Local women's gun group recruits members

Sarah Eames | The Daily StarJanet Kitchens, president of the Otsego County chapter of The Well Armed Women, points her Pink Lady .38 Special revolver at the Oneonta Sportsmen’s Club’s pistol range Wednesday, Oct. 7. 

The Otsego County chapter of The Well Armed Woman, a national nonprofit organization that promotes the safe handling and use of firearms by women, is seeking new members.

Training and shooting practice is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25, at the Hartwick Rod and Gun Club.

“You hear a lot about women feeling that they’re helpless or defenseless,” said chapter leader Janet Kitchens. “The idea is to teach women that they don’t have to be. Our goal is to empower and educate women.”

The Otsego chapter, which is open to women regardless of residence, was founded about six years ago, according to Kitchens, who said she has been involved for the past two.

Kitchens, who learned how to shoot at 14, said she enjoys trap and skeet shooting and is a certified bow instructor through the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

She coaches the high school shooting teams at Worcester and Laurens, which practice at the Milford and Hartwick clubs, and assists the Richfield Springs team.

Kitchens said she starts with a “back to the basics” approach, helping new members to understand “who we are, what we stand for and what our hopes are.”

“We start with basic safety and building up enthusiasm, to try to show them they’re not helpless,” she said. “We’re going to start with water guns to make sure everyone has good muzzle control.”

Some women have expressed interest in learning how to handle shotguns and rifles, while others are eager to learn to shoot pistols, Kitchens said. “I want to listen to what they want to learn.”

For those who are hesitant to handle a gun in front of others, Kitchens said she offers to meet one-on-one, and hopes to one day start her own instructor school to offer smaller classes.

“Somebody’s got to meet them somewhere,” she said.

Since taking leadership of the club, Kitchens said, she has tried to expand membership beyond its four core members, and so far has received a “tremendous response.”

“We’ve seen an increased interest from mothers wanting to bring their daughters along so they can learn how to defend themselves, too,” she said. “It really is a family-oriented activity.”

Kitchens surmised that the recent increased interest may be due to the coronavirus pandemic, which confined many in their homes in potentially abusive situations.

“There’s a lot of fear out there,” she said.

Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. confirmed an uptick in domestic incidents since the beginning of the year that seemingly corresponded with the widespread shutdown of schools and businesses and the state’s shelter-in-place order.

“As this pandemic goes on and we face the possibility of additional shutdowns, is that going to compound the issue?” Devlin said.

Devlin said he supports responsible means of self-defense, including gun ownership and use.

“We live in a rural area. Most people have firearms in their homes,” Devlin said. “The majority of people are responsible gun owners just looking to protect their families.”

“A gun is a tool, just like glasses or a shovel,” Kitchens said. “It’s all about how you choose to use it.”

For more information, contact Janet Kitchens at 607-353-9333 or browneyes13839@yahoo.com or follow “Otsego County, The Well Armed Woman” on Facebook.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213.

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