While handguns are far and away the most popular firearms among female gun owners, AR-style rifles are making a major impact in the women’s market.

The NSSF Women Gun Owners study showed that while 56 percent of women owned at least one handgun and 50 percent reported owning at least one shotgun, 20 percent of women gun owners said they owned a so-called “modern sporting rifle.”

The highest proportion of women who owned ARs also owned a semi-automatic handgun, and the vast majority owned just one AR.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” says Sarah Ahrens, a firearms instructor and former Illinois police officer. “You take a woman to the range and give her an AR and a shotgun; which one is going to be more comfortable to shoot? Which one is going to be more adjustable to her frame? Which one is going to hold more rounds and be easier to load?”

Most women who owned an AR had one chambered in .223 Remington, with nearly 15 percent owning a .22 LR version. Nearly 51 percent of women AR owners bought their rifle within the last three years, and 65 percent of those bought the rifle themselves.

“I think with all the government stuff going on that people are afraid they’re going to be banned and they don’t want to be told they can’t own something,” Ahrens says. “So if they’ve been thinking about it, they’re going to go out and buy it.”

And while not correlated exactly to MSR ownership, the NSSF study showed younger women are more likely to try new kinds of shooting sports, pursue training and buy more accessories than middle-aged or older women — a finding that could translate into more AR sales to females as they come into the store looking for new items.

“Younger women appear to be both more secure and empowered with guns, but they also score more highly on factors that suggest they are less independent and secure when it comes to the gun purchase process and their interactions with men in gun shops and in training,” the study showed. “Since younger women are the newest gun owners, it is important to be supportive so that these women can develop the attitudes that encourage gun and accessory purchases and active participation in shooting activities.”