Growing numbers of women are arming themselves

FRESNO, Calif.

Even in the middle of the day, walking alone makes Cindy Curwick a little uneasy. "And suddenly he came up behind me, jumped on my back, and threw me down and put a knife to my throat."

The Fresno mother and grandmother was the victim of assault not once, but twice. Both times when she was running alone.

"I finally got in touch with the rage that, how dare someone do such a thing to me," Curwick said. "Somehow or another I had to find a way to channel that rage and defend myself against it.

Cindy enrolled in the Rape Aggression Defense or "RAD" class at Fresno State. Taught by her own daughter -- Fresno State Police Sergeant Jennifer Curwick.

"It's open to the public, any woman can come. You don't have to be strong, you don't have to be big, it's physical things anybody can do," Sergeant Curwick said. "We're talking about personal weapons, what you have on you all the time. Your head, your voice, your hands, your elbows, your feet, your knees. Then you have the skills and confidence to defend yourself if you need to."

College students Briana and Ashley Jonas say their confidence has grown from learning about guns and how to shoot them.

Ashley Jonas said, "It's just nice to be comfortable with something instead of being scared of it."

Action News asked, "Do you think if something happened, you could defend yourself?"

Ashley Jonas replied, "Yes. If you're in fear of your life, you're gonna use a gun."

The two sisters are regulars at a Northwest Fresno shooting range ynder the guidance of RJ Pierini, with advanced tactical methods.

RJ's "handguns 101" course -- covers basic handling, loading/unloading, range safety, and marksmanship.

"I've got a really wide diverse cross-section of women and all for different reasons too," Pierini said. "For some it's safety, for some it's confidence, for some it's because they have children in the home and they want to address issues of safe handling and storage."

One of those students -- is April Bushnell -- with two kids and guns already in the home, she wanted to feel safe, not scared. "Never really felt comfortable around guns, never actually handled a gun, used a gun. Anything like that."

April was recently at "We the People" in Clovis where owner Ryan Cox was showing her some options. Since she's considering carrying a concealed weapon, or CCW.

"It's a big responsibility, carrying a gun on you for self-defense is more than just I have a gun and I feel good because I can do anything," Cox said. "You have to be ready with that weapon and be trained with it to deter the threat."

Still, more people are taking on that responsibility. Fresno County reports a dramatic increase in applications for CCW permits, doubling from 2010 to 2011. To the point where the wait now is almost a year. But there are many other non-lethal options out there.

With pink stun guns and tasers, assorted pepper sprays, be-jeweled knives and multi-colored guns. Lee Stone opened LR Stone's in Northwest Fresno with the female customer in mind.

"It was a market that I felt was needed," Stone said. "I wanted women to be able to come in, feel comfortable and it didn't look like your typical gun store."

Make no mistake -- the color doesn't make them any less effective.

"My prayer is, if I ever have to pull my weapon, they see the red dot and they go the other way," Stone said. "I do not want to be a victim. I'm not going to be hurt."

But all personal safety experts remind us -- these weapons are useless and even dangerous unless used properly.

As with any self-defense, pepper spray is only good if you know how to use it. That means keeping it out of your purse and in your hand, when you're walking to your car, and be ready to spray it at a moment's notice.

Armed or not, practice situation awareness wherever you go -- "reading" people and situations so you can react appropriately and avoid any threats.

Instead of being paranoid or scared be more aware and prepared. And that's exactly what these women say they're doing.

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