Are You Part Of The Solution?

By Deb Ferns

It’s all smiles for a range selfie. The focus of Karen Whitlock’s “Learn To Shoot” program is to help attendees build confidence through mastering the basics. “We’re not trying to make everyone a happy gun lover, but rather educate them to be someone who has the ability to run a gun safely,” she shares.

Most people are familiar with the phrase used in the title of this article, which I thought ended with “or are you part of the problem?” It turns out, however, this is actually often misquoted. The correct (entire) quote is: “There’s no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” Something else not commonly known is this quote came from Eldridge Cleaver, an American writer and early leader of the Black Panther Party.

Now over 50 years old, this verse brings up words like “neutrality” and “solutions.” In today’s political environment, there’s very little neutrality; it seems nothing can be discussed without finger pointing and angst. Likewise, solutions seem to be non-existent from the viewpoint of mainstream media — especially when discussing anything pertaining to firearms. 

Simply, women mentoring other women about firearms is going to be incredibly valuable to provide open forums for talking calmly and rationally about this subject.

Talking “To” Women

In Babes With Bullets, published in 2005, I conducted a series of interviews with women who took up the shooting sports a bit later in life. These women had a story similar to mine; they were in their 40s or 50s before they stepped outside their comfort zone to learn more about firearms. They revealed how firearms training not only empowered them, but also enriched their lives.

Over the last 15 years, mentoring women in the arena of firearms has been a mission for me. One of the women I mentored was Sheila Hoekstra who has worked for many years at a local gun store, On Target, in Kalamazoo, Mich. Sheila eventually became an instructor for Babes With Bullets camps across the U.S., and now runs her own firearms program at Hillsdale College (www.hillsdale.edu/educational-outreach/ladies-liberty-and-couples-liberty). 


“A woman’s first introduction to the shooting
sports can be a terrific experience or a guarantee
she’ll never touch a gun again.”

Sheila Hoekstra, Instructor Hillsdale College Hillsdale, Mich.


Recently, she and I were talking about the importance of using the right language when working with women in the shooting sports. Sheila emphasized the importance of talking to new lady shooters, not talking at them. 

“I don’t overload them with information they don’t need right away,” she informed, “I just make sure we’re all on the same page about firearms safety first.”

Several years ago, Sheila and I did a YouTube training webisode emphasizing appropriate introductions of women to firearms. As she brought up in the webisode and reminded me during our interview: “A woman’s first introduction to the shooting sports can be a terrific experience or a guarantee she’ll never touch a gun again.”

Starting Small

Another mentor to women in the shooting sports, Karen Whitlock, co-owns Trigger Time Indoor Gun Range in Flowery Branch, Ga. She exhibits an enthusiasm to bring more people to the range, especially women, and her facility offers an extensive class program. On her website (www.triggertime.org), you’ll see Karen encourages women to attend the free ladies’ range day held every Thursday. They can bring their own firearm or rent one from Trigger Time at a discounted rate. In addition to the free Thursday event, Karen also hosts a “Learn to Shoot” program on Tuesdays where she provides everything for the four-hour program (guns, ammo, range time, etc.) for $100.

Karen shared her “Learn to Shoot” program is really about building confidence. 

“What we often see is a large number of women coming to the range with their husband or boyfriend, and they either aren’t shooting or he does everything for her,” she noted. “At the end of their range time, the woman is still clueless on how to load the gun, much less clear a malfunction. We want her to learn how to operate the gun safely on her own — including loading her own magazines, safely unloading it and even clearing malfunctions.”

The goal of the class is to start small, according to Karen.

“As we teach the class, our first lesson is on safety. We don’t worry about a perfect target ’til down the road,” she said. “We’re not trying to make everyone into a happy gun lover, but rather educate them to be someone who has the ability to run a gun safely.”

Both Sheila and Karen confirmed 90% of their female students are there for purposes of self- and home-defense.

+ONE Movement’s Impact

With more first-time gun buyers than ever before, mentorship is critical to developing them into repeat customers. Become part of the solution!

Moving away from the self-defense aspect of firearms, NSSF has honed in on the mentorship aspect of the shooting sports and hunting segment with the +ONE Movement mentorship initiative.

NSSF President and CEO Joe Bartozzi launched this program late 2018 saying: “We all know getting involved in hunting and the shooting sports can be a challenge for people who have never gone before. Having a mentor at your side makes it much easier for someone to get started. With the +ONE Movement, we’re challenging every hunter and target shooter in America to introduce at least one new person to the sports we love.”

It was a challenge my team took seriously, and we’ve introduced dozens of new women to the shooting sports — in addition to 20 novice ladies to hunting programs.

Jim Curcuruto, NSSF director of research and market development, shared the data they’ve collected correlating to the +ONE Movement indicates “the consumer [before joining into shooting sports or hunting for the first time] wants information, an invitation and an incentive.”

I’ve used the +ONE Challenge Coin as an incentive, handing one to each new hunter we take out. It has a domino effect, as they head back home to share with their family and friends their new firearms skill — along with a bit of their wild game, as well. Before you know it, we’ll have more novice women to mentor on our next hunting trip!

Signing off here, I’ll return to the opening concept you’re hopefully challenging yourself with now: “You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” 

Is your store a problem solver and introducing (and mentoring) women to the shooting sports? Let us know: comments@nullshootingindustry.com

Deb Ferns is the co-founder and camp director of Babes With Bullets, as well as the founder of the Women’s Outdoor Media Association. Ferns also serves as the director of the Ladies Adventure Camp Experience, a hunting mentorship program.


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