Bill's Gun Shop has ladies locked and learning

The women came to Bill's Gun Shop in Robbinsdale for a number of reasons, just as their varied purposes for arrival echoed the diversity of the crowd.

Last weekend, the popular shop and range held its third "Girls with Guns Gala and Expo," offering attendees a thorough makeup of gun safety and applicable handgun instruction.  

This was the third time in the past 15 months that Bill's has held the event, and given the popularity of the two-plus-hour course and adjoining expo (jewelry, cosmetics, apparel) more like-minded seminars are soon to come.

"Speaking from a woman's point of view, I think women are more empowered now," says Bill's office manager Chelaine Palmgren, who oversees the Gala. "In today's society, you need to feel a little safer, so that you can walk the streets, so you can be alone. And there are a lot more women that are alone--single mothers, women getting married older. They don't have that man around--they chose not to. For themselves they're feeling, 'I have to learn to be safe.' From the shooting aspect of the class, they're feeling safe for handling the gun and on the other hand once they do it they say, 'My gosh, this is so much fun.'"

Palmgren has seen a rise in gun sales in the last year, noting that, in 2010, gun buys among women were up 30 percent from the year previous. She also seen far more young women in their teens and 20s on the range, and adds with educated certainty that current events have played a role in the bevy of females walking into her shop.

"The Arizona shootings: that's why a lot of the women are here," Palmgren says. "They're here because they really want to understand what gun safety is all about. They want to be able to recognize a gun. Is it a real gun? Is it not a real gun? The [reports] mentioned that the shooter in Arizona used a Glock--which is a 9 millimeter--when he shot the congresswoman. People are like, 'What's a Glock?'"

The event begins with an hour-long basic safety course, during which instructor Teresa Reiter offers a straight-talk approach to an overview of handgun safety, description of ammunition, and the proper way to both handle a handgun and align one's body. Knowledge of the subject matter usurps politics here, and Reiter keeps the session moving with a steady flow of conversational instruction peppered with cultural reference.

"Please forget everything you've learned from a Hollywood screen," Reiter tells a captivated audience of more than 30 women of varying ages in the day's third and final session. After Reiter moves through a taut syllabus, the women will move to the range, where they'll fire three handguns: a .22 caliber, a Glock 9, and a .38 caliber.

The mood amongst the attendees varies as the session moves to the range. Keeping the event both fluid and thorough, the Minnesota Kali Group provides hands-on self-defense instruction for those waiting in line to fire a weapon. 

While some of the women are familiar with handguns, for others, this will be the first time shooting a gun.

"I've done shooting in the past, but I also know that I have bad habits so I wanted to learn from the bottom up again," said Gala attendee Kathrine Hill. "I do have a couple of new guns that I want to get started with, but I want to get started with them correctly. I call them 'Bubba' and 'Maxine.' Bubba is made in Minnesota, an Arctic Panther rifle. Maxine is a Wilson 45."


Speaking of the quality of the seminar, Hill continued:

"I thought it was very good. It was really interesting because there are differences, physiologically, between women and men. It made a lot of sense what she [Reiter] was talking about with the chest and the hips. A woman teaching women made a lot of sense.

"What I've found with most women is that the first time they have a gun, a husband or a father or brother gives it to them, and it's a big 'ol shotgun and they don't show them how to hold it correctly. It goes off, it's loud, it's painful, they sometimes fall--and you've got guys laughing at you. And from then on they absolutely hate guns. Hate guns, be against them, don't own them, but anybody--especially women who don't know how to load them or shoot one--is just abdicating the safety of them to somebody who may not care. And that's unacceptable."

Not all who signed up came to Bill's with as much experience in firearms.

"I though it would be good to learn how to use a gun safety and smartly without having the influence of men doing the guy talk," said Carrie Landes after her range session. Landes had only shot a gun once before. "I was nervous. I was all shaky. But they were awesome, watching over you and making sure you're doing stuff right and explaining what you're doing. It is a good thing for women to learn, and to hear it from someone else other than their boyfriend or husband. Because you just get a paraphrased guy-version sometimes."

Gala-goer "Vanessa" (name changed for safety purposes) signed up because of a more immediate sense of self-protection.

"I have a restraining order against my ex. I probably didn't have to go as fierce as I do, but I did," she said, adding that it was her first experience with shooting. "Just to be safe. So I was interested in the course. It's good to learn and be aware. Last night I was downtown and all my friends aren't paying attention. I'm the one that's looking around. So I just want to be more aware, be ready."

Bill's is also ready and loaded with continued offerings for the growing female clientele. While the next session won't occur until next fall, Bill's hosts a "Ladies Night" every other Wednesday night. For a cost of $15, participants are provided use of the private firing range, with ear protection and targets included in the cost.  

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