CLEVELAND — The number of women who own a gun is on the rise. A recent study from Harvard University shows that 42% of gun owners in the country are women. That's a 14% rise over the last five years. The same study found nearly 3.5 million women became gun owners between January 2019 and April 2021.
"It's a responsibility. It's a huge responsibility," said Amanda Suffecool.
Suffecool calls herself an "accidental activist." A firearms instructor and radio host, Suffecool is also an advocate for gun rights in America.
"Unfortunately, the world is not the warm, fuzzy place it used to be," said Candy Petticord.
Petticord is also a firearms instructor and a mom of 12. She started shooting five years ago.
"I woke up," she said when asked why she decided to buy her first gun. "I realized yes, I'm the mom. I'm the caregiver but I'm also the protector when my husband is away. So the kitchen knives, forks and spoons weren't going to do the job."
In the Harvard study, a quarter of the woman who own a firearm said self-defense was the reason they wanted to buy a gun. In another study from the female gun ownership group A Girl and A Gun, the women they surveyed gave many reasons. The top included the cultural upheaval in the Summer of 2020, the 2020 elections, lack of law enforcement resources, and uncertainty because of the pandemic.
"You are a person who has a life and you deserve to live it safely," Suffecool said. "I love my children. I love my family. I want to protect them. Somebody is going to take a stand and I think it's going to be me, so show me. Give me the tools."
Suffecool said she's seen a change in how women approach guns.
"I'm not looking for trouble. I don't want to have to hurt somebody," she said about what goes through her mind when she is conceal-carrying. "That's the very last thing - If I'm involved in something where I have to pull my gun it's going to change my life, going to change my world in addition to theirs so I hope they don't pick me. But, if for some reason they do, I want to go home."
The ownership group is diversifying. So are concealed carry licensing classes.
"I say now the Second Amendment wears lipstick," she said.
"It has gone from being what people typically classify as a good old boys club to being a good old boys, good young boys, good old girls, good young girls club," Petticord said when asked about the classes she attends and teaches.
The Harvard study found that of female gun owners, 28% identified as Black.
"I may be the only female there but I'm usually the only minority," Petticord said. "I think a lot of minorities seem to think that firearms training and classes are for white people. That's what white people do. That's what rich, white people do. And I am not rich by any stretch of the imagination. Nor am I white."
For Petticord, the change is good, but conversations can't stop.
Both women said having a gun is the first step. The training is essential.
"You cannot change a culture or a belief system or even a fear-based belief system in a single conversation," Petticord said.
There have been efforts to bring more women into the gun industry, but women reported those efforts - like the 'Shrink it and Pink it' campaign - failed. That was an effort to make guns smaller and, sometimes, pink or purple to attract a female audience.
"It was for a long time that you would walk into a gun shop, and they wouldn't even make eye contact because they believed there wasn't a sale there," Suffecool said.
But she sees things are changing. So does Petticord.
"When you see us in the gun store, don't automatically assume that we're clueless," she said. "Don't talk down to us. Don't try and out-talk us. Here's a thought: how about you listen to us and meet us where we are? If little girls want to carry big guns, guess what, we can do that. And we use them well."