A Girl & A Gun executive director Robyn Sandoval shares how
America’s premier resource for female firearm owners is changing the landscape of shooting sports and more.
Story by Frank Jardim
Photos by A GIRL & a GUN
If you are a man who loves and respects women, and really cares about the future of shooting sports in America, I advise you to read this article about A Girl & A Gun and then pass it along to as many women as you can. They will appreciate a women’s shooting sports organization that is actually run by women. Now, I am not telling you to hijack your wife or girlfriend’s social media friend list, but it’s long past time that women around this country realize that shooting isn’t just a guy thing. More women want to own guns and participate in shooting sports than most people, even industry professionals, realize. I know this because Robyn Sandoval told me so. She is the executive director of A Girl & A Gun Women’s Shooting League (AG & AG), an organization of national scope dedicated to training women to shoot for personal defense and encouraging them to continue shooting for the sheer enjoyment of it. For 12 years, AG & AG worked to expand its reach and training capabilities, refine its course content, and create a supportive sisterhood atmosphere where women could learn about shooting most effectively and not be prevented from evolving into the shooters they wanted to be.
FOR AN IDEA of the sophistication and breadth of their offerings, let me summarize some of the regional and national events crafted exclusively for women shooters. On the small-scale level, AG & AG created 3-Gun University (3GU), a program where ladies learn all aspects of this fun, fast-paced, action shooting sport over three to four days. AG & AG gathers the best competitors in the industry for small-group instruction and coaching, so participants of all skill levels receive meaningful support to help them grow into real contenders.
For women inclined to long-range precision rifle shooting with a military twist, the AG & AG Sniper School is a five-day stealthy adventure in fieldcraft, camouflage, range estimation, ballistics, scope manipulation, and wind and mirage reading needed to put your bullet on target at ranges from 1,000 yards to well over a mile away – without revealing your position to an overwatch “enemy.” AG & AG also offers three- to five-day destination events around the country for members to come together, share new shooting experiences and meet new friends. For all members, there’s A Girl & A Gun’s Dynamic Real-World Immersive Firearms Training Academy at Virginia International Raceway. DRIFT Academy is the first training course of its kind that addresses all aspects of vehicle defense training in, around and with your vehicle – and yes, there will be drifting! AG & AG sponsor Glock also hosts several Glock Getaways at their facility in Smyrna, Georgia, where ladies train on the range with a Glock professional instructor, become certified armorers, and learn about all the features and functions of the most successful semiautomatic handgun in the world.
For the professional development of chapter facilitators, AG & AG hosts instructor courses with a train-the-trainer focus. The United States Concealed Carry Association’s Instructor Getaways in West Bend, Wisconsin, give AG & AG leaders the opportunity to earn training certifications to offer a variety of curricula to their students back home. More intense are the Complete Combatant Coaching Getaways that feature three days of coaching and instructor development training with Brian Hill, the respected head coach and co-owner of the Complete Combatant. AG & AG chapter leaders are able to tap into Hill’s 40 years of experience with a wide range of training philosophies with the goal of getting certified as a Deliberate Coaching Instructor.
On the large-scale national level, the mother of all AG & AG events is the annual National Conference. It became so big that it outgrew Texas. This year there will be 37 live-fire ranges and 60 simultaneous seminars over three to five days. More than 600 members of all skill levels and interests will rally in Colorado to attend six to 12 training sessions (field and classroom instruction, simulated training, hands-on “how-to” clinics, and live-fire) with top instructors, get motivated by guest speakers, meet innovative vendors and sponsors, and see relevant product demonstrations. Registration is a mere $400, which explains why the event sold out in under six hours. Seminars cover too many topics to list here, but concealed carry and personal defense, personal safety strategies, competitive shooting sports, and Second Amendment topics are mainstays of the event. Everyone knows girls like to dance, so naturally it concludes with a dance party!
AG & AG has a lot to show for its efforts, but the organization is still an undiscovered treasure for most American women. That needs to change for the benefit of shooters of both sexes, as well as the preservation of the Second Amendment. The unique thing about AG & AG is that it is by women and for women. In light of that fact, I think the success of AG & AG at their mission warrants some study.
Why do they succeed where many others fall short? Think about that. Ever wonder why your special lady doesn’t want to go to the range with you? Could it be your humiliating “mansplaining” training style? Maybe she doesn’t think it’s funny when you fart in her port while she’s trying to aim. It could be anything, really. If you care about the shooting sports, and you care about her, stop spoiling her shooting experience and leave the training to AG & AG. American Shooting Journal recently caught up with AG & AG ED Sandoval to find out more about the organization.
