Welcoming Millions

Of Women To First-Time Gun Ownership

Back at the beginning of this year, while discussing the approaching presidential election and its impact on the industry, who would have predicted the sharp increase in U.S. gun ownership would have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, a country-wide lockdown and widespread social unrest? Raw fear and uncertainty have fueled everything from toilet paper shortages to ammo scarcity, and now, the reality of more women than ever before becoming first-time gun owners.

The NSSF recently shared survey results disclosing there were “nearly 5 million first-time gun owners in the first seven months of 2020.” It makes sense to me — as a mom and an L.E. wife — amid today’s chaos, women made 40% of the firearms purchased in the first half of 2020. We’re territorial when it comes to our families and loved ones, so any unease we have toward owning guns is far outweighed by our primal urge to protect and preserve our own.

Three leaders of the industry’s foremost female-centric organizations share their insights on today’s trends, and how their groups are addressing the influx of new female firearm owners. Here’s our panel: Carrie Lightfoot, the founder and owner of The Well Armed Woman (TWAW); Karen Butler, president of Shoot Like A Girl; and Robyn Sandoval, executive director of A Girl & A Gun Women’s Shooting League (AG & AG).

2020’s Impact On Women & Gun Ownership

SI: How has the landscape changed in the past year for female gun owners?

Robyn Sandoval: AG & AG has seen a 150% surge in membership over the past 12 months. We recently conducted a survey of more than 6,000 of our members where 40% of the respondents reported involvement with firearms of less than one year, and 23% reported they were the only gun owners in their households. Women are eager to protect themselves and their loved ones through the responsible use of firearms. They’re more educated and equipped than ever before. Carrie Lightfoot: The seemingly endless pandemic, coupled with the very real fear of social unrest in communities across the country, has seen women stepping into armed self-protection en masse. Prolonged exposure to rioting and violence — and the accompanying stress we’re experiencing — has many women realizing we could be witnessing a systemic and very long-term change to our society and personal security.

Karen Butler: The more civil unrest we find ourselves in, the more women take responsibility for being their own protectors. It’s our experience: Every time there are any emergencies such as a natural disaster, terrorist attack, mass shooting, pandemic or civil unrest, we see a bump in gun sales. Uncertainty makes people uneasy, and their desire to be able to provide for self rises in priority.

SI: How has your organization remained nimble and welcoming to the new female
gun owners?

Carrie Lightfoot: With the advent of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, TWAW Shooting Chapters quickly brought virtual communities to life — not only to meet the needs of existing members, but also to embrace and welcome new women gun owners. We quickly began working with and training TWAW Chapter Leaders to use available online platforms and how to best use social media to meet the needs of women self-protectors. Virtual meetings and events have been key to creating the welcoming and encouraging community we are known for.

Karen Butler: During COVID, we immediately utilized Facebook Live to focus our messaging on safety. Topics included firearms safety, kids and the shooting sports, range etiquette, gun cleaning, archery and hunting. We involved our partners and invited employees, influencers, pro shooters and other individuals to help connect with new female gun owners. It’s a great way for women to learn from brands they’ve heard of in a casual, relatable atmosphere.

Robyn Sandoval: The COVID pandemic forced us to be agile in communicating with our members and re-imagining our 2020 annual conference at the end of April. The event typically draws 400–450 women from around the U.S., but this year we delivered a successful virtual experience, and even though it was last minute, teamwork and communication made it work.

Women love to see, touch and try products in person, so it’s important for gun stores and ranges to showcase the products designed specifically for women.”

Carrie Lightfoot, Owner The Well Armed Woman

SI: Have you developed any new programs or initiatives to encourage new female gun owners?

Karen Butler: At the height of the COVID lockdown, we hosted three Facebook Live events per week to connect with our audience. Once we were able to get our trailer on the road again, we updated our operating procedures to accommodate masks, social distancing and all the CDC and state guidelines.

Robyn Sandoval: AG & AG began a virtual “Girl’s Night Out” every Tuesday evening where members from across the country join us for firearms training from the comfort of their homes. We cover a wide variety of useful topics for new shooters — ranging from situational awareness to gun maintenance and drawing from a holster. Of course, firearms safety is always a primary theme.

