From the parking lot, the headquarters of The Well Armed Woman (TWAW, often referred to as “tee-wah”)
looks like another collection of offices in an affluent business area of Scottsdale, Ariz. Open the door, though, and you enter the world of women’s shooting.
From receptionist to the warehouse workers to the guard dog—a mutt named “Sig Sauer”—TWAW revolves around personal protection for women. The mantra “Educate. Equip. Empower” forms the backbone of TWAW, which, less than three years after its star, has d 229 shooting chapters and thousands of members in 49 states. There is also now an online store that offers holsters and other gear for women who shoot.
Upon my arrival, Carrie Lightfoot, CEO of TWAW, hugged me and said, “I’m starving. Let’s go to lunch.” But first, she asked Hilary, in the warehouse, to wrap her four-year-old granddaughter’s birthday presents in shiny Christmas giftwrap. “She won’t care, and I’m a horrible present wrapper, but I’m a pretty good grandma,” said Lightfoot, who planned to head to the family birthday party after work.
Off we went in her Lexus convertible, top down, to share a cheesy chicken quesadilla and talk about TWAW.
Over a second round of Coke, not diet, Lightfoot recalled that TWAW started as the result of a day spent on a shooting range with friends five years ago. She found that she loved shooting and bought a Kimber chambered in .45 soon after. Now what? She asked herself after she brought that first gun home. How would she would carry it, train with it, and live with it? She could not find readily available answers to these questions. She became more and more frustrated the further she looked. She felt that the shooting world could care less about whether women were in it.
She thought about how she and her friends had talked about what women needed in firearms and education on the way home from range. She said, “Actually, the idea for The Well Armed Woman came about that first day.”
Lightfoot was already a savvy businesswoman with an impressive resume. She was director of an art galley, CEO of an innovative e-commerce glass landscape company (featured on numerous HGTV shows), and COO for a religious charity. Now she saw an opportunity to fill a void in the gun marketplace.
Looking back, she says, “It was a combination of things, a progression. Part of it was my children leaving. I was a single mom…that started me thinking that I’d be alone. What would I do? I wasn’t really prepared for that, and I’ve always considered myself independent. It was a weird feeling to think I was vulnerable.”
She laughed a little about her ignorance, about placing value on having a teenager around the house for protection. “In truth,” she said, “the teens weren’t home enough to protect anyone.”
The Beginning of TWAW
Lightfoot then opened an online store, selling holsters and other gun gear that she had used or felt would work for women. (Now, she offers her own line of TWAW holsters.) Lightfoot also took National Rifle Association (NRA) instructor-training courses.
“Through my website, I’d hear from women daily about their challenges and frustrations with shooting. It became clear that opportunities to shoot and train were areas that needed to improve,” she said.
She quickly found that women wanted more than stories about how to become a responsible gun owner and shooter. They wanted an actual place to go.
Lightfoot answered the call. In 2013 she launched her TWAW chapter program, along with instructor-certification training.
“In reality, the industry trains toward men,” she said. “There’s so much that goes on in a women’s head that men don’t understand.”
TWAW Chapter leaders become liaisons between TWAW and ranges, and work to offer safe and appealing environments for training women.
“Women learn differently. We need a different environment and approach to successfully retain information, and to get people motivated to come back,” said Lightfoot. She wanted to offer a program that invited women to train and grow together as a community, and saw 100 chapters created in the first year.
However, far from being a man basher—her NRA-training counselor for TWAW is a man—she simply wants trainers who fully understand the differences between how men learn and how women learn. “There are many men who are great trainers. I see TWAW as a bridge for women.”
Lightfoot explained that some women can have “performance issues” on the range, because of their past relationships with men. She knows and has seen how a weekend of training with TWAW can change women’s relationships with men, for the better.
For women who are ready to become mentors and trainers, TWAW also offers NRA pistol instructor and personal protection in the home certifications, which are woven into a TWAW instructor course.
TWAW just announced the formulation of a women’s shooting team that will shoot competitively at matches around the country, and act as ambassadors for TWAW.
And for Lightfoot? She just completed a rigorous tactical training event, hosted by Beretta, which pushed her past her comfort zone in that discipline. “This world is fully engulfed and consumed with the very fast growing community of women gun owners … who focus on concealed-carry handguns, basic shooting fundamentals, and the challenges of daily life as a woman with a gun on her hip,” wrote Lightfoot in a blog post. “I also walked away with the very clear understanding that I have some new tasks ahead of me. Not only in the realm of tactical training personally, but the task of helping to build a bridge between these worlds.”