The number of women in Arizona who own firearms is growing.
According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, more than 326,100 people have a concealed carry permit. Of those, more than 73,400, or 22 percent, are female. The numbers reflect data from December 2017.
The Well Armed Woman group is a nationwide nonprofit that helps women develop skills in gun ownership. In Southern Arizona, the group is at capacity, with 60 members. Chapter leader Teresa Keefe says there is a waiting list to join the group.
Keefe attributes the rise in gun ownership to a variety of factors.
"I think the No. 1 reason is self-protection. When I grew up, I relied on my dad and brothers to keep me safe. Then when I got married, I relied on my husband to be there if there was an emergency," Keefe said. "But, sadly, I was a victim of a crime, and when it happened at my house it was just me. That's my personal reason, and I said from that day forward I'm never going to be that vulnerable."
One of the reasons Keefe teaches the class is to give women the confidence they need to be responsible gun owners.
"It's empowering to know that I'm responsible for my safety. I feel confident, comfortable and safe."
The women range between the ages of 20 and 70. Denise Rowell is a grandmother who hones her pistol skills at the range once a week. She purchased a pistol after moving to Arizona from Michigan.
“The fact that we're in the 'Wild West,' the attitude. I think the first time I realized I was in Arizona was walking into Bashas and seeing someone with an open carry," Rowell said. "I was a little taken aback, but no, not anymore. I'm very comfortable with it."
Eloisa Jones was on the waiting list for several months before being invited to join the group in December. Jones said she often accompanies her husband and children while target shooting and wants to improve her knowledge of firearms.
"You just don't grab it and go and shoot. You need to be aware of so many things before you even touch a gun. That's what I want to learn.”