American Shooting Journal What is it about A Girl & A Gun that makes women shell out $50 to join versus joining the National Rifle Association or their local rifle and pistol association?
Robyn Sandoval A Girl & A Gun is a nationwide organization by women shooters specifically for women. We welcome all women: single, married, young, old, athletic and everyday people. Women of all shapes, sizes, races and creeds.
Women of all interests and experience levels, whether they are just curious about gun ownership or want to get involved in advanced self-defense or tactical training; shotgun sports like trap, skeet and sporting clays; hunting; long-range precision rifle shooting so they hit targets a mile away; competitions; and just about any aspects of pistol, rifle or shotgun shooting. AG & AG is a woman’s network to help her get wherever she wants to go as a shooter. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from joining the NRA or any other organization. I’m a member of many of them, but I didn’t join them until after I became a shooter, and I became a shooter because of A Girl & A Gun. Without AG & AG, I would still have sought the training I knew I needed to defend myself and my family with a gun, but I may not have become the broadly experienced active member of the shooting sports community that I am today. There are many places to learn to shoot a gun, and unfortunately that’s all a lot of women ever learn to do. A Girl & A Gun showed me that there is so much fun and empowerment to be had in the wide world of shooting sports, and it created the roadmap that encouraged me to explore them.
ASJ How did you get involved with AG & AG Women’s Shooting League? RS It was actually my husband who first heard about the new club that was just getting going in my area back in 2011.
Julianna Crowder was not only a concealed carry instructor, but she competed in IDPA and was often the only woman at matches. She would see women there with their husbands, but always sitting on the sidelines. She thought it was strange that she didn’t have a high number of women coming to her concealed carry classes, so she began to investigate why women were not interested in self-defense and firearms education. Julianna identified all of the negative excuses that kept women from the range, and then turned them into positives. She decided to make armed self-defense not only a fun experience but an approachable pathway to learning this necessary life skill. She began hosting Girls Night Out at the Range with her firearms, ammo, and a welcoming attitude for anyone who wanted to just “check it out” with no pressure. It was a success, and A Girl & A Gun was born! I attended the third event, and it changed my life. It opened the door to learning about firearms, conceal carry, competition and friendships that I never knew existed.
AG & AG grew organically because of Julianna’s contagious passion for shooting sports and her understanding of the instructional and social environments that work really well for women. Other instructors wanted to offer the same model to their communities, so chapters formed quickly nationwide. New and experienced shooters would come to Girls Nights Out or another AG & AG event to find a caring, non-judgmental, supportive sisterhood among our members and female instructors. Our certified instructors make sure that the environment is safe and that proper marksmanship techniques are taught so as to build a solid foundation for future shooting skills. Through AG & AG, women make friends, they find mentors and they feel comfortable. They aren’t embarrassed or shamed for what they don’t know yet, and the events foster collaborative learning, where questions are welcomed. We know that the AG & AG approach works because National Shooting Sports Foundation studies show our members are safer, more confident and more capable with firearms than women gun owners who received their training through other means.
ASJ How big an organization is AG & AG Women’s Shooting League? RS We have over 7,100 card-carrying members, representing all 50 states, spread between 213 local chapters and the national e-chapter. We don’t have an outside sales team to market us, so all of these women have come to us through our website and word-of-mouth advertising.
Our chapters are the heartbeat of A Girl & A Gun and the chapter facilitators are the hearts of our league in their hometowns. Each chapter is a local group led by an independent instructor with local members, range facilities and schedules. Instructors come to us to be a part of our programs, and they go through a vetting and onboarding process to meet our standards and agree to abide by our rules and guidelines. Some states have several chapters, and a few have none, but every week we answer inquiries from new professionals who are interested in learning more and possibly joining us. To be a chapter facilitator, a woman must at least be a certified pistol instructor and have an instructor insurance policy. Within the first few months with us, she must also be a certified range safety officer, complete a range response course, complete a “Stop the Bleed” course, and successfully pass the live-fire qualification test for plain clothes federal agents. Many of our chapter facilitators were already in the firearms business as professional instructors, but AG & AG has helped to mint several new facilitators who started from the ground up on their own initiative. When you have great leaders, you attract great members.
Exactly what local events a facilitator hosts each month varies from chapter to chapter, but all of them will have at least one Girls Night Out at the Range that combines a few hours of instruction and shooting followed by a casual dinner for socializing and girl-talk. Some chapters host Breakfast & Bullets, which is a similar event in the mornings for stay-at-home moms or retirees. Another option is events that happen in the afternoon, depending on interest and range availability. Chapter facilitators also host instructional clinics on a wide range of topics of interest to members, drawing on their own expertise and the resources of local specialists. The topics for clinics range from gun cleaning, holster selection, teaching kids about guns, shopping for a gun, first aid, intro to competition, as well as a variety of curriculums offered by the facilitator. Sometimes clinics are co-ed.
