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From the Ground Up - Avery Skipalis - Women & Gun Training

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Avery Skipalis is no stranger to hard work. That is all she has known since the age of 15. Growing up in North Carolina, Avery had always been a city girl. No one in her family was a gun owner, and it wasn’t something she was especially interested in either. It wasn’t until she decided she wanted to be a police officer that a knowledge of firearms was even a consideration. But, the desire to help people far outweighed Avery’s inexperience. With the advice of a family friend, she decided to pursue her dream by enlisting in the Air Force. For her, becoming a military police officer provided a strong foundation in a more controlled environment, when compared to the civilian police force.

Even then, Avery’s knowledge of firearms was still very limited. In the beginning, she just wasn’t interested in learning about them, so she had help being guided through the class with learning just enough to get by. Going through the motions, she felt embarrassed for not knowing what others knew, and was made to feel stupid for even asking questions. So, with that, she did what she had to do to just get everything done, even if that meant not learning as much as she needed. Nonetheless, Avery excelled. She excelled so much, in fact, that after almost five years she was ready for a change, and ready to get out of her comfort zone. Enter, Firearms Instructor Training.

This required Avery to learn everything from the ground up. But, she was ready. Ready to be uncomfortable and push herself. Ready to be told she couldn’t do it. Ready to prove them wrong. Being a female in this environment, there were always men telling her what she could and couldn’t do. It was time she showed them.

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The course was a 75 day in-residence course where she was taught everything from how to build a gun from scratch and maintain them, to how to teach firearms operation and safety to others. It was very much a challenge, coming from her background. Being a woman, especially a minority woman in this world is almost an anomaly, and she had to work hard to hold her own. Facing another challenge as a woman, about halfway through the course, Avery found out her and her husband were expecting their first child. Not letting that stop her, even though her husband didn’t necessarily agree, she finished the course and was placed on base as an instructor. This presented it’s own challenges, but Avery was determined to learn as much as possible from other instructors, so when she was able, she knew just what to do to be a successful female firearms instructor. Since the course teaches the bare minimum to get by in the field, it was a huge advantage being able to learn from others before she jumped in on her own.

It has been 10 years since Avery made the decision to become a firearms instructor, and just one year ago, she decided to pursue her own business as well, Skip’s Tactical Solutions. It was extremely important for her to help other women that may not have had anyone to take influence from or look to for this type of example. At times she felt like she couldn’t do it, and it is now a driving factor in her business that other women don’t feel like they can’t or shouldn’t get training in firearms operation and safety simply for being a woman. She recalled it being very hard not having people you can relate to being a minority woman, you can automatically be discredited. It still happens to her daily, and it never gets any easier to deal with. Someone’s appearance shouldn’t matter, and Avery has worked hard to establish herself as a professional first, changing a lot of minds about women in this community. She prides herself on always being a professional, and can stand next to anyone and compete.

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The decision to start her business one year ago came after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. This hit very close to home for her, living in Florida and having two children of her own. A higher being spoke to her at the time and told her that she was being selfish with her skill, and that she needed to share it with others, teaching the civilian population. Since then,  Avery has made it a priority to devote two hours a day to her business, as well as doing classes and podcasts on the weekends. She does all of this, while still being in the Air Force and being a wife and a mother to her two children. She and her husband have educated their children by introducing them to paintball guns at 5 years old and educating them about gun safety. She noted that, “In a world of video games, it is important to know guns are a real thing, not a toy.” It is best to take away the curiosity and reinforce the reality.

This is also an important trait for her business model. Guns are not to be played with, and neither is anyone’s safety. This is why Avery employs a mandatory screening process for all of her clients. It is important that she know who they are and what their “why” is for being there before she will allow them to come to a course. She also ensures they do not have a felony record, are capable of handling a firearm, and requires they sign a liability waiver. It is vital that everyone feel safe and supported in the environment in order to be successful. So far, she has not encountered anyone that has failed her screening process.

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Another piece to Skip’s Tactical Solutions’ success is the online component of a social media platform. Avery finds that interacting with her followers and allowing them to see her personality helps them to remember that she is a real person, just like them. It makes her more relatable. “People tend to forget the human aspect of people on the internet, and can get pretty savage.” Also, she feels it’s important to get the information out there for people to see, regardless of where they live. Not everyone can be in Florida to take her class, so she likes to put the information at their fingertips bit by bit. This also consists of some product endorsement, like concealed carry holsters. Avery considers herself to be girly, and she wants to show other women that you can be girly and still carry your gun on you. There isn’t a lot of femininity in concealed carry, and as a minority woman, she notes there aren’t a lot of positive images out there to look to. She hopes to push out the negativity surrounding this idea, and show women that it’s ok to carry, and you can still look good doing it. Her favorite way to carry is they belly band style holster, for its comfort and safety, but she carries in several different ways. This positive look at femininity, while providing women with a sense of strength is what she hopes will continue to empower women.

Avery has crossed many borders throughout her life and career, and has seen her fair share of kickback. When asked what would be one thing she could emphasize for others, she said, “It is extremely important that individuals do not shame others for what they don’t know, but rather support and teach them.” She then added that she wishes more women would get out there and teach themselves and protect themselves and their families. “Don’t wait for others to save you.”