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MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. For years, gun stores were places for men. Shop owners used to say if a woman was in their store, she was there with her husband. But these days, gun shops are seeing more female customers than ever before, and that has them changing the way they do business. From member station WFAE, Scott Graf has the story.

SCOTT GRAF: In the brand-new shooting range at Eagle Gun in Concord, North Carolina...

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

GRAF: ...shots from Sharon Skoff's handgun boom behind glass that separates the range from the rest of the shop.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

SHARON SKOFF: I just refuse to be a victim if I possibly can in life. I actually went and got my concealed permit a couple months ago.

GRAF: Skoff is a 47-year-old flight attendant. She shoots because she's scared.

SKOFF: If you listen to the news at night, all you hear are women in parking lots - someone coming up or threatening them for their purse or threatening their life or raping, so...

GRAF: Skoff's Louis Vuitton bag hangs by her side, just above her sandals and sparkly ankle bracelet. Store owner Mike Threadgill says there was a time when women like Skoff would have been out of place. Not anymore.

MIKE THREADGILL: The ladies are bringing in, you know, a lot of the money for the business. And if they do that, then I want to cater to them.

RACHEL PARSONS: Women are a huge emerging market.

GRAF: Rachel Parsons is a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association. She says what's happening at Eagle Gun is happening at shops all over. The latest data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation shows gun store owners reported a 73 percent increase in female customers in 2009 from the year before. Parsons says the trend is even being reflected by the number of guns made just for women.

PARSONS: You see firearms being developed that have smaller grips to fit a woman's hand that are - maybe they're pink, or maybe they have pearl grips. And they're a little bit less intimidating.

GRAF: The NRA says it's also organizing more hunting excursions for women than ever before. And the spike in sales is not just a North Carolina phenomenon. In Texas last year, almost 30,000 women obtained a concealed carry permit. Georgia has also seen an increase. Instructor Dan Starks teaches gun safety courses in North Carolina.

DAN STARKS: And now, she takes a gun and points it at that man. At that point in time, she is now equal to or greater than these two punks.

GRAF: In this class of about 20 students, a third are women. One of them is 54-year-old retired nurse Nancy Clontz. She's already been to a shooting range - with her book club - and soon, she'll buy her first gun.

NANCY CLONTZ: Right now, I'm looking at a Kel-Tec P-3AT semi-automatic...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CLONTZ: ...and also a Lady Wesson revolver, a .380.

GRAF: Clontz sometimes travels alone and wants to be able to defend herself. The National Shooting Sports Foundation says self-defense is the main reason women are getting into guns. Shop owner Mike Threadgill says he added to his selection of female guns and accessories as part of his recent expansion. But how serious Threadgill is about female customers may be best illustrated by something his new store has that his old one didn't: a women's bathroom.

THREADGILL: Just the way that it's built and the way it's laid out with the mirrors on the door, mirrors at the wall - I mean, because they want to make sure their nose is powdered good when they come out and all that good stuff, and so we want to cater to that. You won't find that in the men's restrooms.

GRAF: To help finance his $2 million expansion, Threadgill sold range memberships. Of the nearly 700 purchased so far, women have bought about a third. Threadgill says that means the changes he and other shop owners are making these days are right on target. For NPR News, I'm Scott Graf in Charlotte.

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