Virginia Slims ad campaign, women shooters “have come a long way” since the early days of shooting sports.
In her 1988 book Fair Game, A Lady’s Guide to Shooting Etiquette, Englishwoman Piffa Schroder wrote, “Shooting was considered to be an unladylike pastime. In 1882, Queen Victoria herself had written in a letter to her daughter, that although it was a perfectly acceptable for a woman to be a spectator, only ‘fast women’ shot.”
More recently, the National Shooting Sports Foundation reported that “The face of America’s target shooters is changing. New target shooters—those who have taken up the sport in the last five years—are younger, female and urban when compared to established target shooters—those participating for more than five years.”
The number of women shooters has grown steadily thanks to trailblazers like Ruby Fox, America’s only woman to earn an Olympic Pistol medal (1984 Los Angeles Games). Kim Rhode has medaled in Shotgun for five consecutive Olympics and has secured a slot for the 2016 Games in Rio, and recently retired Master Sergeant Julia (Watson) Carlson won the overall, shoulder-to-shoulder National Service Rifle Championships at Camp Perry in 2014.
In 2009, the percentage of female NRA-classified shooters was less than 10 percent. Industry sources now report that 37 percent of new target shooters are female, compared to 22 percent of established target shooters. The number of NRA-certified women instructors has reached 9,343 or about 8 percent of the total count of 122,394, and 796 women out of 7,206 are NRA-certified coaches.
As recently as 2013, a Pew Research Center survey found that there was a substantial gender gap when it came to gun ownership: Men were three times as likely to purchase a gun as women (37 percent versus 12 percent). But just two years later, 78 percent of retailers queried reported that they have experienced an increase in women customers. “Interest in the shooting sports” and a “Desire for personal protection” are the common justifications given by women entering the world of firearms ownership.
As the largest buyer of firearms, even the U.S. Department of Defense acknowledges the trend toward more women customers in their current recompete of the U.S. Service Pistol (XM17) contract, for which the Beretta M9 has supported American servicemen and women since 1985. The XM17 Request for Information (RFI) solicits modular systems with a “slimmer design,” recognizing that Polymer pistols with replaceable grips have become increasingly popular as lightweight and ergonomic alternatives, particularly among women.