Sarah Moore walked out of her real estate office a few weeks back and caught a glimpse of a stranger leaping over a hedge of boxwoods, making a quick pace toward her. Scrambling on high heels, she managed to her car, slamming the door just before his face pressed against the window.
The next day the same man startled the cleaning lady outside the office as she tossed trash into the dumpster.
The person, later determined by police to be homeless, probably never suspected his own life could have been in danger. Both women he approached were carrying handguns at the time.
No one really knows who is packing heat these days. Of the 195,553 concealed-weapon handgun permits valid in North Carolina last year, 4,922 belong to Cabarrus County residents like Moore, 46, who lives in Concord.
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New legislation passed by the N.C. House but still on the table as of this printing in the Senate would make carrying a concealed weapon legal in places like parks and restaurants.
The Cabarrus County Sheriff's office requires residents to take an approved firearm safety class, pay a $90 fee and submit to a background check before they can carry a concealed weapon. Moore obtained her permit last year.
Most people would never suspect she's carrying a weapon capable of killing. A suburban mother of two, she drives a powder blue minivan, dresses in vibrant floral blouses and is known more for her signature trendy spectacles than the tiny Ruger .380 she keeps either on her person or in her purse.
The gun makes her feel safer, she said. "The world's changing a lot," said Moore. "You don't know what people are going to do."
Incidents in west Concord, the generally low-crime area where Moore lives, have popped the safe suburbia bubble she once felt protected inside. Twice, she has been aggressively approached for money at a local gas station. Twice the neighborhood grocery store has been robbed at gunpoint.
"We're seeing more and more people who are desperate," she said. "I want to do what I need to do to make sure I'm OK, or that my family is OK." Moore said she explained the dangers of the gun to her 9-year-old son shortly after its purchase, and keeps it locked up and hidden.
Most women who own a firearm do so for protection, according to a 2005 Gallup poll.
Of the gun owners who took part in the survey, 67 percent said they own a gun strictly for self-defense. Women made up 13 percent percent of the gun owners in the survey.
Moore, a RE/MAX Executive Realty agent, knows others in the business who carry handguns as well. Women, possibly spurred on by the news of attacks on female agents, make up eight of the 10 agents in her office who hold permits.
"Open houses are creepy," said Tammy Parker, a buyer specialist on Moore's team.
"You're just a sitting duck." Parker carries a Ruger .22, but is in the market for something a little smaller.
At a gun shop in Matthews, she and Moore peer into a glass display case filled with dozens of sleek black gems. "Aren't they pretty?" said Moore.
In another era, it may have been baubles in a jewelry store they were admiring. But these make a much more powerful statement.
After window shopping, the two walk past the double doors into the shooting range where, purses strapped over their shoulders, they take shots at a target.
An employee sweeps dozens of brass casings away as soon as they clink onto the concrete floor.
"I don't want to ever use it," said Moore. "But if I pull it, I want to be ready to use it."