ORANGE PARK, Fla. - It's become a different kind of girls night out: An evening at the shooting range.
Kathy Szumski may not have ever heard the sound of a gunshot at a shooting range, if she hadn't heard an unexpected sound at her home. Szumski says she was at home with her husband when their security alarm went off.
"The security system folks had called in and said the breach is at the master bedroom window. I'm in the master bedroom. So it was a little disconcerting and I realized in that moment like what is my plan? What am I going to do to protect myself?"
Szumski's first thought was to get a gun, but she didn't know where to start. She turned to Basics Range and Gun in Orange Park, where they told her about Ladies Night.
Revolvers and semi-automatics replace drinks and appetizers as ladies come together to not only have a good time, but to learn.
Many of the women were not familiar or comfortable with guns. An instructor helps, teaching safety every step of the way. From loading the weapon, holding it, aiming and firing.
"I think it's a great idea," Julie Hollan said. "I think all ladies should be able to at least familiarize themselves a little bit with shooting a gun. I'm a mom with three kids and I certainly want to know how to protect my family in the event I have to."
Hollan came with her mother. They both have been around firearms, but wanted to try something new.
Barbara Mecca came to make sure she's ready for her husband's upcoming retirement.
"I'd like to be able to protect myself because we're thinking of moving into a more rural area, and if we do, I want to be there by myself. I want to be protected," Mecca said.
For Elizabeth Marshall, Ladies Night is relatively new, but learning how to shoot is not.
"We lived there when it was the Gainesville killings and it was a very scary time for women and men on campus," Marshall said.
Marshall got a gun -- one she still uses today. Recently she decided to get her concealed-weapons permit. She is taking a class with other mothers at her daughter's school.
It's a trend documented by recent statistics:
- As of March, 2014, 279,700 women have concealed weapon or firearm licenses in Florida. Then years ago, there were only 48,316.
- Of all concealed weapon or firearm license holders in Florida, 22 percent are women. In 2004, only 15percent were women.
Some mothers are bringing along their young daughters to the range. Elisabeth Marshall says it's for their protection.
"We don't know what happens when they go off into other people's houses and what she might see going on and I'd like her to know safety... what is safe and what isn't, and when she should walk away and when she should call a parent," Marshall said.
While each woman's journey to the class is different, their desires are mostly the same: safety, preparedness, protection and conquering their own fears.
Barbara Mecca summed it up.
"It's kind of scary the first time. I thought so, but it's getting to be much easier every time I come. So I just suggest you come back often."
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