Politics & Government

Open carry in Texas after Jan. 1: chance for fashion statement?

Fashion & Firearms hosts concealed carry fashion shows, helping those who attend see how and where they can safely strap on handguns wearing regular clothes. This is a photo from a 2015 fashion show.
Fashion & Firearms hosts concealed carry fashion shows, helping those who attend see how and where they can safely strap on handguns wearing regular clothes. This is a photo from a 2015 fashion show. Courtesy

This isn’t your grandpa’s old gun holster — or gun, for that matter.

Many of today’s guns and holsters, which a number of Texans are on the verge of openly carrying as of Jan. 1, display carvings and decorations, designs such as flags, even sayings such as “Don’t tread on me.” And some are intended specifically to appeal to women.

It’s about time, say some, noting that women now hold about one-fourth of the state’s licenses to carry handguns.

“Fashion is important to women,” said Carrie Lightfoot, owner of The Well Armed Woman, an Arizona-based online company. “It’s part of who we are. Look at our homes and cars.

“We basically decorate everything.”

At a time when women make up the fastest-growing group of gun buyers, there are even ways to add a corrosion-resistant Cerakote coating to handguns, to change the color of the weapon to anything from pink to lime green.

“I think there’s an appeal, when you go to the range, to pull out a firearm that looks different from everyone else’s,” said Cheryl Coburn, digital marketing manager for the Oregon-based NIC Industries, which has a Cerakote division. “Not everyone wants the standard black.

“Women, we like pretty things.”

But don’t think for one minute that a holster or gun decorated in anything from leopard-print to camouflage means that the woman carrying it isn’t serious about using it.

“Women are really serious about this topic,” said Lightfoot, whose online company sells handgun accessories and directs women to gun training classes. “It’s not like buying a piece of jewelry.

“It’s buying a tool that could take the life of someone if they have to use it.”

Trending sales

More women are buying and carrying guns than in the past.

Two years ago, firearm sellers estimated that 20 percent of their shooting and hunting-related sales were due to women, up from 15 percent in 2010, according to National Sporting Goods Association Annual Sports Participation reports.

And nearly three-fourths of retailers noted that they saw more women in their stores in 2013 than they did the year before, the report showed.

“The women’s market is a force in our industry, and manufacturers, retailers and shooting ranges are making changes to their products and services to satisfy women’s tastes and needs,” said Jim Curcuruto, director of industry research and analysis for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

More than half the women who own firearms have a semiautomatic pistol. Shotguns are the second most likely firearm a woman will own, according to the foundation’s report Women Gun Owners: Purchasing, Perceptions and Participation.

In the past year, women who bought guns spent nearly $900 on a firearm — and more than $400 on accessories. They say they buy items based on practicality, fit and quality.

And most of the women say these aren’t impulse buys, but something they’ve studied for a while, potentially months.

The number of Texans with licenses to carry handguns continues to grow, this year reaching nearly 914,000, or nearly 4 percent of Texas’ 27 million residents, according to Texas Department of Public Safety records.

And about one-fourth of those permit holders are women — 27 percent in 2014, 28 percent in 2013, 22 percent in 2012, records show.

Meanwhile, firearm fashion shows are growing in popularity as a way to show women the variety of holsters and gun accessories that are available.

“Many of the women who attend the shows are thinking fashion first and guns second,” said Lucretia Free, who puts on the shows and publishes The American Woman Shooter.

It’s an easy way, she said, “to educate women in a non-threatening environment about all of the possibilities that exist.”

Personalizing a holster

Now that licensed Texans may openly show off their holsters and handguns, if they so choose, it may be the opportunity some women are looking for to update their handgun look.

For many years, the holster needs of many women simply weren’t being met, Lightfoot said.

“It’s such a manly industry and there weren’t products that understood that fashion is important to women,” she said. “We provide women the opportunity to customize or personalize their holster to whatever color or pattern they prefer.

“Women need to personalize.”

There are “on the waistband” convertible holsters, which let women carry their handgun on the inside or outside of their pants or skirts, that are made out of Kydex, a type of plastic.

And there are more traditional leather holsters, including those bearing the popular Old Glory.

Purple and black are popular colors, as are the black carbon fiber and pink carbon fiber versions. When violence or tensions in the world rise, the Old Glory version also becomes one of the top sellers.

“Gun-owning people are very patriotic people,” Lightfoot said. “With a presidential election coming up, the violence in Paris, and gun sales on Black Friday being the greatest, we see people leaning toward the Old Glory pattern.”

But there are many other options, including zebra- and leopard-print, lemon yellow, pink, orange, key lime, mocha, turquoise and more.

And for women who choose to carry their weapons concealed, despite the open carry law, there are belly band, bra, tank, pocket, undershorts and thigh holsters available.

“It’s important for people to understand this isn’t frivolous,” Lightfoot said. “It’s not making light of a situation. It’s just part of a new world of being your own protector.

“Men don’t get it,” she said. “It’s about form, style and function. Just because women like color, it doesn’t mean they take it lightly.”

Lightfoot started her online company in 2012, had $1 million in sales the next year and expects to have $2 million in sales this year. She has a warehouse and offices in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“Women were hungry for this, to be treated respectfully,” she said.

Coating it on

At the same time, men and women across the country are having Cerakote coating put on their handguns, as well as other items ranging from long guns to bicycles to knives, by certified applicators across the country.

The coating — a polymer-ceramic composite material that can be put on metals, plastics, polymers and wood — alters the color of the handgun and serves as a protective barrier to everything from corrosion to abrasion.

Coating colors run the gamut, from Robin’s Egg blue and prison pink to Zombie green and sniper gray. Designs applied to handguns and other items are limited only by a consumer’s imagination.

“There are people who will do flames or zombie apocalypse, ... but also pretty things,” Coburn said.

Gun owners take their handguns to certified applicators who apply the designs. There are 32 certified applicators in Texas, including one in Arlington and one in Hurst, Coburn said.

It can take two to three weeks to have firearms stripped down, degreased and blasted clean before the coating and any design is applied by a spray gun and oven cured.

“It’s not just to let your gun look good, pretty or badass,” Coburn said. “It also makes the gun more durable.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Open carry law takes effect

The new open carry law, which lets licensed Texans openly carry their holstered handguns, goes into effect at midnight on Jan. 1.

Who: Those eligible for a license to carry, which is needed to carry holstered handguns openly or concealed, must be 21, have a clean criminal record, take a class and pay a fee. They must have lived in Texas for at least six months, pass a background check for mental and criminal histories and not be chemically dependent or delinquent on taxes or child support payments.

How: Handguns carried openly must be in a shoulder or belt holster.

Where: Guns are not allowed in several locations, including at schools, election sites, racetracks, restricted areas of airports, rooms where governmental officials such as city council members and county commissioners are meeting, and within 1,000 feet of an execution site on the day of an execution. Also, businesses may post signs preventing anyone carrying a concealed or openly displayed handgun from entering.

Campus carry: Texans may carry concealed handguns on some parts of college campuses starting Aug. 1. A number of private colleges, including Texas Christian University, Rice University and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, have already opted out of the law, as they are allowed to do. Public universities may create areas on campus where guns are not allowed but they are not able to completely prevent concealed handguns from being on campus.

Source: Texas Department of Public Safety, Star-Telegram research