History in the Making: Women Like Guns. A lot.

The steady increase in the number of women not only buying but training with firearms gets a lot of press. It’s understandable when you consider how long men have been the front-runners for gun ownership, but it’s entirely possible the guys won’t be able to maintain that lead forever. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, since 2005 there’s been a 77% rise in women buying their own guns, and a lot of that growth has taken place in recent years. There’s more to women and guns than just putting their names out there for the purchase of a firearm, though. Here’s the lowdown on women, guns, and what it all means.

woman buying a rifle
Women are buying guns for themselves more often. (Photo credit: CBS News)

By the Numbers, Then and Now

Before we dive into other facets of women and guns, let’s consider just how far women have come in purchases. For the purposes of relaying this information, most information on specific numbers is coming from the NSSF because they are the only governing body doing in-depth studies on the matter. Now, let’s do a comparison.

A 2014 study polling women between the ages of 18 and 65 garnered the following results:

  • 42% of women polled reported having a concealed carry permit for their state of residence.
  • 95% of women said they’d been target shooting.
  • 58% of women polled had gone hunting (although not necessarily as the hunter).
  • 56% of women who’d purchased a gun bought semi-automatic handguns.
  • 74% more women were reported to be shopping at gun stores, according to retailers (whether items were purchased and what they were was not reported).

Ten years later, here’s how those numbers (and others) have changed:

  • 101% increase in women getting concealed carry permits, with 17 states not reporting anymore due to constitutional carry becoming increasingly common.
  • 77% increase in how many women are buying guns today compared to past years.
  • 33% of all gun sales in 2021 were to women (Harvard did their own study that showed 50% of sales were to women in that timeframe).
  • More than 4 million women were hunting, almost double the number from the early 2000s.
  • 50% of first-time gun owners are now women.
  • 96% of retailers reported seeing an enormous increase in women purchasing firearms and accessories.
woman shooting suppressed
It’s a fact: women are spending more time shooting and training today than ever before. (Photo credit: Silencer Central)

These numbers contrast interestingly with statistics related to men and guns. A study carried out by the Violence Policy Center documented that around 53% of men were gun owners back in 1980. That’s a number they say decreased over time, with only 35.8% of men saying they owned guns in 2018. And while reported gun purchase numbers have literally skyrocketed since 2018, that same study still reports guns are found in only 35% of households. It seems highly likely people simply aren’t responding to surveys, and who would really blame them?

Women hunt more, too.

 teenage girl is zeroing her rifle for a deer hunt in Texas
Girls and women are hunting more often, too. This teenage girl is zeroing her rifle for a deer hunt in Texas. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Of course, it’s not only about who buys the guns or admits to owning one. In fact, many of us used a borrowed gun for our first hunt, if not our first dozen hunts. Studies show there are now more than 4 million women buying hunting licenses and, hopefully, actually hunting. That’s compared to around 2.7 million reported back in 2007.

Let’s not forget the pests, varmints, and animals that don’t require a hunting license to go after. For example, feral hogs in Texas don’t require a hunting license when they’re being hunted on private land either by the landowner or with permission from the landowner. The same goes for coyotes in many states. Not all animals require a hunting license, and not all areas require hunters to report the outcomes of their hunts. That means there are far more women hunting than buying licenses, and that’s a good thing.

There was a time when it was the men who disappeared into the woods and fields every winter for deer season and the men who took to the duck blinds and pits to shoot waterfowl. Now it’s everyone: men, women, kids…everyone’s hunting. It is far more common to see a woman hunting alone or even out filling feeders or tending food plots today than it was even five years ago. Times are changing, and that means an increasing number of women are taking it upon themselves to fill their freezers.

Kat Ainsworth Stevebs aiming a bushmaster minimalist rifle
Women are spending more time training with rifles, handguns, and shotguns. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Are women training?

Yes, women are showing up in more gun classes. We’re not talking about the required class some states make mandatory in order to get your carry permit, either, we’re talking about actual training. There’s no denying the female presence at the range and on the firing line has gone up. Unfortunately, not many studies are done on that topic, but anyone who spends time instructing or taking classes can attest to the fact that it’s no longer a men-only world. Training circles have changed for the better and we hope it continues.

So, what are women doing in these classes? Women are taking and excelling in a variety of firearms courses including active killer interdiction, team tactics, and low-light/no-light. It’s taken time, but more women are taking responsibility for their safety into their own hands in more aggressive, active ways. This is a good thing because the reality is that no one is coming to save you. If you’re relying on someone else to protect you from anything and everything, you’re eventually going to have a bad time.

two Glock 48 handguns
There are a lot of guns out there. Choose one that’s best for your needs and situation. Pictured, Glock 48s. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Something that remains rather pervasive is the idea of smaller calibers and tinier guns for women. There are even still people who think revolvers are the ultimate firearm for women. In reality, caliber and gun size have a lot more to do with personal preference, skill level, and concealment needs than they do with gender. Guns are inanimate objects, after all, and have no idea if you’re a woman or a man.

Guns truly are the great equalizer. A woman with a gun is just as capable of defending herself from a threat as a man, and statistically, women are more likely to be the focus of an attack. And as an increasing number of women continue to purchase their own firearms and attend classes, the ease with which a criminal can choose from the victim selection pool continues to get tougher.

Sales of firearms have stayed at a higher rate for a few years now, but only time will tell how that will go in the future. In the meantime, whether you’re a woman or a man, get out and shoot. Take a class. Buy a new gun. Exercise those Second Amendment rights. You can’t have too many guns or too much time spent at the range.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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