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In An Open Carry Era, Many Texas Women Still Want To Conceal Their Guns (With Style)

It’s been a few weeks since the open carry law took effect in Texas. But many women still prefer to keep their guns concealed – and there is a growing accessory industry to feed their gun fashion needs.

Ray’s Sporting Goods in Oak Cliff is a neighborhood firearm dreamland. It’s stocked with the latest pistols, rifles, shotguns and AR-15s. On a recent lunch break, men in suits, shorts, leather boots and sandals are all waiting in line -- pushed up against the glass display cases like cats pawing at a fish tank.

And while none of today’s customers are women, store manager Chuck Payne says lately, he’s sold to a lot more ladies.

“A lot of married ladies with their husbands,” Payne says. “They’ve decided that [if] their husband’s not home, they need to be able to do something and they need a different gun than what their husband has.”

And with that different gun, they often want different accessories. At Ray’s, there are purses with hidden pockets, special jackets -- even a bright pink toolkit with a set of tiny screws for gun maintenance. Payne also points out a fruit punch-colored magazine loader.

“For loading the magazine so they don’t break off their fingernails and make their fingers sore,” he says.

There’s no accurate count of women gun owners, but a 2015 report from the National Sporting Goods Association shows 5.4 million women went target shooting. That’s up 60 percent from a decade earlier.

The majority of ladies who pack heat live in the South.

Here’s the thing: Since Jan. 1, store manager Payne hasn’t seen one woman come in carrying openly.

More Guns, More Accessories

Julianna Crowder, who founded A Girl and A Gun shooting club, says one reason women aren’t taking advantage of open carry is that they don’t want to draw attention to themselves.

Crowder is used to keeping her Springfield 9 mm in a holster outside her waistband, hidden under a jacket.

“I also think culturally-wise, here in Texas, we’re so used to concealed carry that it’s a bit of a shift to figure out what our carry method would be if we decided to open carry, and is it going to be secure enough,” Crowder says.

For women, the logistics of carrying a firearm – either openly or concealed – is also more complicated.

When Carrie Lightfoot started The Well-Armed Woman in 2013, she says there weren’t many options in terms of holsters for ladies.

Through her online store based in Arizona she sells bra holsters, concealment leggings, lace waist bands, and leopard print gun holders for cars. Plus, the site has how-to videos.

Some of the fashion-talk might sound silly, but Lightfoot underscores how important it is that women have holsters that fit. Women’s wardrobes and body shape can make safely concealing and drawing a gun more challenging.

Lightfoot says overall sales and shooting club memberships are up more than 130 percent since the fall. Still, the vast majority of women don’t open carry.  And that means one of the hottest accessories is the concealed carry purse.

The Concealed Carry Purse

Plano-based designer Kate Woolstenhulme introduced her first line of concealed carry handbags in 2009, after failing to track down a handbag that was both safe and fashionable for her Beretta Nano handgun.

She was tired of hearing chatter about why women shouldn’t carry in a purse.

“I thought, well, none of the manufacturers are going to get into this; it’s a niche market and yet the companies aren’t worried about the style quotient,” she says.

So, this artist – who also designs in the private jet business – created purses that look like Coach or Burberry and are equipped with special pockets and locking devices.

Her ostrich and crocodile skin bags are pricey, but others sell for a few hundred dollars. A recent study showed women who bout a gun in the last year spent on average $870 on firearms and more than $400 on accessories.

Both Wolstenholme and Carrie Lightfoot warn women to choose new holsters and bags wisely -- just because it’s made in pink doesn’t guarantee it was designed for a woman’s body.

“The misperception is that women are casual about the carrying of the gun," Lightfoot says. "And that really is not accurate. Women are extremely responsible and concerned about safety.”

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.