LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Over the past decade, women have been heading to the gun range at an increasing rate.
Melinda Heavrin leads the Louisville chapter of The Well-Armed Woman, a national nonprofit with almost 11,00 members. Once a month, she heads a class of about 40 women on gun handling and safety at the Louisville Armory.
“It was something I thought, you know, that might be nice. A group of women and we can get together and shoot together," Heavrin said.
The Well-Armed Woman aims to educate, equip and empower women to be responsible gun owners. The organization was started by Carrie Lightfoot who was frustrated by the lack of resources available to women who were interested in owning and using firearms.
“Before we had The Well-Armed Woman, I wasn’t aware of any female shooting organizations," Heavrin said.
The women in Heavrin's class span in age from their 20s to 70s, but what they all have in common is the desire to protect and defend.
“Sometimes it’s grandkids. Sometimes it depends on the profession. Maybe where they work and what they are doing. Sometimes it is because maybe they're home alone with kids during the day, a spouse is out working and they're concerned if there is a home break-in what to do," Heavrin said.
Leo Estevez joined The Well-Armed Woman partly due to what happened to her as a teenager. At 15-years-old, she was mugged, beaten and left with a concussion.
“From that day forward, I pretty much said that wasn’t going to happen to me again," Estevez said.
According to Heavrin, more women began stepping up to shoot about a decade ago.
Barry Laws, the owner of Openrange in Crestwood, said the gun industry changed its marketing strategy years ago, targeting women after seeing how much they spent on safety.
In 2016, women made up 23 percent of the $44 billion retail market, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. It was a 16 percent increase from 2010.
Laws is one of multiple instructors teaching courses to women and in the area. He hired two female instructors and offers a lady's night every Thursday. His women-only classes focus on concealed carry, pistol shooting and self-defense.
But does having a gun in your home really make your family safer?
The Giffords Law Center reports having a gun in the home offers an increased risk of homicide by a family member. They also said guns are more likely to be used in an assault, attempted suicide or unintentional shooting than used in self-defense.
That's why knowing how to fire and handle a gun safely is so important.
“I’ve been around hundreds of thousands of people carrying guns around me. I don’t have any extra holes in me, you know. It’s just a matter of being safe and mindful and teaching them what our expectations are when they are here," Laws said.
For women like Estevez, the benefits of knowing what to do if confronted by another scary situation outweigh the consequences she could face if she doesn't.
“I feel like the Well-Armed Woman is giving us that opportunity to be familiar with firearms so if that moment arises, we are ready to defend ourselves and our family," Estevez said.