RIDGWAY – Sue Williamson owns the Déjà Vu hair and nail here, but Saturday afternoon, perms and polish were the furthest things from her mind. “All the men in Ouray County are going to be scared and that is SO COOL!” she bellowed to her fellow avenging angels: mild-mannered, mostly middle-aged women politely waiting to take turns firing menacing weapons like an M4 carbine, standard-issue firearm in the U.S. military, or a .308 (weapon of choice in Vietnam). The ladies-in-waiting responded to Williamson’s war cry with whoops and applause. This was, after all, a shooting clinic – in point of fact, the first-ever Women on Target shooting clinic to be sponsored by the National Rifle Association on the Western Slope.
Saturday’s event was a sell-out; 100 women from all over western Colorado and as far away as Norway (an exchange student) and the Philippines (a woman working locally for the summer) paid $35 each to get a chance to learn about gun safety and shoot as many as six different firearms by the end of the afternoon.
Everyone’s reason for being there was different. Nancy Devin and three golfing buddies from Ridgway cancelled a round at the Divide to attend. Devin hadn’t fired a gun in 25 years, and her friends never had, period, but she talked them into it.
Te-Ata Mueller, from Cedaredge, had been shooting on and off for the past 25 years with her husband and friends, and had recently bought her own firearm. She came on the spur of the moment with her daughter Pamela, who had never used a gun.
Mary Praete of Grand Junction came with several of her fellow Citizens for Liberty (a GJ Tea Party affiliate); she had forgotten about the rheumatoid arthritis in her fingers, which could make pulling a trigger difficult. Here they all stood, against a backdrop of gunfire.
Women On Target is a program of the NRA, and the association awarded one of its largest grants ever – $15,000 – to the Chief Ouray Gun Club and the Club’s senior NRA firearms instructor Gayle Buske, a cheerful woman clad in soft pink with a shiny silver bullet dangling from her neck, to act as host. The money went to firearms, over 6,000 rounds of ammunition and bag lunches from the True Grit. As one might expect from an NRA-sponsored event, politics were involved – but politely. There were a few aggressively patriotic bumper stickers in the parking lot at the 4H Events Center (e.g., Freedom, Not Freeloaders). An elder from the Ouray First Presbyterian Church managed to work guns into his opening prayer, thanking the Lord “we live in a free country that, among other things, allows us to own and use firearms.” But overall, the tone was blessedly nonpartisan.
For the ladies had come to shoot, and weaponry was plentiful. But first there were classes to take; safety instruction was required before using each gun. The caliber in the classroom was high: each instructor, as well as every volunteer at the range, was an accomplished marksman, and several had extensive training not only in how to shoot, but how to teach. For all that, there were no female instructors in attendance. There are hardly any women in the Gun Club itself; out of 70 members, “maybe five” are women, Buske said, which she is trying to change. In addition to the gun classes, an abbreviated version of the NRA’s Refuse To Be a Victim course was available. Much of the talk in this class soon turned to concealing weapons: and how, in Colorado (deemed one of the “friendliest” gun states, along with Florida and Utah), a concealed-weapon permit isn’t necessary provided the weapon remains in an owner’s home, her car, her place of business or on a piece of property that she owns. On the subject of where, specifically, to conceal the weapon, there was clever advice (buy a concealed holster called a Smart Carry) and bad, such as “if the gun is small, stick it in your bra” (possibly dangerous, always uncomfortable). A woman from Texas said it really didn’t matter where the gun was concealed, only that it was, because, “If you ever see my gun, it is fixing to be used.”
At last it was time for the range. About a quarter of the women had “a fine natural stance. They seemed to understand the physics of it,” one instructor said about students such as Te-Ata Mueller. Rick Demerle, a former drill sergeant, said he had witnessed several bull’s-eyes from women who had never handled a firearm before Saturday. The instructors’ patience seemed endless; the sun was hot and lines were long, yet each student received ample attention. Mary Praete tried to shoot a pistol, but her arthritis made it nearly impossible: she couldn’t pull the trigger without a lot of pain. Steve Albritton, who trained Iraqi police to use an M4 and has been a Colorado State Trooper, eased Miller into feeling comfortable with a Ruger 10/22; once that happened, Miller insisted on giving the M4 a try. Albritton racked up a new target, and Miller blasted away. Between the two rifles, she nearly hit a bullseye four times, and got so excited she nearly cried. So it went that afternoon. By late in the day, thunder threatened. No one seemed to hear it. The ladies were lost in the boom of weaponry, the kick of the rifle into dozens of shoulders, the heat of a revolver’s handle and the smell of gunpowder.