Carrie Lightfoot: We have two online courses to meet the needs of women new to guns and carrying concealed. Women can grow and learn from wherever they choose while building confidence and preparing a solid foundation of knowledge before participating in live-fire training with an instructor. Women & Guns: The Basics provides safety fundamentals and essential tips for women new to gun ownership, and Concealed Carry For Women walks them through concealed carry and concealed carry holsters.

SI: How has the increase in new gun owners impacted your instructors?

Carrie Lightfoot: TWAW Certified Instructors and Shooting Chapter Leader Instructors
have seen a huge increase in requests for training. Social distancing requirements make it difficult to meet the demand because of reduced class size requirements, and the availability of range space poses additional challenges. Our instructors are training people full-time and have never been busier. One of our certified instructors told me she’s “exhilarated.” She said the smiles on her students’ faces drive her to keep going, and “the women who are worried and concerned out there need us.”

Karen Butler: Even when our Shoot Like A Girl trailer is not at an event, our instructors are busier than ever. They live and breathe the shooting sports so they can make every interaction at the Shoot Like A Girl trailer an impactful one.

Robyn Sandoval: We’ve seen a lot more women new to owning guns but it hasn’t changed what we do. AG & AG specializes in the orientation-level, beginner shooter and we introduce them to range etiquette and firearm safety in a welcoming environment rich with opportunities to ask questions and learn comfortably. With the added interest, we get to interact with even more ladies.

SI: How have the pandemic and social turmoil impacted existing shooters?

Karen Butler: I’ve seen the firearms industry embrace all the new gun owners to help them learn firearm safety and safe storage. More and more people are being introduced to the shooting sports by friends, coworkers, colleagues and family members.

Robyn Sandoval: Many of our events have transitioned into virtual training opportunities where we discuss and demonstrate dry-fire shooting techniques, safe cleaning concepts and answer questions. We also address important topics like situational awareness, defensive mindset, the importance of voting and more.

Carrie Lightfoot: Women are taking their training to a higher level. They know the importance of training and practice and understand their skills must be honed. Not going to the range has them seeking alternative forms of training and practice. Taking online courses has skyrocketed as well as the use of dry-fire training and in-home simulators. I also see experienced gun owners embracing and encouraging all the new shooters with enthusiasm and passion by guiding, coaching and welcoming them with open arms.

Women are eager to protect themselves and their loved ones through the responsible use of firearms. They’re more educated and equipped than ever before.”

Robyn Sandoval, Executive Director A Girl & A Gun

SI: Have you noticed an increase in diversity amongst women new to firearms?

Carrie Lightfoot: We’ve always seen incredible diversity within the TWAW family. It’s been one of the most rewarding things for me, to see women come together as one community on a single mission — to become the best self-protectors they can be and leave their differences at the door.

Robyn Sandoval: AG & AG boasts a diverse membership comprising all political ideologies with a common interest in firearms. This diversity helps new gun owners feel comfortable in the community. Our inclusive culture creates a welcoming environment, and it’s one of the reasons AG & AG continues to grow at a record pace, particularly with first-time gun owners.

Karen Butler: We’ve continually seen a diversity of thoughts and backgrounds at the trailer. This is one industry where you can’t predict the demographic of a woman who is interested in learning more — it’s every type of woman, of every age, race and political affiliation.

Note: A 2020 NSSF survey revealed during the first half of the year, retailers reported the overall makeup of their customers consisted of 55.8% white males, 16.6% white females, 9.3% Black males, 5.4% Black females, 6.9% Hispanic males, 2.2% Hispanic females, 3.1% Asian males and 0.7% Asian females. The highest overall firearm sales increase comes from Black men and women, who showed a 58.2% increase in purchases during the first six months of 2020 versus the same period last year.

Shoot Like A Girl enacted several safety enhancements once the extensive shutdowns were relaxed.
Since June, the Shoot Like A Girl team has staged 15 events in 13 states.

Sales Tools For Dealers

SI: For women new to guns, what’s their number-one reason for purchasing a firearm?

Carrie Lightfoot: Women are purchasing firearms for self-defense. Our data shows year after year the primary reason women come to gun ownership is for their personal protection and for their loved ones’. As confidence grows, we find them exploring the variety of opportunities that include competition, hunting and shooting together as a family.

Karen Butler: Self-defense remains the motivator for entry, but recreational shooting is the pleasant side effect.

