Gun club teaches only women to shoot
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Crystal Newman knows what it's like to be a woman learning about firearms from men.
"It's easy to feel intimidated, to feel you aren't proficient enough," she said. "I think that's why a lot of women never bother to learn about guns."
To help prevent others of her gender from experiencing those feelings, Newman founded the In Her Sights Women's Only Gun School. The Huntington-based school teaches women the basics of firearm safety and proficiency, and helps them qualify for concealed-carry pistol permits.
"What sets my school apart from others is that we try to learn and have fun at the same time," Newman said. "We do it a lot like a Tupperware party. We get some friends together, sit in the living room and go through the whole [National Rifle Association] Basic Pistol Course. The all-woman format helps students let down their guard."
The approach seems to be working. In little more than a year, Newman has shepherded 150 women through her classes.
"There doesn't seem to be any shortage of women who want to carry guns," she said. "In the past few years, gun ownership among women has risen significantly."
An October 2011 Gallup Poll revealed that gun ownership among men increased just 1 percent between 2009 and 2011. Gun ownership among women jumped 10 percent during that same period.
Newman has been a recreational shooter for more than 20 years, but she had never thought about carrying a gun full-time until a few years ago when her house was robbed -- twice.
"We weren't in the house during the robberies, but they got me thinking," she said. "I have kids. I couldn't bear to think of something happening and me not being able to defend them properly."
She signed up for Cabell County's concealed-carry class, took it and passed it.
"That's when I got really serious about hitting bull's-eyes," she said. "I started shooting more so I could stay in practice. My husband and I joined a gun club.
"One of the members was an old friend who also was a defensive pistol instructor. He challenged me to come out and let him show me just how unprepared to defend myself I really was. Turns out I was extremely unprepared."
The friend asked Newman where her gun was. When she said it was in her purse, he rushed at her threateningly, saying "get it out of your purse!"
"There was no way to get it out of my purse," Newman recalls. "I would have been dead."
Since then, Newman has become an NRA-certified pistol instructor and has taken classes in defensive shooting, which taught her how to draw and shoot when an attacker closes within arm's reach. She now carries her pistol in a hip holster concealed under her clothing.
"I tell the women I teach, 'Your gun has to be on your hip or you'll never get it out,'" Newman said.
She also teaches her proteges that the shootouts they see on television bear scant resemblance to real-world incidents.
"I recently taught a private class to a nurse," Newman recalled.
"She said she didn't want to kill anyone; she just wanted to be able to shoot an attacker in the leg. When we went to the range and she saw how nearly impossible that is to do under real-world conditions, she changed her mind. Getting her permit, getting a holster and carrying on her hip suddenly became much more attractive."
To ensure that her charges get enough individual attention, Newman takes only six to 10 students in each two-day class. The first day of the class focuses on academics. The second day focuses on shooting.
"Day one is the 'Tupperware party' part of the course, when we spend about five hours going over the NRA's pistol-course material," Newman said.
"The second day is when we go to the range to build hands-on proficiency. The range portion of the course takes about three hours. That's not going to make you a marksman, but it will teach you to draw and shoot and hit what you're aiming at."
Newman charges $50 per student for group classes and $125 per student for a private class. Students may bring their own firearms or use the school's. Newman's website, www.inhersights.net, details the other materials students should bring.
The women who have graduated from Newman's classes have formed what she calls "a very active Facebook group," the Mad Anne Bailey Women's Shooting Society.
"We currently have more than 100 members," Newman added. "I tell my students that this shouldn't be the last class they take. They can take intermediate and advanced women's-only classes at the Putnam County Gun Club, and I encourage them to do that."
A growing number of Newman's graduates are participating in local shooting-sports events.
"Up until recently, [International Practical Shooting Confederation] and [U.S. Practical Shooting Association] competitions have been mostly male," she said. "More women are getting into those events, and they're finding they're pretty darned competitive."
Newman believes she could attract even more students if she advertised her school, but she said she's staying busy enough without it.
"People are finding out about me by word of mouth, just like they would a Mary Kay consultant," she said.
A Mary Kay consultant? Hey, what else would you expect from a teacher who works to make firearms "a girl thing?"
Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1231.