AG & AG events are set up to make the serious business of gun safety and shooting instruction less stressful for women through a mutually supportive sisterhood model that allows for more effective learning. The cost of events varies from chapter to chapter, depending on their relationship with their host range. Some chapters are able to offer special range discounts to members and others charge a nominal fee for instruction and supplies. One event that is held locally but has national participation is the AG & AG Quarterly Match. It is a simple competition with a new course of fire published each quarter that members can shoot for score and win cash prizes. It is a way for members everywhere to participate on a national level in our community. Even if a woman doesn’t think she has the slightest chance of winning the cash purse, she can still get a good indicator of her skill level compared to her peers. All scores are posted, so you can see where you currently fit along the spectrum of shooter performance across the AG & AG league. It is a useful way to evaluate the impact of your training, and since it involves shooting, it’s also fun. These matches are cheap to enter, too. They only cost $14 each.
ASJ According to your website, AG & AG offers several monthly livestream interactive experiences for members. RS Yes, even without range time, our members can still train through our AG & AG online interactive, virtual
Girls Night Out events and seminars livestreamed from HQ two or three times a month. These events were
very popular when we couldn’t get together in person during the Covid lockdowns and we kept them going.
There is so much quality educational and training content to learn, and women still enjoy the sisterhood that
is uniquely AG & AG from their own homes.
ASJ A great instructor told me once that if you can’t be shooting, you need to be dry-firing. RS She was right! On the national level, we’ve created a digital library as an education resource for our members that covers important introductory shooting topics, as well as subjects that are specific to certain sports, skills, platforms or advanced topics. There are illustrated articles, videos, online training courses and certification standards. You can learn about shooting stance, holstering in a purse, how to prepare to shoot a qualification course of fire, concealed carry, gunsmithing, survival, lowlight skills using a handheld or weapon-mounted light … Truly, I could go on for 30 minutes listing topics.
ASJ I was blown away by the depth of the content there. I’m not sure I could digest all those illustrated articles and videos in a month. I noticed you and Tatiana Whitlock are major contributors to the online library.
RS Tatiana Whitlock is our director of training, and she is a wonderful instructor and role model. People are sometimes surprised when they meet her in person because, based on her reputation and accomplishments, they expect a 6-foot-tall Wonder Woman and she is very petite. With her own experience as a shooter, combined with hundreds of hours on the range as an instructor working with men, women and youth, she is able to teach different techniques for any shooter to be successful, regardless of size or physical dexterity. Tatiana helps women understand that skill with firearms can be a defensive equalizer, and that with practice they can grow in confidence that is a little hard to quantify. Being able to protect yourself is very empowering and we often see it carry over into other areas of women’s lives in all sorts of positive ways.
ASJ Upper body strength is a limiting factor for every shooter, male or female. If you can’t hold up a 10-pound M1 rifle, you’re not going to be able to compete in the John C. Garand match at the annual Camp Perry high-power rifle competitions. If you can’t hold a 3-pound pistol at arm’s length with one hand long enough to shoot the course of fire, you can’t compete in bull’s-eye matches. RS Upper body strength is not the insurmountable obstacle that many think it is. We aren’t talking about bench-pressing 200 pounds at the gym. Heavy rifles rarely weigh more than 10 to 12 pounds. In terms of racking the slide on a semiauto pistol, it doesn’t actually require much strength at all when you use the right technique. Understanding the options and finding the right technique for her abilities, a little grandma can rack a slide as effectively as the average guy.
Our chapter facilitators in AG & AG know the importance of teaching proper technique. Not every woman will use, or even need, every technique to compensate for any strength and endurance limitations, but knowing them is at least helpful and might be a lifesaver. While the average woman may have less upper body strength and less strength in her hands than the average man, if she wants to shoot competitive high-power or some other sport that requires manipulating a heavy firearm, or going beyond the current limit of her muscle strength and endurance, we have several resources and programs for her to build strength. As part of our membership program, we include a lot of materials on the topic of strength and it is one of the subjects you can learn about on our website. The secret is to do a few pushups every day.
ASJ Drop and give me 20, Private Sandoval! RS I can do several now, but that wasn’t always the case! When I first tried, I hadn’t done a pushup in decades.
