Women are constantly helping to reshape and contribute to the firearm industry. Not just on the range, but from behind the desks and screens of some of your favorite products. I had the opportunity to ask Katrina Powell of Alpha Concealment how she made her journey into the world of firearms. Not everyone has a traditional path into this industry, and her journey is definitely one worth reading about!
Tell me a little about yourself, and your background?
Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll likely say I’m the type of gal who boasts a no-bullshit attitude; I’m probably the most honest person you’ll ever meet. I always say, “I am who I am, take it or leave it.”
I’m a rebellious redhead at heart, but I’ve always had a fairly professional side. I have extensive experience in numerous facets of the communication industry — print/digital journalism, public relations (specifically media relations and community relations), social media marketing and organizational communication. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Westfield State University, and a Master of Arts in Public Relations and Advertising from Suffolk University, and would love to pursue a Ph.D. someday.
I got my start working as a newspaper reporter in the Boston, Mass. area in 2010, and eventually worked my way up the ranks. When I left in early 2014, I was the editor of a print newspaper with a weekly circulation of 11,000 readers. It was an amazing time in my career, mainly because of the people I met, the stories I helped tell, and the fact that I had dreamt of seeing my name in that very newspaper since I was a little girl. But as time went on, I realized that there was so much more I wanted to do with my knowledge and skills. In my current role, I serve as the Director of Communications for Alpha Concealment Systems, a manufacturing company that handcrafts gun holsters and other personal defense accessories in the Pittsburgh, Penn. area.
How did you get involved with Firearms? What was the transition from being a journalist like?
The first time I shot a gun, I was terrified (and it was only a .22!). I grew up outside of Boston, Mass. (which is extremely liberal) and was never introduced to hunting or any type of shooting sport. I never even knew anyone who owned a gun. I was given that typical firearms education that says “guns are bad, stay away” and so naturally, knowing nothing about them but constantly hearing how horrible and dangerous they are, I was super anti-gun.
I will never forget the exact moment that all changed. It was January 2014, and as usual, I was looking over some of the most popular articles in the newspapers my company had published that week. I came across one that covered an anti-gun event that was hosted by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and a local mother whose son was tragically, accidentally killed by his friend back in 1997 – the friend got a hold of his mother’s gun, and accidentally shot the other boy – served as a guest panelist at the event, thus, the local newspaper covered it.
The entire article focused on how gun control was not strict enough in Massachusetts, and basically painted the (incorrect) picture that there was no justice or positive result from this horrible incident, and that parents need to be more vigilant in making guns safer. The article even points out that the mom advocates for trigger locks, and gives them out for free, but the article fails to mention the critical point that using a trigger lock is the law in Massachusetts.
The writer completely, and in my opinion, irresponsibly, avoided the fact that just one year later, in 1998, Massachusetts passed the Gun Control Act of 1998, making it illegal for any legal gun owner in the state to leave their gun unlocked. If you are a registered gun owner in Massachusetts, the law stipulates you must secure it with a trigger lock or other tamper-resistant mechanism at all times when it is not being carried, unless it is in a locked safe. Failure to do so is punishable by fine and jail time. (MGL c.140 s.131L). And when you buy a gun, the store is legally obligated to provide you with the trigger lock for free.
This law was passed in part due to the mother of the slain boy, who championed for its passage. She was even invited to speak at the signing of it. It was a wonderful and very positive outcome. But the article completely neglected that fact, making it an extremely one-sided piece that outright villainized gun owners in the state.
In journalism, the writer has an incredible responsibility to remain impartial on whatever topic they’re covering and must present both sides of the story…no matter what. But that wasn’t the case here, and even as someone who was anti-gun at the time, I was outraged. I was downright enraged that there wasn’t one shred of speech from the other side. It had absolutely nothing to do with the topic (because again, I was very anti-gun back then), and everything to do with the gross irresponsibility of the writer, and editor. I would have been just as upset if the article were about lettuce. Every single story deserves both sides, and the public deserves to read the full picture.
Ironically enough, I was familiar with that law because my boyfriend at the time, with whom I had just purchased a home, made sure I was extremely informed because he was a licensed gun owner; he wanted to make sure I felt safe in our home and was educated about what he was legally obligated to do to ensure the guns were safely stored.
But for those who aren’t familiar with the state’s gun laws, the article conveyed the notion that all gun owners are a reckless danger to the children of our communities because safe storage isn’t required of legal gun owners, which is completely false. Yes, guns can be dangerous in the wrong hands. And that’s exactly why that safe-storage law was passed in 1998. But the article nonetheless conveyed the idea that gun owners have a choice when it comes to storing their guns, which is not the case. And the last thing this country needs is more misinformed people.
