“A woman with pepper spray is smart, a woman who takes self-defense is prepared, but a woman with a gun is scary,” said Rachael Makowski, a 25-year-old nanny in Westminster, Colo. “And when it comes down to my life or theirs, I want them to be just as afraid of me as I am of them.”
Self-reported gun ownership — among both men and women in the U.S. — is the highest it has been since 1993.
A 2011 Gallup poll found that 47 percent of all Americans claimed to have a gun in their home. Of those Americans, 43 percent of women reported they live with guns in their homes. In February 2013, Gallup reported that 15 percent of all American women personally owned a gun.
In Colorado, the number of FBI background checks for gun purchases over the first 10 months of 2013 — 433,482 — has already eclipsed last year’s total by nearly 20,000.
Further, according to data compiled by CU News Corps and provided by 46 county coroners across Colorado, women 18-34 years old, more often than any other group of women, are the victims of gun violence. According to gun educators, women of this age demographic are also the people most commonly enrolling in gun education classes.
Colorado Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Susan Medina said that the organization does not track the number of guns or gun owners in Colorado. However, extrapolating from Gallup, FBI and CU News Corps numbers, it appears that more Colorado women than ever own guns or have access to them, and that creates a greater need for education about responsibility and safety.
Gun safety courses have always existed, but Second Amendment advocates argue that there has never been a better time than now for women — especially young women — to understand how to use a gun to defend themselves.
The women taking gun education classes fall into three categories — young, college-aged women living on their own, middle-aged women with families and elderly women who may feel defenseless or find themselves living alone again after their husbands have died.
All three age groups express a similar reason for enrolling in gun education classes — self-protection.
So, what happens when pepper spray and right hooks don’t cut it? That’s when guns come into play.
Rachael Makowski, 25, owns a gun for both self-protection and recreation. She says she feel more comfortable knowing there is a gun in her home. Although she has not taken any formal education, Makowski grew up with guns and feels confident in her ability to use them.
“The upside to having a gun during a home invasion is they are loud. My neighbors will hear a gun go off, they won’t hear my screams or pepper spray,” she said. “I use pepper spray and I’ve taken self-defense. To me it’s not one or the other — I can have all three, so I do.”
Melissa Ralston, 26, works for Farm Bureau Insurance in Aurora, Colo. Ralston took Hunter Safety and a concealed carry class. She says she grew up with guns.
“My dad is a police officer and it was important to him that my brother and I both knew how to handle and shoot guns safely, as well as respect their abilities,” Ralston said. “The power and ability of a gun is daunting, but not being able to protect your family if someone with a gun tried to break into your house should be scarier.”
Berich, like Ralston, said that a gun’s capabilities can be very intimidating, especially to women who are not familiar with their weapon.
“You have to have a healthy respect for those guns,” Berich said.
Educational courses, like those taught at Rocky Mountain Shooters Supply and other gun shops across Colorado, exist for the purpose of helping people gain familiarity, comfort and confidence with their guns. The instructors insist safety is the number one priority.
Owning a gun is a personal decision — one that may not suit everyone. However, the 2011 Gallup poll shows that nearly one in three Americans personally own a gun and nearly half of the country’s households do. And each year, more and more Coloradans attempt to buy guns.