Picking up a firearm is more than wanting to shoot it, it’s the planting of the seed of an idea that women can protect themselves and gain the confidence they need to deal with difficult circumstances.
That’s according to Lynnette Oxley, organiser of the annual Girls on Fire, which caters exclusively for professional, semi amateur and amateur female shooters and took place at the Rooikraal shooting range in Vosloorus on the East Rand on Saturday.
“It’s not the firearm which gives protection, it’s the thought process, which allows one to think, ‘I don’t have to suffer this situation’,” Oxley said.
“If you talk to the women who’ve started carrying firearms, they all say it changes them mentally first.”
Oxley noted the last thing anyone wanted to do was to actually use a firearm to defend themselves.
“I hope by actually empowering women to look after themselves, if they’re in an abusive relationship, to leave because they can protect themselves and it changes the way they think about stuff,” said Oxley.
Under auspices of the Gun Owners Association of South Africa (Gosa), the event is run and managed by women and more than 130 people took part.
With the first-time participants being given careful coaching by range officers, each group was a mix of experience levels, with women from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Not everyone at the event was there for self-defence; many were there for the sport of it, and one in particular, Gillian Maistry – 2019 junior skeet champion and proud wearer of her senior SA Proteas and provincial colours.
It all began for her when her mother decided she wanted to do clays and a couple of years later Maistry decided she wanted to try as well.
“It’s my hobby, I shoot every weekend and it’s a great stress relief for me,” she said.
Protea Gillian Maistry, 2019 junior skeet champion, is a range officer at the 2021 Girls on Fire annual event. Picture: Amanda Watson
As a range officer on the clay pigeon range, everyone had the benefit of someone who excelled in her sport.
Saturday was Elnette du Plessis’ second time at the Girls on Fire event. “I love the atmosphere, and how we are handled by other women on the range,” she said.
“Men sometimes tend to be know-it-alls, where women are more patient and know how it feels to shoot a rifle.”
Du Plessis said she was a regular shooter and carried a firearm for self defence.
“I’ve heard of too many women who have been hijacked and shot by robbers because they couldn’t defend themselves,” she said.
Learning to use a firearm properly took a lot of training, as well as learning situational awareness and how to handle them.
“It is necessary in the country we live in these days, it’s not safe for women,” Du Plessis said.
Gosa chair Paul Oxley said events such as Girls on Fire played a vital role in cultivating enthusiasm for the concept of firearms.
On the day, a wide range of calibres were available, from the very underestimated .22 rimfire all the way up to the undisputed king-of-the-range but ultra-specific purpose built .50 calibre sniper rifle.
A favourite of nearly everyone, the power and noise of the rifle awed all who fired it.
“At these events, women learn that firearms don’t hurt them and can be a lot of fun. It’s an empowering feeling like nothing else,” Oxley said.
Tanya Economakis began shooting in 2017, together with her husband, for date night.
“We wanted a sport we could both compete in at an equal level, which is what shooting is for us,” Economakis said.
“Over the last two years I’ve seen an increase in interest among women and it’s awesome, it’s encouraging, and in events like this women are so supportive of each other.”
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