Walking into the Whistling Pines Gun Club on a recent Tuesday evening, I followed two women through the doors. Each carried her gun in what looked like a small suitcase. One was pink, the other black.
The private gun club has two locations and both host ladies' night once a month. I went to the west location off Garden of the Gods Road, but I hadn't shot a gun since I was in high school (and no, I won't tell you exactly how long ago that was).
The website's description of ladies' night seemed welcoming, but suddenly I was intimidated.
My $15 fee (it's free for members of the club) gained me access to try a variety of handguns, a bottle of soda and some snacks.
Women can, and do, bring their own weapons to shoot. If you're shooting one of the club's guns, you must also purchase their ammunition — a baggie with 10 bullets costs $1.50.
In the context of political debate, guns are polarizing. But Lana Fore, the club's employee who organizes ladies' night, doesn't see this as a conservative or liberal issue.
"We want women to be empowered," she says.
Still, gun ownership is political. The Pew Research Center published America's Complex Relationship with Guns in June. In the findings, Republican and Republican-leaning independents are more than twice as likely as Democrats and those who lean Democrat to say they own a gun (44 percent to 20 percent). Interestingly, the BBC reported in December that since the election of President Donald Trump there has been an increase in the number of liberals purchasing guns.
As the poster of Thomas Jefferson that hangs on the wall in Whistling Pines suggests, they too apparently feel the need to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
There's also a gender difference in gun ownership (even if it doesn't seem apparent when I'm standing in a room full of armed women): 39 percent of men own guns versus 22 percent of women, according to the Pew report.
This discrepancy is Fore's focus on ladies' night. She takes newbies through a quick safety discussion before bringing them to the range, where she spends as much time as necessary making women feel comfortable.
My intimidation subsided some as I spoke with Fore and watched women mingle and chat. Some of the women were regulars. Karren comes every month.
"I'm trying to get more familiar with my guns, and more comfortable with my shooting," she says. "We get pampered at ladies' night."
Men can come to the club on ladies' night, but they can't come into the shooting range. The only men allowed in there are the range officers, who help novices like me. That goes for husbands and fathers. On this night, an 18-year-old came with her parents. Her dad told Fore he wanted his daughter shooting a 9 mm gun.
Fore, a badass with what could be best described as unicorn highlights in her long brown hair, disagreed. She wanted the girl to get the feel of a weapon first and insisted she start with a .22. And as I approached my lane to shoot, this teenager looked comfortable with the weapon in her hand.
I wasn't raised around guns, so despite the protective ear and eye coverings, I was still a little unsettled by the sound of ammunition exploding from the barrel and the flash of orange as the bullets were sent blazing down the range.
But the range officer came to help me set up my target and load the revolver. Despite my eyewear getting fogged up (this happens when I'm nervous), I shot 20 bullets that evening and found I had a good shot — even if I couldn't see down the range to know.
Women filtered in and out of the range, taking their turns shooting at zombie targets (the targets on the website's information page were pink — I admit, I was a little disappointed).
Karren says it's a great place to come and hang out if you're nervous. "It's a totally safe environment."
I couldn't help but get excited as a 65-year-old woman told me, "I've never shot a gun before!"
As for me, I'm still a ways off from owning a gun, for plentiful reasons. But don't be surprised if you catch me at another ladies' night taking out some zombies.