Prompted by concerns for their own safety and that of their families, more women in New Hampshire are purchasing guns, learning how to use them and practicing their shooting skills, say firearms dealers, shooting range attendants and the Second Amendment Sisters.
The Sisters, a national nonprofit organization with a growing New Hampshire chapter, is dedicated to maintaining the constitutional right to bear arms. Some New Hampshire members meet monthly at a shooting club in Manchester.
Most recently, the SAS has voiced its opposition to HB 135
, a bill before the Legislature that would repeal the state's stand-your-ground law. The current law, which passed last year, says a person who is in a place where he or she has a legal right to be does not have to first retreat from a deadly threat before using deadly force in self-defense. It also gives the person using deadly force immunity from civil lawsuits if he or she causes death or injury, including to innocent third parties, while using legal deadly force.
"Telling a woman she should try to turn her back on an assailant is the Legislature telling a woman to take a chance to become a victim or, worse yet, die at the hands of a criminal," said Jenn Coffey, an Andover resident and the national legislative affairs director for the Second Amendment Sisters. "We value our right to choose what happens to our bodies. This legislation is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to mass media reports."
Coffey, who belongs to SAS' state chapter, says the women in her group say the No. 1 reason for owning a gun is personal safety. She cites New Hampshire Uniform Crime Report statistics that show in 2011 there were seven murders, 2,478 acts of violent crime, 429 forcible rapes, 474 robberies, and 5,749 burglaries in the Granite State. The number of rapes represents only those reported to police.
Coffey and other SAS members were among several hundred people who attended a State House hearing on House Bill 135 on Tuesday. Coffey said there have been no reported problems with the current stand-your-ground law.
"In fact, as an organization we have found that our members feel safer knowing they have the legal right to defend themselves when they travel outside their homes alone," said Coffey. "There is no clear definition as to what 'safely retreat' means, and that in and of itself could cause an unsuspecting citizen to find themselves sitting at the defense table trying not to end up in jail for refusing to be a victim of a violent crime."
"By repealing this law, the Legislature is encouraging criminals to sue the very victims of their crimes if they become injured," said Coffey.
"I'm not in favor of the changes," said Katherine Prudhomme-O'Brien of Derry, who shoots with her husband at the Londonderry Fish and Game Club in Litchfield. "I think it creates a safer society when people are aware that other people are going to defend themselves. It might keep the bad guy from breaking into your house. I like to hike and cross-country ski, and it means a lot to me that in this state a bad guy would have to think twice about if I or any other woman was armed or not if he saw me in the woods. I actually would not want to live in a state with stricter gun laws, such as Massachusetts, because I would not feel comfortable hiking or skiing alone. I think this is a feminist issue, and I agree with Annie Oakley, who thought all women should learn to shoot and be comfortable with firearms."
Prudhomme-O'Brien says her enthusiasm for guns has been passed down to the next generation.
"Shooting is a family hobby of ours," said Prudhomme-O'Brien. "My husband and I both shoot. Our older college-age daughter shoots. She goes to the gun club with her father when she comes home, and our 11-year-old daughter is involved in a 4H group at the Chester Rod and Gun Club that does archery and rifle target shooting."
"I take my 15-year-old daughter with me to the range, and we usually have a few teenage girls in tow with us," said Lucinda Boutin of Manchester, who has a membership to shoot at the Manchester Firing Line Range on Brown Avenue. "Their parents let them go along. I think it's important for women to learn to protect themselves. I've been a member for about a year now, and I've seen more and more women taking courses and target practice. I think it's great."
Traci Allard is a gun salesman at Pelham Firearms. She says the uptick in women gun owners isn't entirely spurred by safety concerns.
"There's the enjoyment, the sense of achievement, that you get target shooting," she said. "There's always been interest in the classes and gun ownership in general, but we have seen growing interest among women," said Bob Gillespie, owner of Belmont Firearms and Range in Belmont. "We have women taking safety and shooting courses with their husbands. We have single women. The classes are usually full, and it's pretty even between men and women taking part."
Personal protection is the No. 1 reason cited by women buying their first guns at his store.
"We saw an increase among women customers, and men for that matter, after the Mont Vernon attack," said Gillespie. "People want to be able to protect themselves."
A woman was murdered and her daughter seriously injured in that attack.
Carey McCloud, owner of Shooter's Outpost in Hooksett, has noticed a growing number of female customers in her store.
"They are very interested, mainly for protection reasons," said McCloud. "I am out on the floor a lot and am able to help them select a gun that suits them, better than a man would in some cases."
McCloud and Gillespie said women typically prefer to purchase smaller firearms, guns that are easily concealed and easy to use.
Boutin said she took up hunting with her father as a child and feels more secure as an adult who knows how to handle a gun.
"No doubt, personal safety is the top reason out there," said Boutin. "A lot of the women I know, when they are looking for advice about getting a gun or learning to shoot, they all ask me. I always ask why, and the reason they all have in common is safety. We live in a different world now."
Coffey said she became a gun enthusiast after an incident about 18 years ago. She was living with her husband and infant son in an apartment across the street from a bar in Plymouth, Mass. The couple, who worked opposite shifts, had a rifle in the apartment, which she knew how to use but didn't see a need for.
One night when she was home alone with her son, she heard two men, "obviously drunk," talking loudly outside her door. She called the police, and the two men left.
"As soon as the police left, the men came back," said Coffey. "And they weren't happy."
Coffey said the men began pounding on her door and windows, yelling profanities and vowing to kill whoever called the police. Coffey got the gun, made sure it was loaded, and laid it across her lap while sitting facing the door, ready to shoot anyone who broke in.
"That moment changed my entire life, my way of thinking," said Coffey. "If they had managed to break in, to break down that door ... all I could think of is what would they do to my son. If they did something to me, what would they do to my baby?"
Once a month, Coffey and the Second Amendment Sisters host a women-only target-shooting session at the Wilson Hill Pistol Club in Manchester.
"The last one we had, in January, the number of people there doubled" to about 35, compared with the previous meeting, said Coffey. "The interest level is there, and it's only growing."
She said her group will continue to speak out against HB 135.
"Criminals are hoping they pass this legislation," said Coffey. "With its passage, they know the law-abiding will fear defending themselves and they know if they break into your home and you fight for your life, they can sue you for damages. We have a right to choose, and what we choose is to defend ourselves, our families and our homes."