Two Bend women aim for fun -- and protection

Pair learning to shoot guns, part of a growing trend

Bend women take shooting lessons

BEND, Ore. - Bend resident Cindy Van Patten likes teaching women how to safely shoot and handle guns. She's been doing it for years.

And this year, she's noticed something new.

"Just in the last 30 days, I've talked to maybe 50 different people," Van Patten said recently. "It's an off season, I mean, for women to be calling, or people to be calling about hand gun instruction in the winter months and spring, because usually, it's summer."

In Central Oregon and nationwide more women are taking aim.

Gun and ammunition sales spiked after the Sandy Hook school shooting. FBI background checks for weapons hit a record 2.8 million in December.

But national polls show women's interest in guns has been increasing for the last few years.

"I think more gun awareness is just out there these days, and I think especially in Oregon, because you can own a gun fairly easily," Van Patten said.

Speaking of her recent interest in taking gun safety and shooting lessons, Bend resident Debbie Walsh said, "For me, it was actually after I started to notice women friends of mine, realizing how many women actually know how to shoot a gun properly and keep them for self-defense."

A 2011 Gallup poll showed just 13 percent of women reported owning a gun in 2005. That number shot up to 23 percent in 2011.

The growing interest is all across the board. The National Sporting Goods Association reports women's target shooting is up 52 percent in the last decade and hunting is up 42 percent.

Still, protection tops the reason women are arming themselves. Nearly two-thirds of women polled this year by Pew reported buying a gun for protection, compared to 43 percent in 1999.

"I just thought it would be a really smart idea to be able to defend myself," Walsh said.

Van Patten added, "I'm helping to keep them safe, and I also think it's very empowering,  I really enjoy helping people to find that within themselves."

Helping women like Walsh have peace of mind on the job. Walsh is a real estate agent.

"When I first got into real estate, I was cornered," Walsh said. "I was in the hallway, and he backed me up against a wall, and out of -- I don't know what happened, probably just an adrenaline, I shoved him to the side and ran out the door and got in my car and left."

When NewsChannel 21 met with Walsh, she was taking her first lesson.

"It feels dangerous, it was like 'Just follow all the rules,' listen to what was being told to you, keep it down, because it's a weapon,"' Walsh said about the first time she held a gun.

"When I finally shot it, it surprised me," she said.  "I was kind of a little shaken up when I took that first shot. It's just something I'll have to get used to."

After Walsh fired her first shot, she jumped, backing away and giving the gun to Van Patten.

Another Bend woman, Melissa Andrade, hit the bull's-eye on her very first shot. She is taking lessons as a new hobby.

"I never really did a lot of sports, or anything of that nature, so it's just something that's going to turn out to be fun," Andrade said.

Andrade and Walsh offered different reasons for pulling the trigger, but they're both part of a new trend -- one Van Patten says isn't just a fad.

"Women are saying, 'Hey I can do that -- I can go buy a gun,"' Van Patten said.

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