Martha’s Vineyard women join a national trend to gun ownership

Lindsay Trance takes aim with a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol at the Martha's Vineyard Rod and Gun club firing range. She is one of an increasing number of Island women learning to use firearms. — Photo by Jonathan Cristea

Whether they obtain licenses and guns for personal protection, hunting, or target shooting with spouses or friends, more and more women are getting firearms training, and the trends on Martha’s Vineyard and off-Island are similar.

Bob DeLisle of Edgartown, 15-year president of the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club and a certified National Rifle Association (NRA) instructor, has witnessed the change firsthand. He offers gun classes required by Massachusetts General Laws for anyone seeking a Class A Firearms License, commonly known as a License to Carry (LTC).

The Basic Pistol Course needed for a handgun license includes live firing with both a revolver and a semi-automatic pistol. The student receives a 50-page manual of firearms and safety information and also must take apart, clean, and reassemble a gun.

“It doesn’t make you a marksman, but it introduces you to guns,” Mr. DeLisle said, adding there are many courses available off-Island to improve firearms skills.

He works with one or two students at a time and classes take about four hours. Students receive an NRA Basic Pistol Course certificate that qualifies them to apply for a license to carry from their local police department.

“Over the last three or four years there’s been an increase in gals applying for licenses,” Mr. DeLisle said. He estimated he teaches 20 to 30 students per year and 25 to 30 percent are women, representing an upward trend.

Mr. DeLisle attributed the increase to women who get interested after target or skeet shooting with their boyfriends or husbands and wanting a gun and license of their own. “They would never think of hurting a pheasant, but they love to shoot skeet,” he said.

Mr. DeLisle said that students hardly ever say they want a gun for personal protection. Virtually all of them say they want a license for recreational shooting.

John Green, who conducts training classes in Northboro for the Gun Owners Action League (GOAL), a state advocacy group, confirmed that many more women are signing up for training. “I’m seeing more and more of that,” he said in a telephone interview.

He said his six-student basic firearms safety course often include more women than men, which has not always been true. “Now I see it more and more,” he said.

GOAL also offers instruction programs in cooperation with other organizations. A prime example is the National Rifle Association’s “Women On Target” programs.

Mr. Green said the program offers a “fun, non-competitive atmosphere where women can learn about gun safety, how guns operate,” and more. “They always fill up,” said Mr. Green. “It’s a great day!”

The GOAL classes include information about Massachusetts Firearms laws and details about obtaining a Class A license, or a Firearms Identification (FID) Card, which limits possession to rifles and shotguns.

Mr. Green estimated that between the Basic Pistol Course and Women on Target programs he instructs some 300 to 400 women each year. Most women who seek training with the intent of getting a gun license say they do so for personal protection, Mr. Green said.

He estimated that among the women he trains, some 60 percent say they want a gun for protection. He said that especially in these cases GOAL instructors hope the students will go on to more advanced firearms classes after the basic course. Others have often enjoyed recreational shooting with friends or family, and now want their own gun and license to continue with the sport.

In his 12 1/2 years with GOAL, Mr. Green said, he has observed a rise in both men and women expressing the desire to have a gun for personal protection. The increase in students seeking training so they could get a gun for their own safety was especially dramatic immediately after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Now, ironically, he said, people are initially learning to use firearms for personal protection, “then they learn it’s a lot of fun.”