Robyn Sandoval: Our survey revealed 43% of our members attend AG & AG events to practice self-defense skills, while 92% are in the process of obtaining, or already have their concealed or open carry permits.

SI: What are women new to firearms asking for at the counter?

Robyn Sandoval: With so many women seeking information on personal defense, matching them with the best products is vital. Our research disproves the “pink it and shrink it” approach, and brands must create new and innovative products developed specifically for women. It’s not so much the color of the gun, but how it fits and feels in their hands.

Carrie Lightfoot: Women ask for help choosing which gun is best for them, how to handle and shoot it, which holsters will work best for them on their bodies, how to effectively carry their gun and maintain their clothing styles and how to live safely with a firearm.

Karen Butler: They want every imaginable piece of information — primarily, how to be safe, how to safely store their gun, how to carry it, how to load it … it goes on and on.

TWAW’s Carrie Lightfoot shares her instructors have never been busier. One of her instructors
said she’s “exhilarated” to serve this wave of women pursuing gun ownership for the first time.

SI: Do you think women are more likely to make gear purchases online or from their local dealers?

Karen Butler: We encourage women to visit retailers in person. New shooters are prone to buy after speaking with a trusted source face-to-face, and, after all their questions are answered. We tell our visitors to search online for “girls gun groups near me” where they can find national and local organizations. Every community we’ve visited has ladies who shoot together, and we advise women to find the group that best meets their time, personality and budget — and then join it.

Carrie Lightfoot: Women are comfortable researching products online. With resources like the TWAW website available, they gather information and product reviews of other women to help them decide about their gear. Of course, women love to see, touch and try products in person, so it’s important for gun stores and ranges to showcase the products designed specifically for women.

Robyn Sandoval: A surprising result of our survey indicated 87% of those polled suggested the importance of offering a discount when it comes to firearms and accessories. Regardless of whether you sell through brick-and-mortar or online, it’s obvious women buy when there’s a discount. Build markdowns into your sales model and you’re sure to find success with the female crowd.

SI: Can you suggest a tool for dealers to serve their new female customers?

Carrie Lightfoot: Welcome them. Women are relational and need to feel respected the second they walk into a gun store. Stores and ranges that genuinely want to help female gun owners, and know how to listen to them, will reap the rewards of creating engaged and very loyal customers.

Robyn Sandoval: Retailers should keep in mind women shop for guns and accessories the way they shop for shoes or bathing suits. If the product isn’t comfortable or doesn’t fit perfectly, they won’t be satisfied.

Karen Butler: My best advice is to acknowledge one size does not fit all women. Not every woman wears pink or is petite. Listen to her, give her resources to train and learn and allow her to handle a variety of firearms until she finds one able to fit her needs and comfort level.

Engaging vs. Observing

Women continue to flock to gun counters and soak up as much as they can about firearms and personal defense. Rather than be a front-line observer to the steady stream of potential business walking through the door, offer them your ear and listen to exactly why they’re in your store. Perhaps you’re meeting your next best customer.

Who knows, maybe you can even upsell a few accessories she simply can’t live without? Or better yet, you can strike up a conversation about the gun laws in your state, and how important it is to vote to preserve the Second Amendment …

Education and community are two ingredients that feed the safeguarding, “momma bear” instincts of women. An enthusiastic hunger to learn and eagerness to share knowledge nourishes first-time gun buyers and sets them up to recruit even more women to the firearms community.


TWAW Shooting Chapters organize local groups of women around the country who meet monthly to practice, learn and grow as shooters. Women learn safe gun-handling skills, train together and are introduced to issues specific to female gun ownership. The TWAW Certified Instructor program provides instructor certification courses to meet the unique needs of female students.

Shoot Like A Girl is committed to growing the number of women who participate in the shooting sports by empowering them with confidence. The Shoot Like A Girl trailer, with a state-of-the-art firearm simulator, travels to cities across the U.S., hosting an interactive experience that allows attendees to shoot pistols, rifles and bows in a fun, safe and comfortable atmosphere.

AG & AG breaks barriers for women and girls in self-defense, and in pistol, rifle and shotgun shooting sports by welcoming beginners to learn the basics of safe and accurate shooting, and providing experienced shooters with advanced-level opportunities through caring, qualified instructors. The club has members in all 50 states and hosts recurring Girl’s Nights Out at more than 200 ranges throughout the U.S.

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