After 9/11, La Donna Curzon didn't feel so safe. Instead of worrying about it, she decided to take action. She registered herself and her daughter, Sarah, for a firearms course.
Curzon said, "As a mother of two daughters and with the memories of the terrorist attack at the nearby Pentagon still fresh in my mind, I decided to participate in a firearms course for women only. My daughter took the course with me," she said.
Curzon said the program is conducted by the Patrick Henry Center for Liberty, a non-profit, charitable and educational foundation located in Fairfax. The Center was founded by best-selling author and former FBI agent, Gary Aldrich.
"Called the Patriettes program, the course is designed to teach women how to confidently and properly use a firearm. During the eight-hour course, participants learn about all the components of a Glock 9mm pistol, how to load, shoot and unload it, and the safety and legal aspects of gun ownership.
"One-on-one, hands-on training is provided by licensed firearms instructors from the National Rifle Association (NRA). Shooting instruction and target practice are held at the NRA's indoor range. Completion of the course qualifies participants under Virginia law for a concealed carry permit; Virginia is one of the 36 states that have enacted concealed-carry permit laws," said Curzon.
Ashley Varner, Assistant director of Communications for the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, said that they have trained more than 150 women since the program started last fall. Government statistics show that there are 12 million American women who own guns and the rate of gun ownership by women in this country is steadily climbing.
Curzon said, "The reasons for this growing trend are as varied as the different types of gun owners. Women today enjoy the sport of hunting and target shooting as much as men have for centuries. Today's modern woman is not afraid to bear arms to protect her family especially with the reality of post 9/11. Women understand that they can learn to safely handle a gun, which they have decided is a better choice than not learning how to safely handle a gun."
VARNER SAID THAT STUDENTS are from all walks of life — wives of senators, White House interns, heads of organization and moms. The age range varies as well. From Sarah, who is 12, to an 84-year-old woman, the program is helping to give women a sense of empowerment.
Varner said, "I began this program about a year ago because I was disappointed that women are seen as targets. Women tend to have less upper-body strength and have less self-defense; a firearm is a true equalizer. It empowers themselves, their families and their homes."
As far as Varner knows, there is the only program in the country for women only; she has already had calls from several states inquiring about the program. She likes the idea that there are no men involved in the course, because she thinks that women are less intimidated in this type of setting.
"The first time holding a gun is a scary situation," said Varner.
Curzon said that she and her daughter were not the only mother-daughter participants in the class.
"In fact, there were several," said Curzon. "However, at age 12, my daughter is the youngest graduate of the Patriette's program. Her shooting ability at the range surprised me. She hit the target more accurately than I did."
Sarah Curzon said, "I thought it was fun. Since I've taken the class, my dad and I sometimes go to the firing range together. He taught me how to shoot his .22 rifle and he's going to teach me how to bird hunt. I liked taking the class because now I know how to be safe around guns. I know the safety rules."
Curzon that they used the same firearm that FBI agents use — a semi-automatic Glock 9mm firearm.
"Surprisingly, it is lightweight and has a mild kickback when fired. The first round is the most difficult, as you anticipate the gunshot blast just before squeezing the trigger. After firing about a dozen rounds, you get used to the feel and sound of firing a gun and can concentrate more on aiming at the paper target, which you get to take home as a trophy."
CURZON ALSO INVESTIGATED the history of women and guns, and said, "The idea of women owning and actually using guns is not a novel idea."
American history celebrates Patriettes as far back as the Revolutionary War. One such woman, Mary (Molly) Hays McCauly, or better known as Molly Pitcher, joined her husband on the battlefield to assist the troops. She earned the nickname Molly Pitcher by her efforts to supply water to the thirsty soldiers, who would call out, 'Molly, Molly, pitcher.'
During her rounds, she discovered that her husband had been shot. Molly stepped forward and took her fallen husband's gun and place on the battlefield. In honor of her bravery, General George Washington made her a noncommissioned officer.
"During the Civil War, Dr. Mary Walker carried two pistols at all times," said Curzon. "She refused a commission as an Army surgeon, but served as a volunteer on the Union front lines for two years. Eventually, she was appointed the surgeon for an infantry regiment and also served as a spy for the Union Army. She is the only woman awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor."
Curzon noted that perhaps the most well-known woman sharpshooter of all time is Annie Oakley. "She gained worldwide fame performing with Buffalo Bill entertaining throngs of admirers throughout the United States and Europe, including Queen Victoria. On one occasion, she shot a cigarette from the mouth of the crowned prince of German — at his request."
Today's women are just as confident as their forebears when it comes to protecting themselves, their families and their country, said Curzon.
"In the recent war against Saddam Hussein's regime, women were part of the armed services, and tragically, a few sacrificed their lives. This country has always had courageous women who were not afraid to learn how to safely handle a gun and use it, when necessary. The success of the Patriettes program, and others like it, seem to indicate that the American constitutional right and tradition for every man and woman to bear arms will live on."