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NRA sets its sights on recruiting more women as members

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It was startling, coming on a Sunday morning in the soft Mississippi drawl of Sammie Foust.

"Bad dogs bite when they're wounded," Foust told members of the National Rifle Association at its convention in Seattle. "Dead dogs don't bite."Foust said she was passing on advice from her father: Shoot to kill.

She followed it last May when a masked intruder burst into her home in Cape Coral, Fla. He cut her throat, broke her nose and stole $400. As he hunted for her jewelry box, she managed to retrieve her .25-caliber pistol. She fired four shots, killing the man.

"I would not have made it if I didn't have a gun," Foust said.

She spoke at an NRA session on Women and the Second Amendment where many of the women attending nodded in agreement.

For much of this decade, the NRA has made concerted efforts to attract, keep and train women gun owners. The typical NRA member is white, male and middle-age. Just 15 percent of the group's 3 million members nationwide are women.

But NRA President Marion Hammer is a woman and so is the NRA's chief lobbyist, Tanya Metaksa. The NRA began a women's section in 1990 and, in 1993, began sponsoring self-defense workshops around the country. Last year, 90 "Refuse to Be a Victim" workshops were held in 32 states.

The NRA says women have made up a growing segment of the more than 5 million people the association has trained in the past eight years. In fact, it is revising its gun-training and ownership course to better accommodate women.

T.J. and Cathy Johnston, who attended the convention and teach gun training in Orange County, Calif., say about half their students are women.

Women are important allies in the NRA's fight against gun control. By buying guns to protect themselves, they demonstrate that the right to bear arms, as conventiongoers said, "isn't about hunting ducks."

Sue Gilliam, an instructor from Marin County, Calif., began the seminar by ticking off crime statistics. "Until we can turn the criminal justice system around, safety is up to us," she said.

Women at the convention repeatedly said they owned guns to protect themselves from being crime victims.

"We are living in a more dangerous society than we were living in in the past," said Evelyn Donnell, a self-described "pistol-packing grandma" from La Grande, Ore.

The fact is, however, that violent crime rates are dropping across the country.

"But you have great difficulty believing that if your next door neighbor has been mugged," said Hammer, the NRA president. "The papers are full of crime. The electronic media cover crime. So the perception is that crime is getting worse."