By Shelley Ridenour
Violence is a turn-off to her. She has come close enough to it to know that. Still, she packs heat, hoping she has to use it about as often as she’d use a fire extinguisher, which is to say, never.
Yet Carrie Lightfoot, a kind soul with a deep background operating a homeless ministry, feels safer with a gun on her.
Lots of other women feel the same way.
It’s a sisterhood, and it has needs.
Recognizing that, Lightfoot drew on her entrepreneurial spirit and gave them resources and a place to go.
She founded The Well Armed Woman in the Airpark, geared toward those who want to conceal the guns they carry. It sells leggings, purses, bra holsters and accessories designed for women who carry firearms.
Lightfoot, a New York native, where firearms were not part of her life, had moved to Arizona and escaped a relationship she describes as abusive. Her youngest child was about to head off to college. Suddenly, she says, she felt vulnerable.
Watching a “horrible newscast about an ex killing his wife” was the tipping point for her, Lightfoot says.
She turned to friends, who taught her about gun safety and shooting.
There were few resources for women about how to carry a concealed weapon or what kind of weapon to use. And she was put off by what she regarded as condescending and sexualized information about women and guns.
“I didn’t like that,” she says. “The whole sexy side of things, I can’t make it go away, but I’m not going to tap into it.”
Knowing there were others like her who needed information and wanted to carry, Lightfoot founded The Well Armed Woman in 2011.
“I was the COO of a homeless ministry then,” Lightfoot says. “I had a good job.”
Lightfoot has been a business innovator for decades. She lived in Sedona for 34 years, working with homeless people through a social enterprise designed to create jobs. At the same time, she owned an e-commerce business.
She had worked as the director of an art gallery and owned The Garden of Glass, which sold decorative aggregate.
“Business didn’t scare me,” Lightfoot says.
Because women often find guns intimidating and confusing, Lightfoot wanted The Well Armed Woman to be comprehensive, so that any need a woman has regarding firearms could be met.
“Guns are a foreign world to most women,” Lightfoot says.
The Well Armed Woman was launched from Lightfoot’s two-bedroom apartment. Almost immediately, she had to move to a three-bedroom apartment because she needed the space.
“The response was great from the industry and the social-media community,” she says.
She now works from behind a desk in a spacious Airpark office that spans two buildings.
Initially, Lightfoot distributed information through The Well Armed Woman.
Then came the merchandise.
She designed holsters, relying on her art background for the creative side and on her own experiences for the practical side. No matter what a man is wearing, he usually has a waistband and a shirt, offering clear options for carrying a concealed weapon. Women wear dresses, pants, lightweight tops and all sorts of other clothing styles. And women face a unique challenge, she says, when they are wearing a holster and need to use the restroom.
The company’s Scottsdale headquarters features a small retail store, but Lightfoot says that the majority of her sales are online. About 100 retailers around the country sell The Well Armed Woman’s products. She is bombarded with requests for more, causing her to look at ways to expand that part of the business.
About a year into the business, Lightfoot began offering women get-togethers to learn about guns and to train to shoot them.
That spawned a spin-off venture, The Well Armed Woman Shooting Chapters. There now are 11,000 members. It’s a 501(c)3 that Lightfoot describes as a comfortable environment in which women become responsible gun owners. It operates 327 chapters in 49 states, including 14 in Arizona. Only South Dakota does not have one, and, she’s working to remedy that.
“It really is a sisterhood,” she says. “There are very strong bonds being formed out there and the women applaud each other’s achievements. They become support groups of a sort.”
All of the chapters have connection to domestic-violence events or shelters. Many students at the shooting clubs have been victims of domestic violence or, like Lightfoot, had a close call to being victimized. She notes that one in three women are victims of domestic abuse, and every minute in this country about 20 are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking.
Women need to become their own self protectors, she says.
“As a gender, we’ve been protected,” she says. “We gave that responsibility away.”
But, she believes, there is a process to get it back.
“There are survivors who have a tremendous drive to not have that occur again,” she says. “Something makes them realize they didn’t know what to do in that situation.”
The shooting chapters come with a woman-instructor program that certifies and trains female shooting instructors – about 300, so far. Most of the training takes place in Arizona, at ranges near Paulden and Buckeye.
Noting that gun purchases by women represent the largest growth area in the industry, Lightfoot does not anticipate a slowdown. Gun ownership, she says, is “a holistic, protective thing. It’s about being aware, about how to keep safe. It’s a mindset and a lifestyle.”
Not every woman wants or needs to carry a gun, she acknowledges. Lightfoot has no intention of forcing guns on anyone. She’s fully aware how emotionally charged the gun debate is.
“But it is my mission to raise their awareness of safety,” she says.
Lightfoot says many women find learning how to use a gun “transformative.” She was among them, and that surprised her.
“I instantly felt, after learning to use a gun, different,” she says. “It absolutely changed me on the sense that women know they can be OK. It’s not a cocky thing. It’s a confidence thing.”