Female firearm group trains hundreds of instructors

By Natalie Krebs and Brittany Elena Morris

Women shooters traveled across the United States to meet in Buckeye, Ariz. for firearms and instructor training. Photo: Brittany Elena Morris / News21

Tamara Mendoza gripped her handgun focused on the little black circle drawn on a paper plate with a black Sharpie, the Buckeye Hills in Arizona as her backdrop.

Mendoza was one of 12 women from across the United States aiming to qualify as a National Rifle Association’s firearms instructor at the General Joe Foss Shooting Range Saturday afternoon.

Mendoza is a healthcare management student from Colorado Springs, Colo., and she screamed with joy when instructor Mike Abramovich declared she had passed.

She insisted on posing with her plate, punctured by bullets, as her classmate snapped a photo with her iPhone.

It was day two in a three-day training session hosted by The Well Armed Woman, a national gun organization for women shooters. The course cost Mendoza nearly $600. At the end she walked away with certifications as an NRA pistol instructor, NRA Personal Protection in the Home instructor and the Well Armed Woman Firearm Certification.

Mendoza is going to use her certification the empower women who want to defend themselves.

“It is such a controversial period for women right now,” she said. “[Training with women] is just a much more comfortable atmosphere.”

After decades of being discouraged from using firearms, women are independent and want to learn how to defend themselves, she said.

Carrie Lightfoot, founder of The Well Armed Woman, estimates that the organization has trained close to 100 instructors since it was founded 2012. She said the demand for women instructors is high.

“These women have positions waiting for them,” said Lightfoot. “There are ranges across the country that really want to meet the need of the women shooter so they’re anxious and eager to have women on staff who are trained specifically to teach women.”

Joan Clements, of Rapid City, S.D., another student, co-founded Responsibly Armed, LLC, a firearm training center, with her husband in 2013. She said she still sees a lot of women who are afraid of guns.

“I specifically want to know how to relate to women because I had that apprehension myself, and I want to show other women you don’t have to be scared,” said Clements. “Scared of other people or scared of handguns.”

And Mendoza believes that educating women about guns takes away this fear from women.

“Guns are not the enemy,” she said. “As long as you understand what a gun does, how a gun works and how to handle it safely, how to keep it on your body safely then, you know, it’s not going to hurt you. It’s there to protect you.”

Brittany Elena Morris is a Hearst fellow at News21 this summer.

For the full, rich media post including audio, check out the original post on the News21: Gun Wars blog.

Gun control advocates ask Target to ban guns

By Justine McDaniel

Gun control group Moms Demand Action is continuing social media pressure in their campaign asking Target to ban the open carry of guns in stores, a reaction to gun rights activists who have openly carried firearms at Target.

The petition asking Target to “create gun sense policies” has garnered 150,000 signatures since June 4, according to Everytown, the gun control group that includes Moms Demand Action.

In tweets using the hashtag #OffTarget, Moms Demand Action supporters have been pledging to boycott the company and posting photos of pro-gun demonstrators openly carrying firearms in Target stores.

“Target is a central part of the lives of American moms – we expect to be safe and secure when we wheel our kids around in the store’s red shopping carts,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action in a press release June 4.

Open Carry Texas, a prominent open-carry group whose members were featured in the photos posted by Moms members, responded to the Target campaign with a series of tweets saying that the photos were months old.

The group advertised a counter-petition on its Twitter account that tells Target to “welcome lawful gun owners” and had more than 1,400 signatures on change.org as of press time.

The Target petition comes after announcements in May from Chili’s Grill & Bar, Sonic Drive-In, Jack in the Box and Chipotle Mexican Grill asking customers not to bring guns to the restaurants.

Target did not respond to a request for comment.

Demonstrations by Open Carry Texas and similar groups, which bring long guns into stores and restaurants to promote the open carrying of firearms, ignited the debates over guns in chain stores.

The National Rifle Association released a statement May 30 warning gun rights advocates against such demonstrations.

“It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates,” the statement said. “…Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows
a lack of consideration and manners.”

Target has not yet responded to Moms Demand Action. Both Chipotle and Jack in the Box asked customers not to bring in guns less than 48 hours after Moms launched petitions against them.

Lawsuit will decide future of Colorado gun laws

By Jacy Marmaduke

Reposted from the News21: Gun Wars blog.

More than five weeks after a federal judge took the case under advisement, Coloradans are still awaiting a decision in a lawsuit that would overturn the state’s controversial set of gun control measures.

A group of sheriffs, gun shop owners and others filed the lawsuit last year in an effort to overturn legislation that limits magazine capacity to 15 rounds and requires background checks for private and online gun sales. U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger heard the two-week civil trial in April.

The Colorado legislature passed the laws in 2013 after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Krieger ruled that the 55 sheriffs who signed on couldn’t sue Colorado in their official capacity, only as private citizens.

At trial, they argued that the laws will harm businesses and were based on emotion rather than evidence. Defendants representing Gov. John Hickenlooper argued the laws, which went into effect in July 2013, would bolster public safety.

