Janet Norris and Kriss Costa have operated J&K Firearms Training for five years. They specialize in training women to safely handle handguns and rifles. Both come from ranching and agriculture families in San Benito and Santa Clara counties and became experienced in handling guns at an early age. They recently started two chapters of Armed Women of America, a national organization that was started by Carrie Lightfoot, who was continually pursued and abused by her ex-husband, which led her to seek out ways to protect herself.
There are 94 members in the Hollister chapter and 65 members in the Silicon Valley chapter. Norris and Costa are certified NRA and the U.S. Concealed Carry Association trainers. Norris said part of their own training was to learn how to teach women to shoot. They continue their own training at the Gunsite Academy in Arizona, which also trains military and law enforcement. Costa said they have trained nearly 500 individuals who come from as far away as Los Angeles, specifically to be trained by women.
“We help instill confidence and competency in people who want to learn more about firearms who may have a fear factor or bad experience,” Norris said. “They won’t be judged in our classes. We also work with people who have physical ailments and were told they can’t shoot anymore.”
Costa said the reasons women want to learn about guns are varied.
“Most of them say the way the world is now they’re concerned for theirs and their kids’ safety,” she said. “They also say ‘I see now they’re trying to take away my Second Amendment rights and I never wanted a gun until I realized they wanted to shut that down.’”
Two students, Donna and Sandy (who declined to give their last names), sought out J&K specifically because they wanted to learn about firearms from women. Donna, who lives in Hollister, said she owned a gun but hadn’t used it and wanted to be confident with it. She wanted a gun because she lives in the country and if something should happen it would take too long for law enforcement to respond.
At 79, Sandy, who lives in San Jose, had never owned a gun. She said the country was becoming “lawless” and “criminals are out there because there’s no consequences for their actions.” She bought a gun and, like Donna, took lessons from J&K and joined the Armed Women of America.
“I live alone. I’m an older woman and I’m not fast on my feet,” she said. “I found I enjoy hitting the target. Whether I’d be able to shoot a person or not, I have no idea. I just know I’d rather have a gun and not have to use it rather than not have one and need it.”
Over the last two years, Norris and Costa discovered there were two phenomena taking place throughout COVID-related shutdowns. Both said they were extremely busy training in San Benito and Santa Clara counties because fear was driving people to buy guns.
That fear, they said, was particularly relevant in Asian American communities in San Jose. Norris said the men were buying guns out of fear of being victims of hate crimes. She said their wives would come along with them and many bought their own guns and also took the classes.
The Violence Policy Center supports their firsthand experience. It found that over the last two years, manufacturers targeted Asian Americans as “first-time gun owners and future pro-gun advocates.”
Regarding the Supreme Court’s June 23 ruling that New York’s concealed carry law that required concealed carry weapon (CCW) applicants to prove a special need to carry a gun in public was unconstitutional, Norris said the San Benito County Sheriff’s office approved J&K to offer a CCW class.
Bill Barrett, a retired Watsonville police officer and CCW coordinator for the San Benito County Sheriff’s office, said over the last two years the number of people requesting a CCW has increased from an average of 80 a year to 130 a year.
“It’s interesting that we have all these CCW permit holders, yet none of them are out committing crimes,” he said. “If I was a criminal and knew how many cops, retired cops, and CCW permit holders  are in this county it would be the last place I’d want to commit a crime.”
There have been incidents around the U.S. where CCW holders have stepped in when they saw what they believed was a crime being committed. A good Samaritan with a gun can be a tricky situation to be in when the police show up.
“Most people apply for a concealed weapons permit for personal protection,” said Sheriff Eric Taylor. “If they were to ever use it it would be a personal decision. It would really be about self-defense or defending the life of another. The CCW only gives the person the right to carry the firearm, it does nothing to state how and when they can use it. That is all covered under the law. Whether or not you have a concealed permit, you would need legal justification to ever use deadly force. The permit gives you no special authorization that somebody without a permit doesn’t have.”
Norris said, “Most people, realizing they may be their first and only responder in an incident, the first thing we push is safety and situational awareness, and playing the scenarios in your head on what you would do if—like where you’re sitting in a restaurant and who you’re watching.”
Every so often, “anti-gun” people have “infiltrated” their classes without stating their position on guns, Norris said. She said most are surprised when they’re told the instructors don’t believe everyone needs to own a gun.
“What we do believe, everyone should know how to safely pick one up, check to see if it’s loaded, and if it is, unload it to make it safe until they can give it to someone,” Norris said, adding that a big part of the first class involves educating participants on the law and guns.
“We teach them, in accordance with laws, how you handle somebody coming into the house; how you handle yourself defensively,” she said. “We talk about the Castle Doctrine (stand your ground), the difference between justifiable homicide and murder.”
Ultimately, Norris said they teach people that if they show a gun to defend themselves, they should not expect it to keep someone from attacking them.
“It’s the very last thing you do,” Norris said.
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