TOLEDO, Ohio — Deborah Pierce enjoys living alone.
There are no kids to clean up after and no one else to cook for.
"I'm OK with living alone," said Pierce, 52. "But other people worry about my safety."
A growing number of violent crimes, including robberies and home invasions, has the Toledo woman considering some extra protection.
"There's been so many shootings in Toledo that it's unnerving," said Pierce, a glass inspector. "If I ever have an intruder, I want them to know I mean business."
That's why she's learning to shoot a gun.
While firearms have been more commonly associated with men, an increasing number of women are showing an interest in owning and using guns. From mothers protecting their families to young professionals who live alone, to women in their 60s, it's a trend that's catching on.
Concealed-carry course instructors say they've seen a steady increase in the number of women getting concealed carry permits.
"The percentage of women carrying guns is increasing faster than that of men," said George Benore, owner and instructor at the Institute of Firearms Training in Sylvania. The institute offers courses in gun safety and handling guns properly. "In the past two years, enrollment for women has increased 20 to 30 percent."
Nationally, the percentage of women who report having a gun in their home or elsewhere on their property is 43 percent, up from 33 percent in 2009 and 36 percent in 2010, according to an annual Gallup Crime Survey conducted in October. The poll showed that 23 percent of women reported owning a gun, up from 13 percent in 2005.
In Ohio, residents are required to take 12 hours of gun safety training to obtain a concealed carry permit. Increasingly, local women are taking the courses, getting permits, and regularly packing heat.
Debbie Pratt recently attended Ladies Night at Cleland's Outdoor World to take a course on gun safety and practice shooting at the range. She got her concealed carry permit last year after her home was broken into and is preparing to buy her first gun.
"After that I didn't feel safe living alone," said Pratt, 53, of Toledo. "I'm here for some practice, so I can decide what I want to buy."
While safety may be the initial attraction, many women are finding they enjoy that sense of power and security that comes with handling a firearm.
"It's empowering," Pratt said. "A lot of women, like me, don't have a husband or significant other. We have to protect ourselves."
Experts say women are flocking to gun training classes, packing pistols, and having fun at target ranges.
Cleland's has been hosting Ladies Night for more than a decade.
"I like to shoot and I figured a lot of other ladies like to shoot," said Theresa Cleland, who owns Cleland's Outdoor World with her husband, Gary. "Some ladies don't like to shoot with men around. This is a time for women to come in, learn about gun safety, and get some practice."
Over the years, attendance at Ladies Night has steadily increased. The event, held the first Wednesday of every month, has drawn as many as two dozen women.
The two-hour event combines instruction and target practice. The 30 minutes of instruction focuses on gun safety, what it takes to shoot a gun, and trigger control.
"We really stress safety," said Cleland. "The worse thing in the world is if you shoot yourself or someone you didn't want to shoot."
A 2003 report published in the Accident Analysis & Prevention Journal states that adults with a gun in the home were nearly four times as likely to die from an unintentional shooting than those without a gun.
"When handled properly, guns are safe and fun to shoot," said Cleland, 67, of Swanton. "You have to put safety first."
On the range, women practice with everything from a .22-caliber revolver, the simplest to use, to more complex guns such as semi-automatic pistols.
With a revolver she rented from the gun shop, Denise Quinn was more than excited about her first trip to the range.
"I just wanted to try it," said Quinn, 52, of Whitehouse. "I haven't considered getting one, I just thought it would be fun to learn to shoot."
Michelle Cleland, daughter-in-law of Theresa and Gary Cleland, attended her first Ladies Night event about four months ago. After years of using a bow and arrow, she decided it was time to try something new.
"I like target shooting," said Michelle Cleland. "I'm branching out from archery into guns, and so far, it's been a lot of fun."
Learning to shoot a gun wasn't exactly her idea of fun, but for Pierce, who attended the event with her two daughters, "it's just one of those things that have to be done."
"I want them to get a feel for what it's like and to be prepared," Pierce said of her daughters, Janelle Pierce, 29, and Debrielle Pierce, 22. "I'd rather them have something and not need it, than need something and not have it.
"Just in case."
Information from: The Blade, http://www.toledoblade.com/