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Women arming themselves in the Monadnock region

  • Joanne Correia of Jaffrey uses a target in her backyard to practice shooting her new Walter .22 handgun.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Joanne Correia of Jaffrey uses a target in her backyard to practice shooting her new Walter .22 handgun.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Joanne Correia of Jaffrey uses a target in her backyard to practice shooting her new Walter .22 handgun.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Joanne Correia of Jaffrey uses a target in her backyard to practice shooting her new Walter .22 handgun.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Knowing how to properly clean and care for a handgun is a crucial part of owning one, according to Joanne Correia of Jaffrey. Correia firmly believes residents interested in purchasing a firearm should learn proper maintenance as well as become professionally trained in its use. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Joanne Correia of Jaffrey uses a target in her backyard to practice shooting her new Walter .22 handgun.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Joanne Correia of Jaffrey uses a target in her backyard to practice shooting her new Walter .22 handgun.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

More than 20 years ago, when
her children were young and her husband away often, Joanne Correia was given her first handgun, a .38. Having no idea how to handle a gun, she put it away and never touched it.

Now in her 50s, Correia, a Jaffrey resident, knows how to handle herself. She’s a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and makes part of her living teaching other women self-defense. She’s used to having all the tools to defend herself literally at her fingertips. But part of the self-defense conversation has always been about having alternate tools — pepper spray and tasers, for example. While one might think a handgun would be a natural part of that conversation, too, Correia said it really hasn’t been, that is, not until the last few years.

Correia has been seeing more and more women interested in learning about self-defense wanting to learn how to handle a gun. And iff it’s part of the self-defense conversation now, Correia said she wants to be well-versed. So her husband bought her a Walter .22 for Christmas, and Correia immediately and joined the Peterborough Sportsman’s Club.

“I’ve always been very afraid of guns, because when you pick it up and shoot, it’s very fatal,” admitted Correia in an interview Monday. “It was my goal this year to get trained and learn how to use it. It’s important to me to be professionally trained, because it’s a serious thing, it’s not a joke.”

She’s only been a member of the club for two months, and has only shot a handful of times. But even those few experiences have gone a long way toward helping her become accustomed to the weapon, she said.

The first time she shot, it was almost frightening, she said, even though she was shooting at a target in a controlled environment. But after shooting a few rounds, it became more of an invigorating experience, she noted.

Correia’s case isn’t unusual, according to area sports stores who sell handguns. There has been a rise over the last few years in the number of women seeking to arm themselves, usually for the purpose of self- or home-defense, and for many of them, it’s the first time they’ve owned a firearm.

Area police chiefs have seen more and more women applying for permits to carry concealed handguns as well. In an interview Wednesday, Peterborough Police Chief Scott Guinard said that more women have been coming in over the last few years, and he’s seen that intensify over the past year.

“I have noticed a marked increase in women coming in to get permits,” Guinard said. “Probably over the last year is when I really started to notice a difference.”

From last year to this year, Guinard estimated that there has been a 50 percent increase in women applying for a first-time permit.

“Most have indicated that society in general has seen a rise in violent crime, both locally and on a national level. It puts them more at ease to be out in public if they have a means to protect themselves,” said Guinard. “Specifically with women applicants, the primary reason they indicate on the application is for self-defense. They want to be able to carry a firearm when they’re away from home for security reasons.”

Wilton Police Chief Brent Hautanen said that he has seen a similar pattern in Wilton. “I have seen in an increase in the number of applications, period, and I’ve seen an increase in women. I have seen noticeably more women applying,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

Guinard said in discussion with first-time applicants, most indicated an increase in violent crime as a reason for seeking a permit to carry , but usually did not indicate any particular incidents locally or nationally.

Jim Morse, co-owner of Morse Sporting Goods in Hillsborough, said in a recent phone interview that his store saw a sudden spike in women seeking handguns after reports of a home invasion in Mont Vernon in which a mother, Kimberly Cates was killed and her daughter, Jaimie Cates, was severely injured, hit the papers in 2009 . And since then, it’s continued to be a trend at his store, he said.

“It’s definitely an increase,” he said. “If it isn’t a handgun or a short-barrel shotgun, they are buying pepper spray or something geared towards home protection. And I’d say more of them are coming in to buy a gun for the first time,” he said of his female customers.

Bruce Pelletier, the owner of Pelletier Sports in Jaffrey, has also seen more female customers in the past few years, most of whom are seeking handguns. He saw another jump in both male and female customers and first-time gun buyers in the past few months, since the brutal school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut sparked a national debate on gun laws. Many people, fearing that gun laws will be tightened in the future, are purchasing now, said Pelletier, which leads to a lot of people coming in who don’t have any experience.

While Pelletier and Morse said they can teach beginners the basic operation and care of a gun, they both encourage customers to take a class or join a sports club to gain proficiency.

Guinard said police advise the same thing. “Absolutely, we strongly advocate that they become familiar with their firearm and proficient in its use,” he said. “It makes no sense not to be proficient with it, if you’re going to carry it.”

Representatives of local sports clubs say they’ve seen an uptick in women memberships over the past few years. There are several reasons they join, according to Neil Jeneral, president of the Peterborough Sportsman’s Club. Some, like Correia, are looking to become trained as first-time gun owners. Others do it as a bonding experience with a spouse or other family member who is already a member of the club.

The Bennington Sportsman’s Club has had so many more women interested in joining lately that they plan to implement a class in the spring that for the first time is exclusively designed for women and children to learn gun safety.

Correia recommends that women who feel uncomfortable about joining a sportsman’s club find a friend to do it with.

“A lot of women are uncomfortable going alone,” she said. She said he’s never felt uncomfortable or out of place at the Peterborough Sportsman’s Club, which she said is clean, professional, and welcoming to women, but she still usually goes to shoot with a friend.

Correia encourages women to not look to a gun as a simple solution for defense. Most of the time, she said, they will not have a gun immediately available, and should be aware of other means to defend themselves. A gun, like anything else, is a tool and a useful one, but should only be one tool in a woman’s arsenal, she said.

And above all, she said, she discourages purchasing a gun and only learning the basics of operation.

“I’m really a novice,” she said. “When I’m in the shooting range, I don’t understand half of what some of the more experienced members are saying. But it’s like anything else, you need to take the time to educate yourself and become aware. Going and buying a gun and putting it in your drawer isn’t going to do you any good.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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