Longform

The Women of Dallas Are Armed and Dangerous, Thanks to Mama Jeanie

Her rhinestone-studded sunglasses shading her from the harsh July sun, Jeanie Almond purposefully paces the range, hands clasped behind her back, her short blonde hair tucked behind her ears. She's watching her 16-year-old granddaughter, tall and blonde with purple streaks, shoot International bunker trap — an Olympic game with 15 traps that send clay targets bursting into the sky at about 90 miles per hour. They fly up and out over the property of the Dallas Gun Club, the gun enthusiast's mecca in Lewisville. Grandma does most of her work at a different range, but granddaughter prefers this version to the slower-moving targets of American trap, and Dallas Gun Club is the only place nearby that offers it.

The teenager, McKenna, gracefully raises the gun to her shoulder before squeezing the trigger — bang! — and moves to the next station, where she repeats these movements methodically. When the girl hits a target, Jeanie nods and slightly purses her lips, smiling only on the inside. She's 61 now, and has been coaching McKenna for only about four months, since she started a shotgun team at Marcus High School. But Jeanie used to compete herself, winning state and national championships, so she respects the quiet of the sport as her granddaughter shoots. After several rounds, she crosses her arms in front of her over the embellished design of her shirt — black, with a rhinestone heart framed by two pistols — and nods as the shots continue.

Jeanie's daughter, McKenna's mother, watches from a shade tent nearby. Shellee's also an accomplished shooter, though she prefers handguns to shotguns. Back in the day, Jeanie's now 81-year-old mother was a great shot herself. That's four generations of lady shooters.

This is no time-passing hobby, either. In 2007, Jeanie and Shellee founded Lipstick and Lead, an organization whose mission is to teach women to shoot and protect themselves. The slogan: Educate, empower, reload. Shellee is the lead handgun instructor and handles media and promotions. Jeanie's title is "Mama Jeanie — Mama of Everyone — CEO." This, in other words, is a family business.

And business is booming. Concealed handgun permits are on the rise among Texas women, growing nearly four-fold from 2001 to 2011. Local gun retailers say women across all demographics are buying more guns, both for sport and for protection, if not from the scary world depicted on the local news, then the even scarier one depicted by cable TV's punditry. And when these women show up looking for a gun or trying to shoot one — at Ray's Sporting Goods, Beretta Gallery or any number of similar places in the DFW area — employees often recommend they pay a visit to Mama Jeanie.

The core tenet of Jeanie's instructional philosophy is that women and men learn differently, so she uses a woman's strengths to coach her to accurate shooting, whether it's a stranger looking to blow off steam or, on days like today, her granddaughter following in the family footsteps. She teaches men too, but she calls it her "ministry" to teach women.

"Look at the bird, see the bird, nice and smooth," Jeanie tells McKenna. "Let it move you." McKenna raises her gun for each shot in a swift and fluid motion, all the while thinking of Jeanie's three-step instructions, which she recites easily: "One, raise the barrel, two, straight out, and three straight in, so this part [the butt of the gun] goes right into your shoulder pocket."

McKenna approaches a shot, setting her feet the way her grandmother taught her and leaning forward. Then she does what feels natural. "It's just a really homey feel to me. It's cool; it's really cool," she says. At the state competition this year, the first time her school competed, she finished fourth overall among high-school girls.

She's even considering a shooting career, and a couple weeks after this lesson, her grandma and mom will drive her to Colorado Springs to watch the National Trap Championships to get the lay of the land before next year's competition. It's one in a series of steps that could lead her to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, where she can potentially pick up where Grandma should have left off at the 1984 Los Angeles games. Maybe then Grandma can finally retire that half-true excuse she's used for three decades.


Mama Jeanie's kitchen feels like a Food Network set, but with talk-show conversation. She chops cilantro, dragging the knife toward her in the smoothest possible motion, and slices the green onions into perfect diagonals. We're at her home in Denton to trace her family's trigger-squeezing lineage, but the focus, for now, is on her beloved Chinese chicken salad.

"The original recipe is made with pheasant," she says. Pheasant that she shot, naturally.

Plates of fresh vegetables line the counter, awaiting her attention. Her daughter, Shellee; her 81-year-old mother, Connie; and a Lipstick and Lead instructor, Tiffani, stand around the kitchen island, keeping her company. These are the women who have dedicated themselves to Elm Fork Shooting Sports, the northwest Dallas gun range owned by Jeanie's son, Scott Robertson, himself a world-champion shooter. Jeanie is the pretty, peppy face of the range's events and education program, where she's recognized by her pink camouflage pickup truck, matching golf cart and rhinestone belts, always rhinestone belts. But anyone who knows her understands that the pink and sparkles are decorative, not defining, a candy-coated shell to her tough guts.

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Leslie Minora