After all those years in the legal publishing industry, where the heaviest thing I lifted all day was a thick law textbook, I couldn’t even do one pushup. Well, technically, I could do a half of one pushup. I could go down, but I couldn’t push myself back up! However, I participated in the AG & AG Pushup Challenge, which took a few minutes a day over six weeks and it helped build core and upper body strength that helped me on the range and throughout my daily life. In addition, we often discuss grip strength and forearm strength in our Virtual Girls Nights Out, so that ladies can practice these simple exercises at home. Through our knowledge of the physical and mental exercises that work well for women, AG & AG can offer guidance and focus to help our members understand their true potential and train smarter for their personal self-defense or recreational shooting goals.
ASJ Speaking of goals, the more I delved into the content on your website, the more impressed I was with the scope and quality of the AG & AG instruction approach. For example, the 208-page downloadable journal you encourage members to use would be helpful to any new shooter, or experienced shooter trying a new discipline. I wish I’d had that when I started shooting.
RS The process of keeping a journal causes the person keeping it to reflect on the things they are documenting.
The result is they gain and retain more of what they’ve learned. For example, if you go to a movie with a friend and then talk about it the rest of the night, there’s a much better chance you will recall that movie years later. How many times have you watched a movie alone on Netflix and then gone to bed, and then a year later pick the same movie out again because you have no recollection of watching it?
ASJ Point taken. I see the benefit of journaling as similar to the benefit a student gets by taking notes in class. By processing the teacher’s lecture through your own brain, and then writing a condensed version into the pages of your notebook, you’ve reviewed the material three times. Maybe this is a stereotype, but keeping a diary or journal seems to me like a woman thing. If it really is a woman thing, I salute you for leveraging that feminine inclination to deep introspective thought into a powerful instructional tool.
RS The idea of our shooting journal actually came from men who we know that keep extensive DOPE (data on previous engagement) books for their rifles.
We started with the concept of logging tactical information, then expanded it with personal development and training. The AG & AG Shooting Journal not only serves to document skills learned as well as skills and goals yet to achieve, but it provides a personal coach that can guide a new shooter through the information she needs to lay a solid foundation to grow in her shooting skills. Our journal is designed specifically for women to help them define their shooting goals, guide them to the training they need to get there, and both document and assess their successes and failures along the way to determine what corrective action they need. It comprises live-fire and dry-fire drills, as well as worksheets for each month. There are also several articles contained within its page that address important topics like lead exposure, transporting and storing firearms, and how to have a meaningful practice session. It can be printed out at home or purchased as a hardcopy.
ASJ I notice you also host the AG & AG online book club every month. That is almost, though not quite, as stereotypically feminine as a Tupperware party, except for the hardcore shooting/self-defense/survival/crisis management/Second Amendment subject matter of the books. You read The Gun Rights War by Neal Knox, Deadly Force by Massad Ayoob, The Ranger Way by Kris Paronto of Benghazi siege fame. I want to be in your book club.
RS Our book club is pretty incredible. The book club is another program that came out of shutdowns, as a way to encourage discussions and promote learning when many women couldn’t get to a local range.
In addition to dry-fire practice, reading can also radically expand one’s knowledge of self-defense and gun-handling skills. We tackle a variety of topics about violence, perceived versus actual vulnerability, the importance of mindset, the value of mental versus physical strength, the price we are willing to pay for safety, logic versus emotion, criminal motivation, and threat assessment, to name a few. It’s an opportunity for intellectual growth, to expand your understanding through the thoughtful consideration of the author’s ideas and get outside your comfort zone. About 200 members will tune in to watch the monthly interactive livestream event and then about 700 more watch the recording and make comments to further the discussion. I’m proud that more and more women are participating in the book club. We even have caravans of women listening to the same audiobooks on the way to other national destination events, which fosters even more training and camaraderie.
ASJ I have to admit that when I first heard of AG & AG, I did not appreciate the importance of what you ladies were up to in creating a sisterhood of shooters comparable to the brotherhood that welcomed me 50 years ago. In retrospect, I wonder why it took so long for a national woman’s multidisciplinary shooting organization to get traction.
RS Right now, we are still in the pioneer phase of female involvement in the shooting sports.
There will be a continued increase in female participation in the years to come. For the most part, the firearms and shooting sports industries, and our politicians, have yet to realize there are far more women who want to own a gun and learn to shoot than they ever imagined. A look at the demographics of firearms ownership and participation in shooting sports in America shows these traditionally, and in the past almost exclusively, male-dominated activities are in the midst of a major paradigm shift. For decades we’ve had a steady rise in gun ownership among women and to a lesser degree an increase in female participation in hunting, competition shooting, and other types of recreational shooting activities. Self-defense is often a driver for women buying their first gun, but then they discover how much fun they can have on the range! That is what drives their next gun purchase, and the next, and the next … Not every woman who initially buys a gun purely for the serious purpose of self-defense is going to evolve into a shooting sports enthusiast for the love of the fun of it, but my experience over the last 12 years shows that many women will participate more if given welcoming opportunities to do so. American gun culture has been historically predominantly a man’s world, and I’m excited to shift this paradigm by bringing more women to the range.
