Martha Bailey has what may be a unique distinction.
Bailey has carried a concealed firearm with her almost every day for the past 28 years. A resident of La Grande for 25 years, she said she does so for personal security.
“We live in a wonderful community, but we also live next to a freeway. You never know who might come here,” Bailey said.
It was once far more difficult for women than men to carry concealed weapons due to their clothing.
“It used to be that I had to wear Levis and a flannel shirt to cover my holster, or a fanny pack to carry a concealed firearm,” Bailey said.
Today, however, women have a much easier time carrying concealed weapons because of improvements in holsters designed for women’s clothing. Bailey said she can easily carry at least one concealed firearm at all times with almost any type of clothing because of clothing accessories designed for women. These include built-in holsters in waistbands, corsets, tank tops and leggings.
“They make such a difference,” Bailey said.
The improvements make it possible to carry concealed firearms comfortably but also covertly. Bailey said as far as she knows, nobody ever suspects she is carrying a concealed firearm.
Some of the products Bailey speaks of will be on display at the fourth annual La Grande Gun Show, which will be conducted Feb. 24 and 25 at the Blue Mountain Conference Center. The show will have an increased number of vendors this year offering products for women who carry concealed firearms, said the event’s director, Mike Voss.
One item that women like Bailey find useful is purses designed to carry handguns. The bags have fully padded compartments lined with heavy-duty cotton canvas to protect and conceal a firearm.
Bailey has three purses for carrying concealed firearms, and she said the compartments make it much easier to quickly pull her gun out.
Bailey said that when she has to be in a potentially dangerous situation, such as walking to her car in a dark parking lot, she is always ready to quickly pull out her firearm.
“I have my purse unzipped and my hand inside,” she said.
She keeps her purse with her at all times and never lets anyone else touch it while a firearm is inside. If someone did pick one up, though, he would be in for a surprise.
“People have no idea my purse is so heavy,” she said.
Bailey, who retired in 2014 after working 41 years as a registered nurse, now volunteers many hours a week at Oregon Trail Trader, which sells a large assortment of guns. She also helps the Union County Sheriff’s Office put on a class for women that teaches them how to protect themselves.
Bailey said when she hears a husband say he wants to get a gun for his wife, she tells him he is taking the wrong approach.
“Husbands need to let their wives pick out their own handguns,” she said. “They need to have one they are comfortable with.”
Bailey, who has enjoyed target shooting most of her life, is often asked by people for her advice on whether they should carry a concealed firearm.
She said she tells people there are two things they need to consider when deciding if they want to carry a concealed firearm. The first is whether they feel comfortable carrying a gun.
“It is a huge responsibility,” she said.
Second, anyone who carries a gun must understand that they are accountable for anything that happens with it.
“A gun is a tool,” Bailey said. “It does not have a brain.”
Bailey will be helping to run this year’s La Grande Gun Show. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 24 and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 25. Admission to the show is $5 per day or free for children ages 10 and younger.
All money raised by admission and vendor fees will be donated to the Island City Lions Club and Union County Search and Rescue.
Voss said that the show has become so popular that its 40 vendor tables sold out two months ago.
Bailey will work as a volunteer at the gun show, just as she has in past years.
“I just to love to see all the new things. It is nice to visit old friends and make new friends,” Bailey said.