PAINESVILLE, Ohio — In the national debate over firearms regulation, the voices of gun owners have largely been those of men. But at firing ranges across the country, a growing number of women are learning to use firearms or honing their existing skills.
Women’s participation in shooting sports has surged over the last decade, increasing 51.5 percent for target shooting from 2001 to 2011 — to more than 5 million women from 3.3 million women — and by 41.8 percent for hunting, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.
Gun sales to women have risen in concert. In a 2012 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 73 percent of gun dealers said the number of their female customers had gone up in 2011, as did a majority of retailers surveyed in the two previous years.
Women’s shooting clubs have also proliferated — not just in small towns like here in Painesville, but in Houston, Atlanta, and New York City, where a women’s gun club meets regularly at a firing range in Chelsea, a neighborhood better known for art galleries.
Though they may share a fierce belief in the Second Amendment with their male counterparts, female gun owners often learn to shoot for different reasons, their interest in and proficiency with firearms not just a hobby or a means for self-defense, but a statement of independence and personal power.
Tina Wilson-Cohen, a former Secret Service agent who founded She Can Shoot, a women’s league with 10 chapters and 3,000 members, said that 90 percent of the women who join do so because ‘‘they’ve been a victim at one point of their life, of stalking or date rape or domestic violence, or they have just felt so vulnerable, and they want to feel competent and like they can protect themselves.’’