BRAINTREE -- It was finally Saturday, and Kathy Hynes was winding down from her week of work. Dressed neatly in white turtleneck, red sweater, and jeans, she raised her 9mm semiautomatic pistol, and gently squeezed the trigger.
A bullet ripped through a square paper target hanging 50 feet away. Behind tinted safety goggles, her eyes kept focused on the target's black and white circles. Hynes pulled the trigger again and again, peppering her target in the indoor range of the Braintree Rifle & Pistol Club.
Meanwhile, Jacqueline Scott stood outside in a nearby field, shooting clay targets with a shotgun. Inside the clubhouse, Lynne Roberts passed a .22-caliber handgun to a gray-haired woman, then resumed unpacking extra targets from a red polka-dot beach bag.
It was a typical Saturday afternoon for members of the Second Amendment Sisters, a women's gun rights group that they call Sass.
Since it was founded in 1999, the Texas-based organization has grown to about 10,000 members with chapters in 30 states, said Lee Ann Tarducci, director of operations for Second Amendment Sisters. The Massachusetts chapter has 130 members.
Promotional pamphlets feature a single red rose and the group's slogan, "Self defense is a basic human right."
According to the group's website, www.2asisters.org, 17 million women in the Unites States own guns, and that number is growing. But female gun owners are far outnumbered by gun-toting males. A 1994 federal government study found a huge gender gap in gun ownership: 42 percent of men owned guns, compared with 9 percent of women.
"One reason many women are not involved in firearms is that it's mainly a male culture," said Roberts, a Norwood mother of three and state coordinator for the Second Amendment Sisters.
"If you go to a gun club or a sportsman's club, it's all men, and it's a manly kind of culture, where a lot of women don't feel comfortable," she said.
Second Amendment Sisters aims to educate women about firearms and provide a comfortable atmosphere for women to learn to load and shoot revolvers, semiautomatic pistols, and rifles.
Roberts, 60, arranges regular shooting practices for the Second Amendment Sisters. On the third Saturday of each month, she drives to its gathering at the Braintree gun club and brings along spare firearms for women without one of their own.
"Some learn fast; some need more time," Roberts said. "They can go on their own pace, and they don't feel stupid asking questions. You're not afraid of things when you understand how they work.
"Most of our members come because they're curious and never shot before," she said. "Or they had an experience in their life that was not good."
In recent years, Braintree Rifle & Pistol has seen an increase in women joining the club, according to Bill Kendrick, who has been a member since 1972.
"We've gotten a lot more women members," he said. "Before, a woman was unheard of."
Research from the National Sporting Goods Association shows that more women are picking up target shooting. In 1998, 2.7 million women participated in the pastime; by 2003, the number had grown to 3.9 million.
Roberts speaks passionately about gun control laws, which vary from state to state, and the importance of firearm safety.
"Education is the answer, not abridging freedom," she said. "The way to prevent accidents and increase safety is through education.
"Do you keep matches away from your kids their whole life? Cars? Bikes? Gas stoves? Fire extinguishers? Fishing rods? Scissors? Do you keep them away from these things? No, you teach them respect for the tool or item. You show them, this is how you ride a bike. You give them training wheels."
Hynes, 45, director of housekeeping at a Cambridge hotel, started shooting two years ago as a hobby. Her fiancÃ© is a gun enthusiast, so shooting has become a recreational activity they can do together.
"The women in [Second Amendment Sisters] are very involved; I want to become more involved and understand the laws," said Hynes, who lives in North Quincy. "I like the challenge of just being able to improve."
Hynes has other reasons for shooting, too.
"I want to be able to protect myself. I don't want to end up like that woman in Bridgewater," she said, referring to Alexandra Zapp, who was stabbed to death in a Burger King restroom on Route 24 in 2002.
Scott, a paralegal from Brookline, shoots at gun clubs regularly with her boyfriend and also enjoys the camaraderie of shooting with the Second Amendment Sisters.
"We're having a ball," said Scott, 39. "I like shooting with women; there isn't that competition. We're here to learn.
"The guys have all been helpful," she said. "They're surprised when you do good."
At a shooting session last month, Scott wore her black leather Smith & Wesson jacket, with an eagle holding a gun in each claw embroidered on its back.
She smiled as she showed off her gleaming new Silver Lynx .22-caliber long rifle.
"This is so sweet," she said, laughing. "It's not going to replace shoes, but it's darn close."
Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.