A photographer documents heat-packing women from Texas and the guns they love

Carrie Shelley CaltonThe female owner of a sex shop is seen with a single-shot .22 clipped on her tank top and a revolver on her hip.

In 2016, Texas became the 45th state in the US to allow the open carry of handguns. But many gun-toting women prefer to keep their weapons concealed for reasons including safety and comfort.

More than 268,000 women hold active handgun licenses in the Lone Star State, up 35% from 2014. Their rising numbers have led to a booming shadow industry: firearm accessories, including bra holsters, concealment leggings, and leopard print gun holders for cars.

In an effort to document women’s roles in modern gun culture, photographer Shelley Calton took portraits of her Texas friends for her book, “Concealed, She’s Got a Gun.” She kindly shared a few photos with us.

Some Texas women see carrying a concealed handgun as more than a right -- but a matter of life or death.

As of January 1, 2016, state law permits them to carry a handgun openly or concealed so long as they get a licence from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

More women are packing heat than ever. The number of women issued a licence to carry rose from 22,000 in 2010 to 103,000 in 2016, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Shelley Calton is one of them. Her book, 'Concealed, She's Got a Gun,' shows women bearing arms in her native state. They share a similar family history of gun use and education.

At a young age, Calton and her sister learned to shoot tin can targets in the Texas countryside. Their father kept a pistol in his nightstand and shotguns for hunting wild game. 'Growing up in Houston was synonymous with an induction into Texas gun culture,' Calton told Business Insider in 2015.

For her photo series, Calton reached out to her circle of female friends and asked if she take portraits of them with their guns. She says there was no shortage of subjects.

She learned quickly that many of the women grew up around guns and felt comfortable handling them, especially those who practice regularly at a shooting range.

They kept their pieces in gun safes, under the mattress, or tucked in a bedside table.

'My gun(s) serve as my personal militia of self-protection, perseverance, and 'badass-ery',' one woman told Calton. 'Sleeping with my Glock under the mattress has afforded me more security than any door lock, alarm system, or boyfriend.'

Others come up with more original hiding places.

Calton rejects the idea that Texas women are 'gun-crazy.' 'Each has her own personal story for carrying a handgun,' she said. 'Some have had incidents and others have been threatened.'

'I have always worked in 'dangerous businesses,'' said one woman who worked at a used-car repo and a liquor store. 'The guns make me feel safe and in power of my life.'

For others, the danger is closer to home. One woman lives on a 800-acre ranch in south central Texas, where she often encounters mountain lions, feral hogs, and wild dogs.

Another subject said her brother-in-law's bipolar disorder made him turn violent, and said he's threatened her before. She's prepared to defend herself if he ever follows through.

Ninety-three Americans die from gun violence every day, according to advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. While research shows more guns don't make for a safer society, these women are determined to take their protection into their own hands.

'In the required (concealed handgun licence) classes, one is taught that if you pull your gun you must be ready to use it,' Calton says. 'Otherwise, the bad guy will take it from you.'

'To me, not owning a gun is not an option,' one woman told Calton. 'I cannot imagine having a home invasion and having to rely on talking an intruder out of killing me or my loved ones.'

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