The laws set off a historical recall of two senators, and another resigned in the face of a recall election. An April Quinnipac University Poll found that 39 percent of Colorado voters were in favor of the laws, while 56 percent opposed them. In a poll released just a month earlier, support sat at 43 percent and opposition was at 52 percent.

Help inform our newsroom’s reporting on gun rights and regulations. Right now, we’re asking about background checks.

Moms meet in Washington to urge action on gun control

Sonja Woods chokes up during the “Moms Take The Hill” event on May 7 in Washington as she speaks about her daughter, Catherine, who was murdered at age 26. (Photo by Justine McDaniel, News21)

By Sarah Ferris

Reposted from the News21: Gun Wars blog.

The man who killed Sonja Woods’ 26-year-old daughter had once been committed to a state mental hospital and was not legally allowed to own a gun.

After three failed attempts to purchase one, 32-year-old Justin Schiller found a local hardware store that sold him a semiautomatic pistol without a background check.

Weeks later, Schiller fired 14 bullets into the side of Catherine Wood’s car, killing her almost instantly. He took his own life a day later.

Sonja Woods, who lives in Miles City, Montana, shared her story with lawmakers for the first time this month as part of a weeklong lobbying push for stricter gun laws called Moms Take The Hill.

“A lot of people believe that if someone is mentally adjudicated, they’re put on the list right away. Well, the courts don’t do that, and that’s a big part of the loophole,” Woods said in between meetings with legislators.

More than 100 advocates from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – representing states as far as California and Washington – descended on Capitol Hill with plans to meet with nearly 40 legislators.

Topping their agenda: stronger background checks and protections for domestic violence victims.

Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts speaks ahead of the group’s meetings with legislators Wednesday. (Photo by Justine McDaniel, News21)

Shannon Watts, a 42-year-old mom who founded the group less than a week after the Newtown shootings, said members refuse to be discouraged by the failure of last year’s background checks bill.

“We’re here to let our members of Congress know that while they continue to drag their feet here in Washington, we’re back at home, educating and mobilizing voters around gun sense,” Watts told a packed congressional conference room.

Moms Demand Action – which began as a Facebook page and now counts 150,000 volunteers in every state – recently merged with the well-funded Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Both are now part of the nation’s largest coalition to prevent gun violence, Everytown For Gun Safety, which received $50 million this year from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

That financial backing is crucial, Watts said.

“For the first time in our country’s history, there is a well-financed and formidable force positioned to take on the Washington gun lobby both in our home states and here on the Hill,” Watts said.

Help inform our newsroom’s reporting on gun rights and regulations. Right now, we’re asking about background checks.

Remembering Virginia Tech


By Kristen Hwang

Reposted from the News21: Gun Wars blog.

On April 16, 2007, senior Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Cho injured 17 others before taking his own life.

In a classroom 100 yards away, journalism professor Roland Lazenby waited in lockdown with his students. When the shooting ended, Lazenby took one student with him to report the story. They met with grim police officers and shocked survivors.

It was the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.

Four years after the Virginia Tech shooting, Blacksburg, Va.—a town with a population just over 42,600 people—would be thrown once more into national spotlight when a gunman shot and killed a campus police officer in broad daylight. Lazenby listened to live radio reports of the shooting that day and wept.

“The feelings really haven’t abated with time,” Lazenby said in an interview on the seventh anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting. “There’s a long-term anger about these incidents, and every time one comes up it brings back memories.”

Lazenby grew up in Virginia and was a child of Southern gun culture. He bought his first gun at the age of 10 for $29.95. It was a single-shot Ithaca saddle gun made popular by movie stars and cowboy shows in the 1950s and 1960s. He remembers taking the gun camping when he was 12-years-old and messing around with his friends and their guns.

Later, Lazenby would attend Virginia Military Institute. He was a member of ROTC and received more formal weapons training than playing chicken in the woods with a gun.

“That gun culture: It’s as American as apple pie,” Lazenby said. “Guns were used to feed families and to protect families for centuries in this country. It’s not surprising that people want to cling to firearms today. That behavior really runs deep in our character.”

But for Lazenby, guns are not the answer anymore. He spent years as a police reporter for the Roanoke Times covering murders, murder-suicides, deadly alcoholic altercations and accidental shootings. He decided around the age of 25 to get rid of his guns. He didn’t want them around his 5-year-old daughter.

The Virginia Tech shootings only served to reinforce that decision.

“There’s the fantasy that if everybody’s armed or a large number of people are armed, these things won’t happen,” Lazenby said. “But we have lots and lots of armed people in this country and even on military bases these problems happen.”

But the balance between Second Amendment freedoms and crime reduction is hard to find in the gun wars debate, and Lazenby knows that.

“We have certain problems that we have no solution for, and in this age of divisive politics that’s even more apparent. We really can’t seem to agree on how to deal with them,” he said.

Public domain image.

Help inform our newsroom’s reporting on gun rights and regulations. Right now, we’re asking about background checks.