TITUSVILLE, Fla. -- If she's ever confronted in the darkness by a home invader or parking-lot prowler, Holly Young is determined: She does not want to be an easy target.
"I just choose to carry a firearm because I don't want to be a victim," said Young, founder of the Brevard County, Fla., chapter of a growing organization called The Well Armed Woman.
Riding a nationwide trend of rising female gun ownership, The Well Armed Woman introduces women to target practice and classroom instruction on firearm safety and personal self-defense techniques.
"It's amazing how it's starting to grow and the word's getting out, and the girls are just wonderful. It is a non-political group. We make sure that we stress that it's all about safety. We have a motto: equip, empower and educate women on firearms," said Young, who owns a 9mm pistol and .380-caliber handgun, among other weapons.
"It's so important for me to get these women safe. And it's a lot easier for women to learn from women. No offense to my husband - but I don't learn well from him. Men have their own way of thinking," she said.
"We support the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms - but women shouldn't be fooled into thinking that makes them safer. "- Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
According to Gallup poll data, the percentage of American women who own a firearm nearly doubled from 2005-11, rising from 13% to 23%. Last month, the National Shooting Sports Foundation reported that 37% of new target shooters are female, though they comprise only 22% of the established target-shooting population.
Billed as a group "where the feminine and firearms meet," The Well Armed Woman was founded in February 2012 by Carrie Lightfoot, a Scottsdale, Ariz., pistol instructor who sells female-themed gun accessories. Fueled by explosive growth, the organization now boasts about 3,000 dues-paying members in 107 chapters across 37 states, along with more than 105,000 Facebook fans.
"I think women have been kind of laying in wait. Over this last generation, women have had to move into the role of self-protector - but there were barriers. The doors have opened," said Lightfoot.
The Well Armed Woman boasts nine chapters in Florida. Chapters had to impose membership caps in Yuma, Ariz.; Cherokee County, Ga.; Macon County, Ill.; and Wendell, N.C.
Florida has been a focal point in the USA's debate over the use of deadly force for self-defense. The George Zimmerman murder trial generated sensational headlines, and the Stand Your Ground debate still focuses on last year's conviction of Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville mother of three who received 20 years in prison after firing a warning shot during a dispute with her then-husband. A federal appeals court is now ordering a new trial for Alexander.
Next year, Satellite Beach, Fla., resident Michael David Dunn will probably stand trial in the shooting death of Jacksonville teenager Jordan Davis. Prosecutors say Dunn fatally shot Davis in a gas station parking lot during an argument over loud music, and Dunn is claiming self-defense.
"It is a non-political group. We make sure that we stress that it's all about safety. We have a motto: equip, empower and educate women on firearms. "- Holly Young, founder of Brevard County, Fla., chapter of The Well Armed Woman
Young plans to invite an attorney and a police officer to address her chapter on consequences of firearm use. She also hopes to schedule a self-defense class to teach members how to escape from a chokehold, how to use a knife, and other tactics.
On the other side of the gun issue, a group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded by Shannon Watts, an Indianapolis mother of five, the day after the Sandy Hook shootings in December. Her organization now boasts more than 100,000 members across the USA, and she said the gun industry's targeting of women is a marketing ploy to boost sales.
Watts cited a Violence Policy Centerreport released last week. This report cites studies that show two-thirds of female gun owners primarily bought their weapon seeking protection against crime - but females who live in a home with a gun were nearly three times as likely to be murdered than females with no gun at home.
Lindsey Garcia of the Brevard County (Fla.) Ladies Shooting Chapter of The Well Armed Woman shows some accurate target practice hits.(Photo: Tim Shortt, Florida Today)
"We support the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms - but women shouldn't be fooled into thinking that makes them safer," said Watts.
Barbara Rumpel, a Winter Park, Fla., real estate entrepreneur, says she got hooked on shooting while attending the 2010 Women's Wilderness Escape firearms camp at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, N.M.
"I was never into women's groups until I started shooting with women. More and more women are getting into shooting, because A) they realize they have to be able to protect themselves, and B) because it's fun," said Rumpel.
"It's empowering. It really is cool to be able to pick up a skill and do things that you didn't think you could do - that you find out you can do very well," she said.
Neale also reports for Florida Today in Melbourne.