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Why gun ownership among US women is climbing

Fifteen percent of America's women own guns – a small but pronounced increase from six years ago, a recent poll found. Personal safety is the motivation, but some argue that a gun at home makes women less safe.

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“We always hear about a woman’s right to choose, and we are women who want the right to choose how to protect our lives,” says Jenn Coffey, national director of legislative affairs for Second Amendment Sisters, a women's advocacy group with the motto “self defense is a human right.”

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“Gun-control laws degrade our rights, and put more rights in the hands of criminals,” Ms. Coffey adds.

Aside from polls showing an uptick in gun ownership among women, there is other evidence that women are becoming more familiar with firearms.

The National Rifle Association, for one, is conducting more training sessions directed at women. Its Women on Target program, which started in 2000 with 500 participants, had 9,500 attendees in 2011. (The NRA does not release figures for membership.) 

For another, Coffey says her local chapter of Second Amendment Sisters, in Andover, N.H., has seen a big upswing in participants at its safety trainings and target practices. The Texas-based organization, founded in 1999, now has more than 10,000 members across the US.

Women also appear to be taking greater part in gun sports. Five million women took part in target shooting in 2011, a 51.5 percent jump from 2001, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Women who hunt increased 41.8 percent in the same period, from 1.8 million to 2.6 million, according to the association's annual sports participation reports.

But personal safety is the overriding reason women become interested in guns, at least initially, experts agree.

“Women typically own guns for safety reasons, then branch out to target shooting and hunting,” says NRA spokeswoman Stephanie Samford. “Men, on the other hand, get into guns for hunting. Safety is a secondary concern.”

Paxton Quigley, the author of women’s self-defense and gun books, says broad lifestyle changes – women waiting longer to get married, choosing to live alone, and more ofter serving as head of household – coincides with women’s rising interest in guns.

“There is a different attitude now, that women need to take responsibility for their own safety,” she says.

In the past 20 years, Ms. Quigley has taught more than 7,000 women how to use a handgun – women who aren’t necessarily ardent Second Amendment supporters, but ordinary citizens who want to protect themselves.

“I’ve taught women from all walks of life – housewives, doctors, lawyers, and teachers,” she says.

Doubts persist, however, about the degree to which a gun improves personal safety. Having a gun in the home creates more risk, including higher rates of homicide victimization, suicide attempts, and accidental shootings, studies show.

A 2006 Gallup Poll found that 49 percent of women thought having a gun in the house made it more dangerous, while 39 percent thought it made the house safer. According to a recent Monitor/TIPP poll, 46 percent of households have guns.

A gun in the home can put women at higher risk of personal injury, says David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center in Cambridge, Mass.

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