WOMEN ON TARGET: More Southeast Minnesota women carrying weapons - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

WOMEN ON TARGET: More Southeast Minnesota women carrying weapons

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- More Minnesotans are packing heat. In fact, the number of people who were issued firearm "carry permits" doubled from 2012 to 2013. One in 30 Minnesotans have a permit to carry a loaded, unconcealed gun in public.

The Minnesota Citizens Personal Protection Act was implemented back in 2003; giving law-abiding, of-age, citizens the right to carry a firearm once they've taken the appropriate safety class.

It took seven years to break 70,000 permits statewide. KTTC's Devin Bartolotta combed through the numbers from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and found that over the last few years the number of Minnesotans carrying weapons - specifically, females from southeast Minnesotan - has increased dramatically.

Chris Marquette is a permit to carry instructor. His weekly classes are packed with women who want to learn more about packing heat. "When I first started, we would have one or two women out of 20. Now there's been classes where there's double women than there is men,” he said. His January class in Dodge Center was no exception.

"I think everybody should know about gun safety and being able to protect themselves,” said a female student, Stephanie Voelker.

It's a growing trend that Sue Bierly, another instructor, has noticed as well. "There's more and more men and women, especially the women are getting into it now,” Bierly said.

BCA data indicates a 312 percent increase in the number of permits issued to women from 2011 to 2013 in the zip code zones that are mostly in Olmsted County. In 2011, 122 permits were issued to women in that area. In 2012, the number jumped to 134. Then in 2013 it nearly doubled to 381 permits. 36 percent of those permits issued to women in 2013 were issued to women who were younger than 40-years-old. Those numbers are still dwarfed by the more than 1,200 men who got permits in 2013 in the same area.

Lisa Polowski, who processes the gun permits in Olmsted County, says the national 2013 firearm bump could be prompted by the 2012 shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut.

"Things like that in society were really feeding into this, that people really feel the need to protect themselves” Polowski said. "Our numbers went up by probably 60 percent for a permit to purchase."

But in generally safe and quiet Southeast Minnesota, women might still feel threatened.

"Self defense is what it boils down to,” said Marquette.

"Many times it's an equalizer. Because many times their attackers are bigger, stronger, and this may help them,” Bierly said.

Many women who take the steps to carry actually don't have any intention of doing so.

"What they want is a class where they can learn how to handle that gun, take care of that gun, maybe their husband has a gun for self protection they want to learn how to shoot that gun,” said Marquette.

Devin Bartolotta found out first-hand, the permit-to-carry class teaches a lot; not just about how the gun works, but the liability of carrying a firearm.

"To carry is a huge, huge responsibility. Because you've got to be right,” Bierly said.

Classes stress heavily that pulling the trigger should be your absolute last resort.

"I use the preventive. Refuse to be a victim, watch where I'm going, but if something gets to the point where it's protecting me or my family then I would have to seriously think about it,” Bierly said.

Some might call this a feminist movement. "I think women should be able to protect themselves and not have to rely on a man to do it,” said permit to carry student Jillian Blakely.

However, cultural norms are clearly shifting, making women with weapons more accepted.

"When I first started into this many years ago, eyebrows would raise at me 'oh, you're one of them," said Bierly.

But in an increasingly violent world, the need for personal protection is putting more women on target.

"You need to be able to defend yourself,” Bierly said.

We don't yet know how many women received permits last year. However the total number issued in 2014 was less than 42,000, leveling off from the big jump in 2013.

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