For the past decade, we’ve done a lot to empower women to jump into classes and activities where they might be the only female. Often just walking into a gun store can be an environment where there are no other women, but with the right knowledge and information to make her a confident consumer, a woman can go to any gun store without being intimidated. And, after being a part of AG & AG, she can take introductory-level classes and eventually advanced classes knowing that she will be respected on the firing line for her marksmanship skills. I’m proud to see more women in instructor roles, and also as directors of training or range owners. We have had so much support of so many men in the industry who are happy to see more women at the range. They recognize that the camaraderie and support from women’s-only training can be valuable to many women. Most of our male instructors and range staff love working at AG & AG events because there is no “macho” ego factor and participants really want to be their best selves and also want the other participants to succeed as well. With this positive learning experience, women are more eager to go to more co-ed training classes and matches. A Girl & A Gun is representative for how women are finding their own way to responsible firearms ownership, finding they enjoy shooting, and enjoying the same broad interests in shooting sports that men do.
ASJ When you say women are finding their own way to gun ownership, is that regarding the sizable number of “Covid chaos” first-time gun buyers who were women?
RS That’s part of it. Of the record-breaking 20 million guns sold in that two-year Covid period, about 5 million were bought by women.
But really, those 5 million are just the latest wave of women who wanted to take the personal responsibility for protecting their own lives, and the lives of their children. They saw during those riots in big cities around the country that the authorities could not – or worse, would not – respond to 911 calls. Then they finally realized, “The police are not coming. We’re on our own.” The truth of it is that even in the best of circumstances, the police can never respond to a 911 call in time to stop a violent criminal attack. Poor people who live in bad neighborhoods with high crime rates might be fully aware of this; middle class people in nice neighborhoods, with comparatively little crime, don’t call 911 often and were lulled into a false sense of security believing the police will come to their rescue. The nationwide spike in crime awakened them. I understand this paradigm shift because I lived it. I was anti-gun for most of my life as the archetype suburban, middle class, career woman, wife and mother who feared and hated guns. Even though I’m a native Texan, guns were not part of my household or family experience. My husband didn’t own a gun or shoot except for a few times as a range guest with friends. I was like many Americans, who only learn about guns from mainstream news media or movies, which is primarily fiction and misinformation. If you’re not part of the gun community, it’s impossible to see “over the mountain” to all the good that responsibly armed people are doing with training, competing, conservation and protecting their families. Many women are so busy working at full capacity to make ends meet, take care of their families, keep their cars running, support their church and their kids’ schools, and raise their children that they don’t step out of the bubble to learn about gun safety. Unfortunately, many accept what is presented to them through the mostly anti-gun legacy media and social media algorithms.
Years ago, I thought that everyone would be safer if all the guns in America were taken away, until I realized it was never about guns … I wanted evil to go away. Hurricane Katrina was my wakeup call. I saw a TV news clip of a woman in the ruins of a major American city trying to hand her small children to strangers on a bus to take them out of the disaster area. My heart broke for that mother, and I became resolved to make sure that I was never in that situation with my three children. I decided that my plan would be to store peanut butter and tuna fish so that we could shelter in place together as a family. My husband understood that if we were ever in a situation where we needed that food to stay alive, everyone else would too, and surely someone would be desperate enough to kick down our door for it. After arguing for gun control, I suddenly had no argument. I agreed that we would buy our first gun.
Initially I was afraid of the new pistol, and I insisted it stay locked in the safe; however, a mother’s protective instinct overpowered that fear in short order. What if my kids and I were in danger when my husband wasn’t home to protect us? If I didn’t have the knowledge to retain it and it was taken from me? What would I do to protect my children? I was grateful that I had A Girl & A Gun to guide my journey from fear to competence, and uncertainty to strength. Once women who have never owned a gun realize that they may be safer with one, they will hopefully seek out training and a community of qualified and caring professionals to guide them. That’s how most of our members find us. I hope that when your readers see this story, they’ll help spread the word to the women they care about, especially the ladies who they think would really enjoy the shooting sports. Starting them out in the sisterhood of A Girl & A Gun chapter events can be the difference between them enduring shooting for their first and only firearms training experience and enjoying a lifetime of shooting sports. Editor’s note: For more information about A Girl & A Gun Women’s Shooting League, visit agirlandagun.org.