Gun shops say more women joining ranks of firearms owners

By BARBARA TAORMINA
Union Leader Correspondent
July 15. 2012 12:23AM
Mary Murphy of Bedford concentrates on her target at Saturday’s first Armed and Fabulous shoot, a basic gun education and safety program, hosted by Londonderry Fish and Game Club. (BARBARA TAORMINA/Union Leader Correspondent)
Business is booming at southern New Hampshire's gun shops, and women have been helping drive the surge in sales, dealers say.

Gun shops and dealers have seen a steady increase in women customers over the past five years, but 2011 brought the biggest jump yet. According to national sales data, surveys and polls, between 15 million and 20 million American women now own guns, and New Hampshire women are keeping step with the trend.

'The vast majority are looking for some type of protection,' said Tom Bellohusan, who is seeing more and more women at Lewis Arms in Bow. 'But after they get their first gun, they find out how much fun shooting is, and how much they like going out in their back yard and blowing up a watermelon.'

Traci Allard started shooting guns with her father and sisters as a kid growing up in Tyngsborugh, Mass., Now, the Hudson resident sells guns at Pelham Firearms.

Allard said women in law enforcement and security-related professions have been buying more guns, and there's been a bump in the general interest of owning a gun for personal protection. But she doesn't think the concern with security is what's pushing the recent jump in gun sales.

'People think it's all about personal defense, but it's not,' she said. 'That's a small percent in comparison to the sporting end of it.'

Allard said women are discovering the fun and sense of achievement that's tied into target shooting, an up-and-coming sport for women. Some have decided to pick up the target shooting to have something to share with their husbands. Others have found their way to the shooting ranges on their own.

'It's such a personal-best sport that gets lost in the 'Oh my God, it's a weapon' part of guns,' said Allard, who added target shooting is not only deeply satisfying, it's also a great way to work off a little stress.

Allard figures the reason it has taken so long for women to discover the sport is that, despite the recent sales trends, shooting and gun shops are still a man's world.

'A gun shop is to men what a scrapbooking shop is to women,' she said with a laugh.

But that's been changing along with the customers. Guns now come in all different shades of pink, blue and purple, and most shops carry accessories such as purses with convenient compartments for those who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

'There are a number of different accessories, like hot pink grips and things that make guns look more attractive to women,' said Evan McLeod who started working at Merrimack Firearms a few months ago.

Although McLeod hasn't been selling guns for long enough to know whether a lot more women have started buying them, he said he does see a good number of women in the shop.

'Women seem to be buying .22-caliber guns,' he said. 'That's what they prefer for handguns.'

Lewis Arms also carries pretty guns, but Bellohusan said he doesn't steer every female customer in that direction.

'Not everyone is interested in a girlie gun,' he said. 'It comes down to whatever you like.'

He added that the people at Lewis Arms try to be as nice and as encouraging as they can be to women who are interested in purchasing their first gun.

Still, Allard said, there are many traditional gun shops that cater to men, and those shops might be uncomfortable for women who have a lot of questions and are looking for advice.

As for the shops, they may regret not keeping in touch with their latest stream of customers.

'There are a lot of women who like to hunt and target shoot and who are interested in owning guns,' she said.

'It's a huge market to miss.'

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Barbara Taormina may be reached at btaormina@newstote.com.


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