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Women and guns: part one of two-part feature

Today in the U.S., gun owners are mostly male, but that is changing.  According to a Gallup Poll published in February 2013, 15 percent of American women now own guns, up from 12 percent in 2007.  The Gallup Poll indicated that gun ownership is increasing.

     A survey by the Pew Research Center conducted in February 2013 found that 12 percent of women own guns.  The Pew survey also revealed that gun ownership is higher in the Midwest and South than in the Northeast and West.  “Across all regions, people living in rural areas are twice as likely as those in urban areas to own a gun (39 percent vs. 18 percent)” (“Why Own a Gun?  Protection is Now Top Reason”, Pew Research Center, March 12, 2013, p. 17).  The Pew study found that gun ownership is decreasing.

     We wanted to learn about gun ownership among women in Central Minnesota.  To find information, we interviewed six women, from five different counties, who ranged in age from their 20s to their 60s.  We interviewed two sheriffs, and collected facts from books, online news articles, and a gun safety instructor.

     Here is what we learned.

State has strict gun laws

     Minnesota’s firearms laws are stricter than those in most states.  In Minnesota, a person must have a permit to purchase or to carry a firearm.  To qualify for a permit, a person must be 21 years old, be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, successfully complete training by an instructor certified by the Minnesota Dept. of Public Safety, pass a background check conducted by the sheriff of the county where a person lives, and complete the permit application process.

     If a person with a valid permit shoots another person in Minnesota, there are likely to be serious consequences for the shooter, regardless of the circumstances, even if the shooter thought she was shooting in self-defense.  Both criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits are likely to proceed against the shooter.

     To make sure we understood the requirements to own a gun in Minnesota and the laws that pertain to shooting a gun, I applied for a permit to purchase a firearm and completed a gun safety training course conducted by a state-certified instructor.

     In my class, held in Menahga, were five men, one other woman, and me.  Only one person in the class was under age 60.  All but one person already knew how to shoot a handgun, and everyone easily qualified when we went to a gun range to demonstrate our proficiency.

     Next, I applied for a permit to carry a firearm.  It can take up to 30 days for the permit to be processed and approved, but I received mine in 7 days.

Women rarely use guns in crimes

     Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr told us in September that so far in 2013, 181 purchase permit applications had been received and processed by his office.  Of these, 29  (16 percent) were from women.

     As of September 2013, 177 carry permits were received and processed.  Of these, 33 were from women (19 percent).

     Carr did not have data from previous years, because the reporting system used by the Wadena County Sheriff’s Department during those years did not report the gender of permit applicants.

     Carr reported that so far in 2013, there had been only one domestic assault call in the county where the assailant using a weapon was female.  In that case, the weapon was a knife.  He said that it is rare for a woman to use a weapon in an assault, and that most assaults are carried out by males.

     Todd County Sheriff Pete Mikkelson told us that of 726 active carry permits in Todd County, 154 of the permit holders are women (21 percent).  His office received and approved 87 carry permit applications from Sept. 26, 2012 to Sept. 26, 2013 from women, more than double the 34 permit applications he received in the previous year (Sept. 26, 2011 to Sept. 25, 2012).

“Obviously, there has been a pretty dramatic increase,” Mikkelson said.  “Sheriffs’ Offices throughout the state have seen an increase in people applying for both carry and purchase permits….”

     Mikkelson reported that he could not recall a woman ever being arrested in Todd County for a gun crime.  He has been with the Sheriff’s Department since 1987.

Self-defense is main concern

     A 2013 posting in the NRA-sponsored blog “”, declared, “More and more women of all demographics are arming themselves in America, and there are three often-cited reasons:  the need to independently defend oneself, current events, and the fact that it has never been easier to get involved” (

     A book, Blown Away – American Women and Guns by Caitlin Kelly (Pocket Books, no date, probably published about 2006), provides extensive anecdotal and statistical information about women who own guns and women who don’t.  Kelly learned in her research that self-defense and/or personal protection was the most common reason women gave for buying a gun and learning to shoot it.

     And yet, Kelly asserted, “A woman’s decision to arm may bear little relationship to her true, statistical vulnerability.  The violent crime rate in the United States has decreased by almost 50 percent since 1993” (p. 112).

     The U.S. government’s Bureau of Justice statistics reported that “Firearm-related homicides dropped from 18,253 homicides in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011, and nonfatal firearm crimes dropped from 1.5 million victimizations in 1993 to 467,300 in 2011.

     The Pew Research Report cited above found that “Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49 percent lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew.”

     But Americans don’t seem to be aware of the drop in violence.  The Pew Research Report found that only 12 percent of Americans believe the gun crime rate is lower today than it was in 1993, while 56 percent think it is higher (Bill Chappell, “Rate of U.S. Gun Violence Has Fallen Since 1993, Study Says,” National Public Radio, May 7, 2013, retrieved online from NPR blog).

     Look for part two, interviews with women gun owners, in next week’s edition.