Pocketbooks & Pistols: Women arming themselves for safety

Pocketbooks & Pistols: Women arming themselves for safety

SLIDELL, LA (WVUE) - It is a cool Saturday morning in Slidell, and the parking lot at F.I.T. Indoor Gun Range is jam packed.

A classroom inside the range is equally crowded, filled with close to 20 people. Nearly half of them are women. The manuals are open and the ladies listen carefully to the instructor who teaches them the basics of owning and using a handgun.

In the rear of the class, 74-year-old Susan Daigle, of Slidell, inspects her friend's light aluminum Smith and Wesson revolver.

The instructor of the course pauses to ask if anyone has a question. Daigle, a grandmother of five, raises her hand to ask, "How does the humidity affect the ammo?"

When asked why she is attending the concealed carry handgun training class, Daigle offers three reasons: "Safety, security, protection."

She recalls an incident a few weeks back where someone tried to open the front door of her Slidell home in the early hours of the morning. She signed up for the class soon afterward.

The nine hour course will cover all the handgun basics, from loading the weapon, to cleaning it, and firing it with precision. Each woman is seemingly locked in, taking in each word with rapt attention.

Many share the same concerns. Each cite an increase in crime in the greater New Orleans area as a driving factor in attending this class and they feel there is only one thing left to do about it.

Debbie Wenzel, also of Slidell, grabs her goggles and ear protection and walks into the gun range. She fires off several rounds from one of her four handguns which she began collecting two years ago.

"The concern is more and more home invasions you hear about, the theater shootings, the randomness that's rampant out there," she said.

When asked what kind of guns she owns, Wenzel replies, "I have a 22, I have a 357, I have a 38, and I have two cute revolvers. One is a three-inch barrel. The six-inch I brought today is really long. Everyone seems to be impressed by it because it's really long and it handles very well."

In addition to the training, this is also her way off blowing off steam.

"Some people go to happy hour and have a drink have a beer or you can just come and let out your frustrations at the range," she said.

For other women, carrying a gun is not only a matter of personal protection, it is a matter of personal freedom.

The National Rifle Association recently released a new commercial geared toward moms, a demographic the organization sees as a key group to carry the message of gun ownership as a means of self-defense, and an expression of Second Amendment rights. The message strikes a nerve.

San Ciarey fired guns for years growing up with her father, but now that she is a mother herself, she feels it is important to exercise her right to bear arms to protect her own children.

"A lot of things have been going on where it makes me nervous, to where if I get caught alone I'd like to be able to protect myself protect my kids with my gun," Ciarey said.

So, Ciarey is signing up for the next class in December, a class which the instructor at the range insists is loading up rapidly for good reason.

The instructor, David Racioppa says the world is a dangerous place.

"When I wake up in the morning the first thing I do after I put my pair of pants on, is put my gun on me. I don't even go check my mail without my gun on me," he said.

For women who also want their guns beside them at all times, the range sells gun accessories geared specifically to them, from a gun holster purse, to the "Flashbang" bra holster.

At F.I.T Gun Range, Racioppa says most of the business income is generated from the classes and the range.  Sales of firearms or accessories, account for less. But he says business is good, and most concealed carry classes offered, fill up fast.

He says women are driving the interest.

In 2014, Louisiana State Police report St. Tammany Parish, where the F.I.T gun range is located, ranks fourth statewide in new handgun permits with 807, just behind Jefferson Parish at 819.

Of the over 14,000 people who got new concealed handgun permits in Louisiana in 2014, state police report a full third of them are women.

Wenzel wraps up her session for the day.

"I think it's awesome. It's very empowering, that women feel they're strong and they're not afraid to protect themselves and stand up."

Copyright WVUE 2015. All rights reserved.