LORTON, Va. (WUSA) -- "I was a victim of a crime. A rape crime," says a woman who wants to go by the name 38-Special-K. A .38 Special is her weapon of choice. And she knows how to use it. 9NEWS NOW caught up with "38 Special" at Sharpshooters in Lorton.
"It's like putting on lipstick. It's just part of my make-up."
"38-Special" is a member of the Meet-Up group Shooting Divas of DMV (District, Maryland and Virginia).
"I was quite scared of guns. They scared me to death," says 38-Special.
That was before she met Tina Wilson-Cohen. Wilson-Cohen is a National Rifle Association (NRA) certified firearms instructor and the founder of the Protected Citizens Shooting Academy in Centreville, Virginia which is home to the Shooting Divas of DMV.
"The Shooting Divas of DMV was just sort of an afterthought," says Wilson-Cohen. "After teaching as an NRA instructor I researched hoping to find something just for women. Women teaching other women in firearms and self-defense. And I really didn't find anything. So I went out to Meet-Up.com and I started the Shooting Divas of the DMV. And that was in November. Within 24-hours I had 99 members. Female members. So that's telling me there's this huge desire out there. And today we are actually up to 312 members."
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The women 9NEWS NOW spoke with say they come to the Diva meet-ups partly out of camaraderie. "They empower each other," says 38-Special. "We all understand each other. Because we have a gun. And people that don't have a gun, my friends in particular, they don't particularly like that because they don't like guns because they've never touched one. But we get each other."
But the vast majority of the women 9NEWS NOW spoke with on this night are at the Diva Meet-Up to learn safety and technique when it comes to using a gun for self-defense.
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"The decision to have a gun in the home is a very personal one," says Ladd Everitt with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
Everitt says he is not anti-gun. He acknowledges citizens have the right to have a firearm (as long as all laws are followed) and the responsibility to learn how to handle the gun properly. However, he cautions accidents can and do happen.
"One study showed that for every one firearm used successfully for self defense in the home, it's used 22 times for an attempted suicide or a criminal assault or a homicide or in accidental deaths," says Everitt. "I think women need to consider the issue of who really would be the biggest threat to me. Is this someone I'm actually prepared to kill? Is it a situation by having a loaded gun involved in that situation I might make that situation more lethal for myself than protecting myself?"
Gun shop owners and the NRA will tell you, anecdotally, more women are buying guns. The FBI tells 9NEWS NOW they don't keep registration statistics based on gender. Several surveys put gun ownership among women at the 10-percent number.
"I'm not going to be a victim anymore," says 38-Special. "I'm a survivor. And I want to continue to be a survivor. And so my gun protects me and it empowers me."
"I want them [women] to be able to take away that they can be very, very, very good marksmen. Just as well as a man. Regardless of their body size and regardless of their age," says Wilson-Cohen. "I also believe that law enforcement are there to enforce the law. And it's up to us to be able to protect ourselves."
"I think we live in a 21st Century world where there are a lot of other options for women to be safe," says Everitt. "I think there are a lot of real time options to provide people protection in a way that simply wasn't possible previously. And I also think the firearms have become so lethat and the laws so loose in this country that while that may be an option for certain women, it shouldn't be the only one they consider."