Women at the NRA

Image (c)  C. Meissner.

Image (c) C. Meissner.

“Women are the fastest growing segment of the NRA.”

I’ve heard this comment multiple times while covering the NRA Convention in Indianapolis this weekend. Those saying it are very proud of the fact.

Statistically, that would be true. The NRA membership continues to be overwhelmingly male. If you add the same number of people to the male and female groups over the course of a couple of years, the female portion would indeed grow faster than the male sector. Do the math.

Men indeed make up the majority of people I’ve seen at the convention this weekend. Nonetheless, the women I’ve met are a fascinating group.

First, there are the sparkly women—and I mean that literally. Dressed in stretchy gold dresses with shimmery bangles, they greeted convention-goers with glossy flyers advertising the chance to win a free gun by registering at a certain booth. I didn’t get there.

Other women at the convention might not have sparkled in such a literal sense, but their function likewise seemed aimed at attracting attention from the convention’s majority group. One lovely celebrity was autographing glossy posters. She’d roll each one up efficiently before handing it over with a smile.

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

Another exhibitor had a duo of violinists playing classical music. They attracted quite a crowd to the area, which also displayed some elegant-looking rifles. Maybe someone in the company’s marketing department was thinking sales will go up if the booth featured sex and violins. In any case, one of the crowd’s youngest female members was absolutely enchanted by their performance.

Women in the crowds dressed a lot more casually and looked less glamorous overall. I’d guess the median age was somewhere above 40.

From what I could see, women attendees showed about as much interest in different displays as the men: Examine a weapon here, check out some ammo there, and pose for a photo or two there. (Sadly, the convention had much less swag available at different booths than the AAAS Convention did in February.)

Women worked at some of the booths too.  Among them was Pyper Unitt, Vice Chair of the Canadian Firearms Institute. Her comments reflect a deep commitment to empowering women and combatting the pervasive problem of domestic violence. She’s encouraged by the growing number of women at the convention.

“It’s a great show,” she says. “It blows my mind to see that many women involved.”

The agenda of women at other booths focused on selling things. One booth carried pink stun guns. The sales rep told me the loud noise would deter both attackers and unwanted animals. The booth had rhinestone-studded pepper sprays too.

Then there were speakers, presenters, and celebrity guests. Kathy Jackson was at one booth. She wrote A Woman’s Guide  to Concealed Carry. Tiffany Haugen and her husband Scott did a presentation on preparing and cooking wild game. Both were articulate women and well-versed in their fields.

Shyanne Roberts.  Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Shyanne Roberts.
Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Another special guest was Shyanne Roberts. This competitive shooter is not yet 10 years old, but she’s got plenty of poise, composure and budding business savvy. What’s her favorite part of the convention? “Seeing my sponsors and getting more sponsors.”

The NRA clearly wants to boost women’s membership and participation. Hence, this year’s meeting featured the 1st Annual Women’s New Energy Breakfast.

“I really envision that in 10 years hopefully the male and female membership will be equal,” NRA Board of Directors member Linda Walker told me.

As an incentive, the NRA offered free one-year memberships to all women at the breakfast.

In short, women at this year’s NRA Convention were a diverse group–just as women in society at large are diverse.

More of these women just happen to carry guns.



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