Right then and there, I asked my boyfriend, who was (and still is) the CEO/Founder of Alpha Concealment Systems, if he needed any freelance public relations help. I was driven to do my part to ensure that the entire story was being told, and that gun owners were given fair press coverage, whether or not I agreed with or liked firearms. I started helping out with their blog, social media, and even community outreach. I was amazed by how much I enjoyed learning about the firearms industry and giving gun owners a voice. It wasn’t long after that I applied for my license to carry and became a card-carrying member of the NRA. I am now a proud Republican.
Being a gun owner is a right, and when the media only presents one side of the issue, it paints a very negative picture and gives legal, law-abiding gun owners a really bad rap that they usually don’t deserve. We need to remember that gun ownership was just as important to America’s Founding Fathers as the right to free speech and freedom of religion, and that gun owners are not the enemy. In fact, studies show that somewhere around 3 percent of murders and crimes are committed with a firearm that is legally owned – the vast majority of firearms-related crimes are perpetrated by illegal gun owners. With something that is such a hot-button issue, it’s important to present all the facts so that people are not expressing opinions (and acting) out of ignorance.
Tell me more about Alpha Concealment. How long have you been working with them?
About six months after I began freelancing at Alpha, I became the wife of the CEO. It was about a week later that he told me he was moving the company to Pennsylvania; his investors were hopeful that the business could really spread its wings by moving to a gun-friendly state where we already had an extremely large customer base. I was hoping for a warmer state, like Arizona, but Pennsylvania it was, and I was taken along for the ride. That was two years ago.
Since then, we’ve grown exponentially, and are incredibly proud to say that we’re now the second largest manufacturer of custom Kydex holsters in the entire state – the largest in Western PA. We have an amazing team of people that puts their all into their work, and we know our products wouldn’t be the same without them. What sets us apart from the rest is that all of our products are expertly handcrafted, from start to finish, by hand. We don’t rely on machines to do our jobs for us, and we don’t skimp on quality, consistency or finishing. We keep things affordable for our customers, and we treat people the way we’d like to be treated – with fairness, integrity, and honesty.
In my role, I report directly to the CEO, which strangely enough, isn’t weird at all, considering he’s my husband. We’ve created a really great environment where ideas flourish and everyone is welcome to give their input, so there’s no special treatment for me whatsoever – everyone is equal, regardless of their job title and/or their relationship with someone else at the company. It’s awesome because this company is definitely male-dominated, and yet, I’m just like one of the guys. Nobody hits on me, nobody talks down to me, and no one ever underestimates me. It’s a really good feeling.
My role revolves around managing all aspects of the company’s internal and external communication, from writing employee newsletters and distributing memos, to handling escalated customer correspondences and securing new business. There’s a very heavy emphasis on fostering exceptional relationships with key publics, such as consumers and vendors, but I also serve as the company spokesman and media contact. When I’m not running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I also manage a team of freelancers who handle our customer service, graphic and web design, as well as our promotions. Just call me H.B.I.C.
What has been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced working within the industry?
I think the biggest challenge is that I’m so used to being treated as “one of the guys” at work, and most times, customers don’t see it that way. There are definitely some traditionalists out there who think women shouldn’t be in the workplace, let alone giving advice about guns and holsters.
My main goal when discussing a prospective sale is to make sure the product they’re ordering is something that is going to adequately meet their carry needs. So naturally, when a customer tells me via email, on the phone, or at a gun show, that they want a specific holster we offer, I’ll often throw in some dialogue about what scenarios that holster works best for.
Nine times out of ten, when they don’t take my advice, they end up calling and complaining about how the holster doesn’t meet their carry needs. And most times, they’ll end up talking to one of the guys, who says the exact same thing I did. And I think it’s hilarious how all of the sudden the customer changes their tune and realizes I was right all along. I hate to put people in their place, but hey, that’s what you get for underestimating a woman who knows her shit.
As a woman in the traditionally male-dominated industry, how do you work to bridge the gender gap?
Even though all my coworkers are super great, I’ve come to the realization that the gender gap is very real, and will probably always exist, at least during my lifetime. Does it feel shitty whenever a man underestimates me and blatantly ignores my advice? For sure. But I say, if you’re foolish enough to underestimate the opposite sex, then you’re foolish enough.
I’m not going to change who I am in order to fit in. I am who I am, and if you don’t like it, you can fuck right off.
There is such an unbelievable majority of women in the industry who are just playing into the whole “sex sells” thing, as if big tits and half-nude photos makes you a legitimate shooter. Sure, it gets you noticed, but it’s the wrong kind of attention, in my opinion. If I’m ignored by men in this industry because I’m not a skinny mini with giant boobs, so be it. I’d rather be me any day of the week.
What has been your biggest accomplishments and/or proudest moment?
I know that this is ridiculously corny, but I honestly get so much pride from helping people learn how to carry – women especially. On my Instagram page – @redwhiteandpew – I make an effort to showcase the guns I carry, and how I carry them. I’ll post about the different outfits I’m wearing to work, with the hope that it will encourage women to explore concealed carry knowing it won’t necessarily impact their personal style. But it’s not just about helping women; there are definitely men out there in the IG world that appreciate my input, and I’m super thankful for that.
