By Anna M. Tinsley Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
FORT WORTH, Texas.
This isn't your grandfather's old gun holster, or gun, for that matter.
Many of today's guns and holsters, which a number of Texans will openly carry starting Friday, display carvings and decorations, designs such as flags, even sayings such as "Don't tread on me." And some are intended specifically to appeal to women.
It's about time, some say, noting that women now hold have about a quarter of the state's licenses to carry handguns.
"Fashion is important to women," said Carrie Lightfoot, owner of The Well Armed Woman, an Arizona-based online company. "It's part of who we are. Look at our homes and cars. We basically decorate everything."
At a time when women are the fastest-growing group of gun buyers, there are even ways to add a corrosion-resistant Cerakote coating to handguns, to change the color of the weapons.
"I think there's an appeal, when you go to the range, to pull out a firearm that looks different from everyone else's," said Cheryl Coburn, digital marketing manager for the Oregon-based NIC Industries, which has a Cerakote division. "Not everyone wants the standard black. Women, we like pretty things."
But don't think that a holster or gun decorated with, say, leopard-print or camouflage, means that the woman carrying it isn't serious about using it.
"Women are really serious about this topic," said Lightfoot, whose online company sells handgun accessories and directs women to gun training classes. "It's not like buying a piece of jewelry. It's buying a tool that could take the life of someone if they have to use it."
More women are buying and carrying guns than in the past.
Two years ago, firearm sellers estimated that 20 percent of their shooting and hunting-related sales were to women, up from 15 percent in 2010, according to National Sporting Goods Association reports.
And nearly three-fourths of retailers noted that they saw more women in their stores in 2013 than they did the year before, the report said.
"The women's market is a force in our industry, and manufacturers, retailers and shooting ranges are making changes to their products and services to satisfy women's tastes and needs," said Jim Curcuruto, director of industry research and analysis for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
More than half the women who own firearms have semiautomatic pistols. Shotguns are the second most likely firearm a woman will own, according to a foundation report.
In the past year, women who bought guns spent nearly $900 on a firearm and more than $400 on accessories. They say they buy items based on practicality, fit and quality.
And most of the women say they aren't impulse purchases, but something they've studied for a while.
The number of Texans with licenses to carry handguns continues to grow, this year reaching nearly 914,000, or nearly 4 percent of Texas' 27 million residents, according to Texas Department of Public Safety records.
And about one-fourth of those permit holders are women _ 27 percent in 2014, 28 percent in 2013, 22 percent in 2012, records show.
Meanwhile, firearm fashion shows are growing in popularity as a way to show women the variety of holsters and gun accessories that are available.
"Many of the women who attend the shows are thinking fashion first and guns second," said Lucretia Free, who puts on the shows and publishes The American Woman Shooter.
It's an easy way, she said, "to educate women in a nonthreatening environment about all of the possibilities that exist."
For many years, the holster needs of many women weren't being met, Lightfoot said.
"It's such a manly industry and there weren't products that understood that fashion is important to women," she said. "We provide women the opportunity to customize or personalize their holster to whatever color or pattern they prefer. Women need to personalize."
There are "on the waistband" convertible holsters, which let women carry their handgun on the inside or outside of their pants or skirts, that are made out of Kydex, a type of plastic.
And there are more traditional leather holsters, including those bearing the popular Old Glory.
Purple and black are popular colors, as are the black carbon fiber and pink carbon fiber versions. When violence or tensions in the world rise, the Old Glory version also becomes one of the top sellers.
"Gun-owning people are very patriotic people," Lightfoot said. "With a presidential election coming up, the violence in Paris, and gun sales on Black Friday being the greatest, we see people leaning toward the Old Glory pattern."
But there are many other options, including zebra- and leopard-print, lemon yellow, pink, orange, key lime, mocha, turquoise and more.
And for women who choose to carry their weapons concealed, despite the open carry law, there are belly band, bra, tank, pocket, undershorts and thigh holsters available.
"It's important for people to understand this isn't frivolous," Lightfoot said. "It's not making light of a situation. It's just part of a new world of being your own protector.
"Men don't get it," she said. "It's about form, style and function. Just because women like color, it doesn't mean they take it lightly."
Lightfoot started her online company in 2012, had $1 million in sales the next year and expects to have $2 million in sales this year. She has a warehouse and offices in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"Women were hungry for this, to be treated respectfully," she said.
At the same time, men and women across the country are having Cerakote coating put on their handguns and other things like long guns, bicycles and knives.
The coating, a polymer-ceramic composite material that can be put on metals, plastics, polymers and wood, changes the color of handguns and protects them from corrosion and abrasion.