Gunning for empowerment |

Gunning for empowerment

Charles AgarAspen Times Weekly
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

There are some ladies in the Roaring Fork Valley that you just dont want to mess with.Especially women at Girls with their Guns, a personal safety course at the Basalt Shooting Range led by Mathew Bayley, a professional firearms instructor from Avon.Its like a Tupperware party where you shoot the Tupperware, Bayley says. Women want to be empowered. They want to protect themselves.Five local women are learning gun safety, marksmanship and how to protect themselves with a firearm. But the 10-hour course, which is just getting underway, is as much about self-confidence as it is about nailing bulls-eyes, Bayley says.At the first session for the five novice shooters, one student asks if the guns would be loaded.Of course theyll be loaded, Bayley responds. An empty gun is just a strange-looking rock.A 17-year military veteran and longtime weapons instructor, Bayley is himself loaded with frenetic energy, bouncing from student to student and from one point to the next in a staccato of instructions, drills and information.Ears on, Bayley snaps at the shooters after drilling the group on basic gun range safety.The shooters immediately cover up with ear muffs and confirm in a five-woman falsetto: Ears on!

Always with a mind to safety in his many years of training, Bayley has been hit twice by adjacent shooters at gun ranges Bayley insists that empty guns have a clear barrel indicator or CBI, a plastic zip-tie inserted through the barrel of the gun to prove it is not loaded.CBI out! Bayley yells. The woman clear their guns and confirm: CBI out!Gun up! Walking forward! Bayley says, and the women walk to the line to fire. Loading six!The shooters turn sideways, load their guns with barrels facing the targets, then chamber their first round.In an instant, seeming soccer moms look more like Charlies Angels and blast holes in nearby targets, the crack of their large caliber guns echoing in the hills.

The first time Lis Ensminger of Carbondale emptied six 9mm rounds into the target, she stepped back from the firing line, took a deep breath and let out a nervous laugh.Bayley said that firing a gun is empowering, and it shows on Ensmingers face.Ensminger owns a rural cabin and wants to keep herself safe from bears or human intruders.I just want to feel comfortable, says Ensminger, who signed up for the course with her friend Kim Kelley, also of Carbondale, to be legal and safe with a handgun.Kelley regularly drives across the country and believes having a firearm would provide safety for her and her children. She grew up hunting with rifles, but signed up for the course to get to know how to use a handgun.Dafna Wolters, of El Jebel, is an Israeli army veteran who is also comfortable with rifles; she wants to become comfortable with a handgun.When a woman uses a firearm correctly, she is successful 97 percent of the time, Bayley says, quoting a statistic from the U.S. Department of Justice.Carrying a firearm and knowing how to use it is an effective way to keep safe, according to Bayley, and women have an edge on men at learning to shoot.Women not only have better fine motor skills, better eye-hand coordination and a lower heart-rate all attributes of a good marksman they are better learners, Bayley says.Ive never had a woman yet not become incredibly proficient, Bayley says.While men just want to pick up the gun and shoot the result-oriented approach women are more process-oriented and are more methodical about the regimen of gun safety and shooting.In order to shoot well, you have to follow the process, Bayley explains. And my experience is that women are more natural with firearms than men.

Comparing himself to a carpenter bringing tools to the job site, Bayley brings an array of handguns to class (hes also a licensed arms dealer) and tries to match students with the right gun, whether a 38-special revolver, a 9mm semi-automatic pistol or a 45-caliber weapon.Hes been teaching on the Western Slope for more than 20 years and has run womens courses for three years (the class in Basalt is his first in the Roaring Fork Valley).He gives private lessons, runs other self-protection shooting courses for both men and women in Vail, Gypsum and Basalt, and teaches more advanced personal protection courses that help students earn a concealed carry permit.His youngest student is 12, his oldest 74.Classes are small no more than eight people (it costs $600 for 10 hours of instruction) and the goal is safety and lots of individual attention.Bayley designed the womens course so that they are not intimidated.But women in his classes, on top of having innate abilities, are often very serious and sober about learning how to shoot.Women tend to come to the table with a purpose, Bayley says, usually to protect their families. And becoming competent with a firearm is part of the process of becoming empowered.Bayley is also a martial arts expert and demonstrates some self-defense skills such as quick-draw techniques and methods to keep a gun under the chin and aimed at the target, always ready to punch forward and shoot.In later classes, he brings a dresser drawer and has students retrieve their guns and fire in simulated emergencies.It is important to groove good responses so that when youre in an actual self-defense situation and your heart is thumping, you do the right thing, Bayley says.Bayley always has a firearm at the ready, whether on his hip or in a holster by his bed, and said that proper practices carrying a gun is an effective way to be protected. But, he concedes, firearms are a very polarizing issue.Bayley is frustrated by antigun lobbyists who will do anything to validate their position that handguns are bad, but ignore statistics about how licensed gun owners commit fewer crimes than others or that cities with strict gun laws have more handgun violence.Recent changes in laws governing concealed carry permits mean that it is easier for citizens who pass a background check to receive a permit to carry a weapon (in the past, it was entirely up to the discretion of a local sheriff).And whether traveling or on a solo hike somewhere, women are increasingly going armed, even carrying ultralight guns in holsters on their hips.For more information about Girls and their Guns, visit