We have a little section on our website that asks a customer how they heard about us, and whenever my Instagram handle pops up as the referral source, I can’t help but feel proud and excited. It’s really amazing to know you’re making an impact, even if it’s a small one.
What piece of advice would you give other women who want to get involved with firearms?
I highly suggest to any woman out there who wants to shoot, to research and invest the time into private training. Look for trainers who have one-on-one instruction, as well as extremely small group settings – four to five people max.
I can say from experience that taking a large group course is unbelievably nerve-wracking and intimidating. Not to mention, the instructor can’t possibly spend enough time with each person in the class, so you’re really not getting the best instruction and training.
I’ve also done two separate one-on-one trainings (with two different men) and can say that I learned so much more each time, mainly because of their personal attention and customized instruction. I highly, highly advocate for this kind of training!
All in all, just be yourself. Who cares what anyone thinks?
What do you think is the biggest misconception about women and firearms?
Despite the growing number of women who own, carry and shoot guns – as of 2014, a Pew Research Center study reported that 31% of women have at least one gun in their home, compared to 38% of men – there is still an incredible stigma. Women are constantly seen as dainty and delicate, and not to mention, ill-trained.
I am far from dainty and delicate – I cuss like a sailor, drink beer with the best of them, and am not afraid of hard work or manual labor (just don’t ask me to run…) – and yet, every single time I enter a gun shop, the guy behind the counter always says, “I’ve got a gun you’ll love!” while pointing at some tiny pink-encrusted pocket pistol.
Are there some women who love pink guns? Absolutely, and that’s perfectly A-OK. But to assume we’re all the same is just plain ignorant.
The same thing goes for assuming we’re all ill-trained. Everyone starts somewhere, but that does not mean we’re constantly looking for help from our male counterparts. We’re not damsels in distress, and we’re not idiots. We take the time to learn our stuff, and we’re smart enough to know how to handle a gun.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been looking at a gun, and the guy behind the counter says, “Oh sweetheart, here, let me show you how to hold it.” First off, don’t call me sweetheart. And second, I probably own more guns than you do. If I wanted help, I’d ask for it.
The very first time I went hunting here in Pennsylvania, I went with a giant group of guys – a few of my friends and their fathers and grandfathers. I’d taken my Hunter’s Certification Course, done a ton of training with my bolt-action, and I was well prepared for what the day held, from lugging my fat ass around covered in all my gear, to peeing behind a tree. I wasn’t expecting anyone to help me, or treat me special, or hold my hand while I hiked around. I was there to hunt, just like everyone else, and I knew what I was doing (for the most part).
And yet, when we all met up early that morning, one old-timer looked right at me and said, “Dammit guys! I said no women! I don’t want a woman slowing us down!”
I was sick and tired of hearing shit like that, plus I was pretty hungover, plus I hadn’t had a drop of coffee yet, so I said right back, “I’m not much of a woman, and you’re more likely to slow us down than I am. So take it or leave it, pal.” He looked like he shit his pants. And he never said one more rude word.
We women are incredibly strong and resilient, and we can be just as tough as our male counterparts, so it’s unfortunate that we’re rarely taken seriously until we prove ourselves.
As the H.B.I.C of holsters, what is your favorite handgun?
The very first gun I purchased was a Ruger SR9C, and I gravitated towards it mainly because I wanted to be different – everyone I’d shot with back then was carrying Glocks, and being the rebel I am, I didn’t want to fit in. When I first held it, I was really drawn to its shape and size; I felt like it fit my hand quite well, and was really easy to conceal, which can definitely be a challenge for us women!
Ironically enough, I am now a MAJOR Glock Girl. As soon as I shot the Glock 19, I fell in love. I ended up purchasing a 17 too because I already had quite a few compact guns, and I wanted something full size for the range. Glocks are incredibly simple, yet they always perform well, and I’ve come to enjoy their reliability. Whether I’m shooting the 43, the 19, the 17 or the 26, they’re all going to essential perform the same and feel similar in my hand.
Last but not least, what is in your range bag?
My range bag is the 5.11 Tactical Range Bag, and in it, you’ll find:
- Ear protection – Howard Leight Impact Sport Ear Pro
- Eye protection – I wear glasses for distance, so I usually use those. They’re just regular eyeglasses from Coach.
- Hand protection – Mechanix Wear Gloves
- Extra paper targets
- Staple gun, tape, thumb tacks, Sharpie
- Spare magazines for whatever I’m shooting that day – I own a Glock 17, a Glock 19, a Glock 43, a Smith and Wesson M&P Shield 9mm, a Ruger LCR, an AR-15 and a Ruger American .308.
- At least 100 rounds of ammo
- Outside the Waistband holsters for whatever I’m shooting – excluding the rifles
- Range belt – Wilcox Tactical Gunslinger Belt
- Chap Stick
- Hand sanitizer