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Are Guns Becoming More Popular With Women?

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(CBS)

(CBS)

RICHMOND (CBS 5) — From specially-made pistols to designer hunting clothes, the gun industry these days is targeting a newer clientele: women. But are they responding?

During a recent busy Saturday at the Rod & Gun Club in Richmond, it wasn’t a typical crowd. It was mostly women in a gun training program sponsored by the National Rifle Association, called “Women on Target.”

Local NRA chapter leader Brenda Schmale said women come in for many different reasons. One common reason: self defense. “I get phone calls from women whose lives have been threatened, who have had people breaking into their house,” said Schmale.

But others come just for fun, like Phyllis Wing, who grew up with guns in Oregon. “We did a lot of garbage dump shooting,” she told us. 30 years later, she’s back, with her daughter Mary. “It’s better than shopping!” she said. And out on the range she hasn’t lost her old skills.

Then there is Gretchen Werner and her sister Debbie Centanni. “I was raised in Marin County. My family did not shoot at all,” said Werner. She signed up with Women on Target a year ago and says she has learned a lot. “It’s a nice personal challenge because I am just working on improving for myself,” Werner said. She talked her sister Debbie into signing up, too.

The coaches are all volunteers, including range master Victor Yee. “I like teaching women, they learn better, have less testosterone,” he said. For $40 to cover the cost of ammo, the women get two hours of hands on training, with shotguns, or pistols. The instruction is one-on-one.

What is the aim of the class? Safety, first and foremost, Schmale said. “Accidents should never happen if you learn how to handle a firearm safely,” she said.

But Dr. Garen Wintemute who practices emergency medicine at UC Davis Medical Center said accidents can and do happen when women own guns. “We have very clear data” Wintemute said. “Here in California we looked at over 30,000 women who bought handguns. The risk of homicide did not go down.”

It actually doubled for women according to his study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Men on the other hand who bought handguns reduced their risk, by 21 percent.

As for the so-called surge of women getting into guns, Wintemute said “We’re not seeing one.”

The FBI doesn’t keep registration statistics based on gender, there are only surveys. Wintemute thinks the NRA’s claim that more women are buying guns is a ploy to sell more guns. “They had basically sold and resold and resold their traditional market, white guys, and they needed to broaden the market,” Wintemute said.

But back at the Richmond Rod & Gun Club, Schmale wasn’t buying it. “I don’t think it’s a marketing campaign. I think women are finally becoming very interested in it. It’s gone gangbusters,” Schmale said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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