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Local Gun Shops Target Profits From Women

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Pink and purple handguns at Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte. Experts say colored pistols are just one example of how gun and

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Pink and purple handguns at Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte. Experts say colored pistols are just one example of how gun and accessory manufacturers are responding to women's interest in guns. Three new shooting ranges have recently or will soon open in the towns of Concord, Cornelius and Mooresville. Despite the slow economy, the owners of those businesses are confident they'll do well. A big reason why? Each say they plan to profit from women who are buying guns like never before. In the new shooting range at Eagle Gun in Concord, shots boom through thick glass the separates the range from the rest of the shop. On the other side of the glass, Sharon Skoff fires her handgun 60 times at a paper target a few yards down the range, missing on only three. "I just refuse to be a victim if I possibly can," Skoff says. "I actually went and got my concealed permit a couple months ago so I can carry." Skoff is a 47-year-old flight attendant. She's been shooting for about a year because she's scared. "If you listen to the news at night, all you hear are women in parking lots... someone coming up, or threatening them for their purse or threatening their life for their purse or threatening their life or raping (them)." As we talk, Skoff's Louis Vuitton bag hangs by her side, just a few inches above her sandals, sparkly ankle bracelet and red toenails. She would have seemed out of place when Mike Threadgill first opened Eagle Gun 11 years ago. Not anymore. 'The ladies are bringing in a lot of the money for the business," Threadgill says. "And if they do that then I want to cater to 'em." Rachel Parsons is a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association. She says what's happening at Eagle Gun is common. Gun and gun accessory manufacturers also starting to focus more on women because they're a "huge emerging market". "You see firearms being developed that have smaller grips to fit a woman's hand," Parsons says. "Maybe they're pink, or maybe they have pearl grips. And they're a little bit less intimidating." Parsons says it's difficult to quantify how many women are buying guns. The NRA doesn't keep track of its members' gender and states like North Carolina don't ask 'male or female' on their gun permit requests. But anecdotal evidence is abundant. Take the National Shooting Sports Foundation. It says about half the participants in its program for new shooters are women. The sign in front of The Range at Lake Norman, a new shooting range in Cornelius. Owners think 50 percent of their business could come from women. And gun safety instructors we spoke to say it's common now for women to make up half of the students in their classes. 54-year-old retired nurse Nancy Clontz is getting licensed to carry a concealed handgun. She's been to a shooting range - with her book club - and now she's scoping out her first gun purchase. "Right now I'm looking at a Kel Tech P3AT semiautomatic," she says. "And also a Lady Wesson revolver, a .380." Clontz says she sometimes travels alone and wants to feel more secure. Larry Hyatt says that fear is driving lots of women to his store, Hyatt Gun Shop in west Charlotte. It's been a family business for 52 years. Hyatt says the number of female customers has forced him to change the way he does business. "We had to fix the store up a little bit, had to clean it up," he says. "You know you can't have the dust and the mess like we had before. And the bathrooms had to be cleaner. Change things a little bit." Hyatt says he used to rarely sell guns to women. Now, he might sell 10 in a single day. Threadgill, the owner of Eagle Gun, expanded his selection of female guns and accessories. But his commitment to female customers may be best illustrated by something his old store didn't have - a women's bathroom. "Just the way that it's built, the way it's laid out with the mirrors on the door, mirrors at the wall," he explains. "They want to make sure their nose is powered good when they come out and all that good stuff. So we want to cater to that. You won't find that in the men's restroom." To help finance his new range, Threadgill sold memberships. Of the nearly 700 he's sold so far, women have bought about a third. Threadgill says he's confident that shows his changes are right on target.