Empowered, educated and equipped

Times Observer photo by Stacey Gross The Well Armed Woman chapter of Warren met on Monday evening with Leader Dee Barrett-Klakamp.

Warren’s women are becoming well-armed.

Not just in terms of owning firearms. They’re well-armed in terms of knowledge, skill, confidence, and community. Because being well-armed, explained Dee Barrett-Klakamp, who leads the Warren County Chapter of the national Well Armed Woman (WAW) Shooting Chapters, is so much more than simply owning a firearm.

Well Armed Woman, explained Barrett-Klakamp, is “all about empowering, educating, and equipping women with the skills and confidence they need to defend themselves with a gun.”

Well Armed Woman shooting chapters open a venue to women from all firearm skill levels. From those who’ve never even held a gun before to those who have carry permits and keep a gun on their person daily, WAW is about offering women a place where they feel safe and comfortable to learn how to responsibly own, handle, carry, and shoot a gun in the company of other women.

How important is the all-female leadership and membership of WAW to womens’ comfort level? Monumental, said four of the women who make up the Warren County WAW membership.

Ella Johnson, for one, has been a member of Warren WAW chapter since it started this spring. The community of women that’s been built up around the activity of shooting and learning about responsible gun ownership, said Johnson, has been just as much a draw to her as the actual training itself.

“You meet so many people,” she said.

It’s a social networking opportunity as much as it is a learning experience for her. And, said Johnson, although she has shot before, she has a lot more confidence with her own pistol since starting WAW, even having had a Sheriff’s Department pistol training class under her belt before joining WAW.

“It’s women getting together to do something they enjoy, and I’m much more confident with my pistol even than I was a couple of months ago,” said Johnson.

Monica Prowitt, who joined Warren County’s WAW chapter in June, agreed. She learned about it from her friend Lisa Burkhouse, who spoke up during the meeting to thank the chapter’s leadership for its time and effort in keeping the group going, which hasn’t been altogether easy in the past few months. Prowitt said that she had a concealed carry permit when she moved to South Carolina from Warren after high school, and that she was reasonably comfortable with her firearm but that she never really had an opportunity to do a deep dive on gun ownership or shooting such as WAW offers.

She and her son, who is in the military, took shooting classes together, said Prowitt, but she didn’t have anyone to shoot with and so she didn’t do a lot of actual practice shooting.

Having a community of women to shoot with, she said, has been “awesome.” The group, said Prowitt, has been “helpful.

“I’ve met new people and the leadership does a great job” of instruction and group management.

Prowitt appreciates how everyone’s skill levels were catered to and said that it was nice to have a group to belong to of like-minded women without the pressure of men, with more firearm experience, being present.

Peg Viola has has been shooting since 1990. She has shot recreationally and had a personal firearm for safety in that time, but said that when she purchased her first revolver there was a significant learning curve in getting used to the gun, its feel and fit for her, and how to use it efficiently.

“My skills have improved,” said Viola, since joining WAW.

Like the other women who make up the Warren County membership, she appreciates both the social and the educational aspects of the group. She’s beyond pleased that it’s more than just shooting practice. From fit and feel to safety and maintenance, Viola said WAW has made her feel competent on all aspects of firearm ownership, not just like she’s a better shot for having attended.

“This is the first time I’ve cleaned my own gun,” said Viola proudly, adding that while her husband has acted as her instructor up to now, it’s nice to have a place to learn how to best handle her firearm independently of him. It makes her feel more like she knows her stuff and not that she’s relying on him to know it, she said.

Jamie Downey came to WAW with a similar story. After getting out of a bad relationship years ago, Downey said a police officer advised her that she should have a firearm. She got one, and took a safety class. But, like Viola, she’d only ever gone practice shooting with her husband.

“My husband taught me,” said Downey, but since joining WAW, she said, “I’ve never felt so safe with my gun as I do now.” She, too appreciates the community of women that WAW offers, and said that while she used to feeling uncomfortable – even “scared” — of the idea of having to use her firearm before WAW, she now feels confident and safe.

“I hated the gun before,” said Downey, adding that she carried it because she felt she needed to, but that she did not enjoy having it at all. “Not anymore,” she said.