- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Dawn Dolpp isn’t a slave to fashion, preferring function over form. That is why she secured her handgun in her purse with a Velcro strip as recently as 10 years ago.

Today, Mrs. Dolpp and other gun-toting women don’t have to resort to homemade craft projects to provide holsters and other accessories for their firearms. Gun-related companies are doing it for them.

“One thing the gun and accessory companies are finally understanding is that one size doesn’t fit all,” said Mrs. Dolpp, the leader of the Virginia chapter of The Well Armed Woman.

A 2011 Gallup poll found that 47 percent of Americans reported owning firearms. Of those gun owners, 43 percent were women — an all-time high.

An increased demand for woman-friendly gun products has prompted manufacturers to make firearms with adjustable grips for smaller hands, a wide range of holsters that better fit women’s bodies and various styles of concealed carry handbags.

Although some ladies like the glitz and glamour of pink rhinestone holsters, the industry has expanded to offer a variety of accessories for women with fashion and function in mind.

The Well Armed Woman is a gun accessory retailer and national organization with more than 10,000 members and 310 chapters in 49 states. Mrs. Dolpp oversees five chapters throughout Virginia, each with 25 to 150 members.

“Our members are very diverse. The youngest member is 21, and our oldest is 82,” she said. “We are nurses, doctors, veterans, first responders, stay-at-home moms, grandmothers, business owners, college students, retirees and everything in between.”

A mother of three, Mrs. Dolpp owns and operates EmpowerU LLC, where she offers firearms safety courses as a certified instructor for the National Rifle Association.

Each month, the pistol-packing ladies get together to talk about their latest purchases, learn about firearm innovations and hit the range for target practice.

More women in Northern Virginia have been seeking firearms training, said Mark Briley Jr., who founded Capital Defense Instruction in 2009. His business offers a combination of classroom and range defense training courses for men and women.

“We see a lot of women come to us with some incredible stories, so it’s important for us to figure out where they are on their journey and what has brought them to us,” said Mr. Briley, who has more than 30 years of experience in the firearms business.

Capital Defense has trained single mothers who want to protect their children, domestic violence survivors looking for security, burglary victims who want to feel safe again, women who travel alone at night and even a young lady who came across a bear and two cubs while hiking in Southwest Virginia.

A few weeks ago, a woman named Holly signed up for training as a gift to her husband, who enjoys shooting.

“She was terrified of guns,” Mr. Briley said. “In her first hourly session, she fired off just three rounds the entire time because she was so jumpy. She kept beating herself up saying, ‘I’m such a chicken.’ But I told her that’s not true and how proud I was of her because the majority of people aren’t even brave enough to pull into the parking lot of a gun range.”

By the end of her fourth lesson, Holly was shooting a full box of ammo — 50 rounds.

“Watching her overcome fear and, through proper training, find a sense of empowerment was truly satisfying to me as an instructor,” Mr. Briley said.

He has never thought of shooting as a gender-specific activity because he raised three daughters around firearms.

“People sometimes say, ‘Do you wish you had a boy?’” Mr. Briley said. “I just tell them, ‘Not necessarily, because my girls can do anything a boy could do, especially when it comes to the range.’”

The nonprofit Crime Prevention Research Center found this year that the number of women with concealed carry permits has increased “twice as quickly as the number of men with permits” since 2012.

“With more women carrying nationwide has come a demand for gear and accessories designed specifically for women’s body shape and lifestyles,” said Athena Means, owner of the online retail shop Gun Goddess. “We women like pretty things, we like to personalize and customize our gear too, and to bring a little of our personality into our accessories.”

Gun Goddess is one of dozens of new companies focused on providing women with firearm accessories, including holsters, gun safes, training gear and bullet jewelry.

“Gun ownership can be intimidating at first, but that’s why we hold gun-cleaning parties and caliber clinics for our members,” said Mrs. Dolpp. “Together, we have fun learning and become more responsible gun owners.”

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