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Evan Cobb – Daily Herald

Debby Jackson sat at her kitchen table cleaning a disassembled Sig Sauer P365 handgun. Jackson removed the buildup from the barrel, which natural develops after firing the gun. Jackson cleaned the two handguns in preparation for a defensive firearm workshop for women near Fort Collins, Colorado. This is the first defensive training she will undergo, but for the last five years, Jackson has built a list of credentials and licenses related to firearms.

Jackson did not grow up around guns. When she was raising her four boys, her family would go out to the hills outside of Bakersfield, California, and shoot on Christmas day.

“I thought it was the most boring thing in the world. Because I couldn’t figure out how to hold the rifle, it was too big for me,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s view on firearms has drastically changed in the recent years. Now, Jackson wants to be a resource for women who may be interested in learning more about firearms and becoming trained.

Her experience training women has demonstrated to her that women can be empowered by the knowledge of how to handle and use a gun.

In 2014, Jackson went out with some friends to target shoot. This was her first time using a handgun, it was a Sig Sauer P238. “It fit my hand,” Jackson said.

As Jackson and her husband, Robert, drove home that evening, she told him, “I think I want a gun.”

After that initial urge to purchase a firearm, it took over a year for Jackson to buy her first gun. During that period of time, Jackson thought about if she really wanted to do it.

“I started thinking about all of these pros and cons and whether or not if I wanted to have a gun in the house,” she said.

Jackson decided she wanted to purchase a gun and went to buy a firearm. It took multiple trips to gun store before she purchased her first gun.

A month after the purchase, Jackson obtained her concealed firearm permit. Jackson continued to learn more from educators and other gun owners in an effort to build her understanding about firearms.

In 2017, Jackson started attending meetings for the Utah County chapter of The Well Armed Woman, which is a group for women gun owners, and inevitably became a co-leader of the group.

As she continued to become more a part of the local community of gun owners, she found herself in a role to help educate others.

“I was up at the range one day,” Jackson said, “one of the guys came up to me and said ‘You should be a range safety officer, we don’t have enough women.’”

Jackson points out that there are many women who go shooting in Utah County, but for having educators that teach about firearms, there is a lack of women taking a lead role in Utah County.

Jackson has received many certifications in order to do just that. In 2018, she obtained her NRA instructor certification, USCCA certification, Utah CFP instructor certification, became a federal firearms licensee, and started Smoking Guns Firearm Training.

Jackson sees an opportunity for female gun educators to empower women with the knowledge of firearms.

“I had three women at my class last week, the beginning firearms class, they had their husband’s guns,” she said. “All three of them were scared of it. They were scared of the noise. We spent four hours in the classroom becoming familiar with the guns.”

After the training, the three women felt they had an understanding of the mechanisms of the firearms and being able to shoot.

Jackson takes her training and the capabilities of a firearm extremely seriously.

“I’m not advocating that we go around with guns all the time, but I think there is evil in the world and I don’t think we can depend on the government,” she said. “We need to protect ourselves and our families and that is a big thing with me, to be a self-protector.”

She also believes that understanding firearms and having training is able to mitigate dangerous situations that impact women in Utah.

When Jackson was asked about the findings of the 2018 Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study on suicide prevention and guns, which found that “two-thirds of women under 65 were killed by a current or former intimate partner; 2 percent were killed by a stranger,” and if more guns in a home would actually help women, she focused on the benefit of training in being proactive in understanding how to not put firearms in a place where they could hurt women or their family.

“If a woman is trained properly, she’s not going to have a gun in a home where there is somebody who could hurt her or her children, she is going to make sure that person isn’t there before she gets the gun … and actually get trained and know how to use it,” Jackson said.

She said she believes that training is important for providing a person options on how to handle a situation.

“And the whole idea is to get trained so you know what to do in a situation like that,” Jackson said. “So, you know the first things you do are you try to de-escalate the situation, you try to find a place to hide, you try to find cover, before you actually draw your gun, and even when you draw your gun it doesn’t mean you have to shoot.”

Even after all of Jackson’s training and education over the past five years, she still doesn’t believe that because you have the training or certification, that you have to ever use a firearm outside of the training.

“It’s not that you will ever have to use the gun, it is just the knowledge to know you can, that you can protect yourself, that you don’t need to rely on anyone else,” she said. “That, I think, is the sense of empowerment.”